200 amp upgrade, what's really involved?

Old 11-08-02, 07:04 PM
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200 amp upgrade, what's really involved?

We're currently purchasing a 2-story, 1600 sf home built in 1930 that lists as 100 amp service but seems to have an odd hybrid of circuit breaker and (shudder) glass fuses. It has 9 rooms total including bathrooms, plus a deck.

Some of the outlets are the newer three-prong, some not. There's some ancient wall fixtures we don't believe are even still wired, plus some obviously newer items in other rooms(ceiling fans, etc.)

The previous owners managed to run a hot tub in the place, so SOME upgrade had to be done in the past, but the seller isn't around to ask.

I'm curious as to what's actually involved in the process, how involved it is, and approximately how long it should take? We plan to have it done before we ever move in to minimize the inconvenience (for both us AND the electrician).

While I've stumbled across many electricians' pages that boast the service, I'm completely at a loss as to what's actually done in the process from start to finish?

Just looking for a general, basic outline, as I'm sure there's need/preference variables involved.

Thanks for any info,
Old 11-08-02, 10:26 PM
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Given that a licensed electrician would be doing the work (with a permit for the job), they come out and replace everything from where the SE cable on the side of the house connects to the ariel cable (overhead) to the main panel. If you have an overhead service, the utility provider is normally responcible for those conductors. Underground conductors are yours, and would need to be the correct size-no exceptions. Ariel conductors are sometimes not replaced, even though their capacity is under-rated. Power companies like to be cheap. In a normal situation the power company is involved from the start, by disconnecting the wires feeding the service to the house. After the job is complete, you have an inspection agency do their check, and with that passing, the utility company reconnects the power and retags the meter.
In some situations, there are some steps skipped or abbreviated, I have told you the more official/correct method.
As for the amount of time required, it will depend on the details of your situation. Maybe 1 day, maybe several. Make sure you have a SquareD QO series panel installed, and no substitutions. You will not regret it. (All others are cheapies, not good quality)
Get several people to come out for an estimate, and tell them you want your service upgraded to 200A. The more thourough the person is that come out to give you a price, the better. Ask around to see if there is someone local that has done good work.

By all means tell us more about what you have/want done.
Some other pros here that do Resi work regularly can give more insight.

Re-reading your original post, I think you want more work done than just the service? Tell us, be specific. What else other than the service? Kitchen, bathroom receptacles, outdoors, etc.

Old 11-08-02, 11:17 PM
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Well, obviously, in the 1930s there weren't a lot of electrical appliances available, so the wiring of houses was very simple. Wire and nob, no grounded receptacles and very few receptacles in any room. Just didn't need 'em.

But as modern times rolled around and electrical appliances and gadgets proliferated, the succession of owners of these venerable homes sought to provide for them, which is to say make places to plug them in.

Yours sounds like a textbook example of creativity toward this end and there's no telling what previous occupants have concocted to bandaid the wiring problem without spending the big bucks necessary to bring it truly into modern times.

It's good that someone -- you -- is finally prepared to do that, because these old houses with their patchwork of added-on wiring are prime candidates for a very large weenie roast.

Your electrician will probably first be interested in whether the service cable from the power pole has ever been upgraded to wire large enough to handle the new 200-amp service. Maybe, maybe not. He'll pull a permit, contact the power company and get that situation resolved, if necessary. The power company will be happy to upgrade the service wires.

Next, he'll look over the whole existing wiring situation and probably want to know just how near you want to get to bringing it entirely up to code. This decision may not be left up to you but may be determined by local electrical codes, the inspector, and just how much you can do without bringing it all up to code. Different governmental jurisdictions have different rules and requirements and your electrician will explain them to you.

Just replacing your old panel with a 200-amp one with enough circuits to separate those that are surely piggybacked or doubled up some other way, plus adding some most likely very much needed new ones can be a fairly easy proposition. He'll probably be interested, also, in whether the panel itself is adequately grounded. This is not to say it will be cheap, because even that won't.

But bringing the whole house up to code, with grounded outlets and ground wires running where necessary and various heavier appliance wiring properly sized for the appliances can be a big, costly job.

If you've got the old wire and nob wiring you may want to replace all that. I would.

There are probably sub-panels in one or more locations around this two-story house and they may or may not be wired properly.

The bottom line here is that it's really impossible for anyone to say exactly what you'll need without looking over your existing wiring.

If you do it right, it'll cost several thousand dollars. But what's that compared to the convenience of having enough safe circuits and receptacles for all your modern appliances and gadgets and the warm, fuzzy feeling that you'll be much less likely to wake up in the middle of the night to the aroma of smoke?

Unless you already have an electrician in whom you have confidence, get bids from several. Not only will you get a range of prices, but you'll get a range of different plans for whatever upgrade you decide on.

You may or may not want to take the lowest bidder. But on the other hand, just because someone bids your job low doesn't mean he won't do quality work. The big outfits usually charge more because they've got more overhead. An electrician who works for himself usually can charge less because he doesn't have the overhead.

And it never hurts to ask around and/or get references.

You might also buy a book or two on electrical wiring so you'll start out a bit more knowledgeable and perhaps have a better understanding of what he proposes to do when you deal with an electrician.

EDIT: And on the Square-D panel and QO breakers, I'm definitely with green jacket. Square-D makes excellent electrical equipment and its QO breakers are available virtually everywhere, whereas others may not be. And don't go for the Square-D Homeline stuff. It's a little cheaper but it's definitely not the same quality as the QO, nor does it enjoy the widespread availability.

And if I had a two-story house I'd definitely get a 40-circuit panel. They don't cost a lot more than panels with less available circuits, but they offer the comfortable luxury of easily adding circuits in the future without piggybacking or otherwise doubling up. When you're spending big bucks to bring such a house up to modern needs, it makes no sense to get pennywise and pound foolish on the size of the panel.

Last edited by HBB; 11-09-02 at 12:04 AM.
Old 11-09-02, 03:30 AM
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Thank you both for the replies, they've been printed and I do believe we'll get ourselves some reading material to better make an informed decision as recommended. It's a much more complex process than I think we both realized.

I won't say "price is of no concern at all", but it's certainly not as much of a factor as the safety and longevity of the upgrade, so this was very helpful.

We, luckily, have a few friends who recommend electricians they trust implicitly, and will bring in some local companies as well for their opinions and bids.

I'm sure I'll be posting back, and I'm very thankful for the quick, detailed replies.

Old 11-09-02, 08:51 AM
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The book I'd recommend unequivocally would be "Wiring a House", by Rex Cauldwell. Hardback. 226 pages. ISBN # 1561581135 -- $24.47 on Amazon.com, the link to which is here:


Just copy and paste that into your browser.

It has excellent illustrations, is well written in straight-forward, easy-to-understand language and will explain house wiring from the power company, through the transformer at the pole and all the way through a house.

I've rewired entire rental properties using nothing but this book.

Good luck on your project.
Old 11-09-02, 11:42 AM
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HBB wrote: "I've rewired entire rental properties using nothing but this book."

Wow--and I thought you needed wire, junction boxes, receptacles and the like. I am truly impressed with your ability level to be able to do that.

Seriously--I believe I'll have to get that book. I've 'heard' a LOT of people around here recommend it.
Old 11-09-02, 12:24 PM
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Good catch. After I sent that I just KNEW someone would pick up on it. Almost went back to fix it, then I thought -- Nah, let someone have a little fun with it.

You can't go wrong with "Wiring a House" but here's probably the greatest bargain of all wiring books in existence:


At a mere $8.47, "Wiring Simplified", by H. P. Richter, et al, packs more pure, solid information into 243 pages than any other electrical book I've ever seen. It's a handy size, too -- large enough not to be hard to read the print, yet small enough to fit in a toolbox. First published in 1932, it's a classic now in its 40th Edition. Great illustrations, too.

H. P. Richter has passed on to that big 400-amp panel in the sky, but faithful followers, master electricians themselves, have kept his works alive. His other classic, now in its 18th Edition, is "Practical Electrical Wiring: Residential, Farm, Commercial, and Industrial" 678 pages. $59.95.

You'll find that one here:


Both current editions are based on the 2002 National Electrical Code. I've been using both books in various editions for about 20 years.

Last edited by HBB; 11-09-02 at 01:21 PM.

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