Service Panel maintenance


  #1  
Old 07-23-04, 07:53 AM
deep6blue
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Service Panel maintenance

I would like to perform some preventative maintenance on our service panel. I have watched an electrician do this and it didn't seem like it was very difficult. Basically just tightened down all the screws.

Our panel is a mix of aluminum and copper wiring. During the home inspection the inspector noted that we have 100amp service, but the MAIN breaker is only 60amp (So I assume it really is 60amp). There are seven 15A, three 20A, the MAIN 60A, and four 30A breakers, in that order, in the panel. Just out of curiosity, the 15A should 14AWG and the 20A 12AWG right?

My experience level in electrical and electronics is intermediate. I have been dealing with computers for quite a long time and an avid DIYer for many years. General electrical work has been simple so far (outlets/switches/lights/fans). I just have only ever opened a service panel once and want to make sure it works when I'm done!

I have several circuit testers and a multimeter.

What safety precautions should I take?
What are the proper procedures for doing PM on a service panel?
Is there anything is particular I should look for when doing this?
If I do find corrosion from the aluminum wires how do I safely clean it?
The MAIN breaker is in the middle of the box, does this matter? I would expect it to be at one of the ends (top or bottom).

Thanks for all the help.
 
  #2  
Old 07-23-04, 09:12 AM
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What brand of panel is it?
 
  #3  
Old 07-23-04, 10:20 AM
deep6blue
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I don't have any idea. The house was built around 1968 by Levitt & Son's. It does NOT look like the Square D panels I have seen. The breakers flip horizontally and are about 2-3inches wide and 1 inch tall. (The square D breakers I have seen are 4-5 inches wide and about 1/2 inch tall)


Is there anywhere I could go on the Internet that would show pictures of panels?
 
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Old 07-23-04, 12:45 PM
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Look for the words Federal Pacific...

Some of the circuits may not be turned off by the main (you really do have 100 amp service) and there is probably no safe way to work inside this panel without a great deal of experience. If this is a FP panel, I'd start saving for a replacement and not touch the cover until the electrician gets there. It's about reached the end of it's useful life. Search the web for Federal Pacific and make your own decision. In this case the best PM is replacement.

Doug M.
 
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Old 07-23-04, 09:48 PM
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For dougm and all others reading: Funny you mention about the FP panels being like that (first several on the main, the remainder fed through a 60A main breaker); General Electric made those same kind of panels around 1970. I am still trying to convince somebody to get it out of the house ASAP. It is nothing but a dangerous piece of junk. (their house is also a mix of Cu and AL)

If the Main 60 is not at the IMMEDIATE TOP, I would advise you to stay out altogether. It is not worth rinsking the danger.
Look at the paper glued to the inside of the panel door, there should be a diagram of the internal structure. See if there is one, and if the main breaker is for all or part of the panel.

gj
 
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Old 07-24-04, 11:35 AM
CSelectric
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Are there any markings or colorings on the breaker face or handle? (different colored handles, colored paint flags on the words on or off, etc.)

is the breaker itself black or brown?

does the handle flip on and off, or is it a pushbutton?

is there any text molded into, or printed on the face of the breaker?

Also, are those 30 amp breakers of the two pole variety?

One other test you can perform to help us is to shut off the main and see if you still have power anywhere in the house. If this is a split bus panel, then whatever is being controlled by those 30 amp breakers will still be hot after you shut off the main.
 
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Old 07-26-04, 08:28 AM
deep6blue
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I was wrong in my description of the panel. The individual breakers are black. And are the pushbutton type. They are about an inch wide, and 1 1/2 inch tall. The amp rating is written on the side of each breaker. The panel itself has nothing written on it, although it has a sticker from the builder that might be hiding something.

The 30amp breakers look to be the double pole type. They are installed horizontally across 2 breakers.

Once again, if anyone has any pictures of older service panels I should be able to ID it. Just post the web address.
 
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Old 07-26-04, 09:56 AM
deep6blue
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Federal Pacific - Holy smoke! I just looked up the info on them and I'm happy to report that we do not have one of the FP Panels. At least it doesn't appear to be a FP panel. I don't know if they made pushbutton breakers, but the CPSC reports cover the flipswitch type of breakers.

I found the info here:
http://www.inspect-ny.com/fpe/fpestlouis.htm
 
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Old 07-26-04, 10:46 AM
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Sorry about the alarm. The split bus with 60 amp "main" was (is) characteristic of FP panels. Glad to hear you don't have one, but you're still dealing with a rather old potentially hazardous situation for a DIYer to enter into. I really think I'd have the panel looked at by a pro before I removed the cover myself. Search the web for the words "arc blast" if you need a little more fear. Who needs horror movies!

Doug M.
 
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Old 07-26-04, 11:09 AM
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Sorry for the large image.

You may have an ITE, Bulldog, "Pushmatic" panel which is from the early sixties.
I would encourage you to not necessarily cycle the breakers as they are prone to jamming and not resetting.

I have a 60 amp Pushmatic load centre on my main floor fed from a modern 200 amp panel in the basement.
Pulling it out is high up on my list of things to do this winter.



Image credit: electrical contractor.net
 
  #11  
Old 07-26-04, 12:19 PM
deep6blue
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I found pictures on ebay. You can view them here:
http://home.comcast.net/~deep6blue/pushmatic.jpg
http://home.comcast.net/~deep6blue/pushmatic2.jpg

They are very similar to what you posted.

Now that the panel is identified. What type of PM is advised? Even if I don't do the work myself (which is the new intended plan), what PM will be done? I'd like to know what the electrician will do.

After this basic service is completed. I will probably start looking for an upgrade in service. What is an average price for the installation of a 200 amp panel? What is a good brand of panel to go with? I'd hate to be stuck with a bottom of the barrel panel because that is all that is offered.

Thanks for all your help.
 
  #12  
Old 07-26-04, 07:05 PM
CSelectric
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Yep, that is most certainly an ITE Pushmatic. It also sounds a lot like a split bus version. Those 30 amp breakers are two pole units. The old pushmatics were unique in the fact that a two pole breaker took one slot on the left, one on the right (instead of on on top of the other.)
Being those are two poles, I'm betting if you flip the main, you'll still have power on whatever the 2 pole breakers are feeding (the range is a likely place to look, electric water heater, perhaps an A/C unit.)
That being said, preventative maintenance is ill advised for the non professional, as you can't kill power to the entire panel by throwing the main. Furthermore, the old pushmatics were, again, unique in the location of the wire terminations. There is actually an open channel between the left and right side breakers, the breakers terminations for part of the panel are located right in that center space. It can be tough to work in that area without touching a finger or screwdriver against the bus. It is highly advisable never to work on that panel hot.


PS: in reference to what Doug Mentioned about Arc Blast. For anyone interested in the subject, concerned about safety or just interested in really cool streaming video, I highly recommend Bussmans web site. They have an excelent video stream that will open your eyes to what Arc Flash really is.
 
 

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