Cost involved in "splitting" a overloaded circuit?


  #1  
Old 09-01-04, 07:46 AM
sk545
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Cost involved in "splitting" a overloaded circuit?

Basically, the entire upstairs portion of our house is on a single 15amp circuit. Well, that breaker keeps tripping if we run too many electrical devices. So, we are looking to "split" this circuit up into two.

I went to a website called reliableremodler.com and put in a request. A contractor called and he said that i would have to have a entire new circuit installed upstairs, and that was the only way. He also asked if i had an attic, which we do.

I however, did not get any kind of rough estimate on how much a job like this would cost. Anyone know how much roughly i can expect to pay for something like this?

Living in Massachussetts, USA, if that matters. The house is a two story house,with a atic and a basement which contains the electrical panel.

Thanks.
 
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Old 09-01-04, 07:55 AM
J
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I can't comment much on price, other than saying that it should be in the small number of hundreds of dollars, more or less depending on access and location factors, and the number of outlets desired. In my opinion, approaching this project as one of adding a new circuit rather than splitting the old circuit is the correct approach.
 
  #3  
Old 09-01-04, 11:28 AM
sk545
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thx.

Hrm, wonder if i can get a rough estimate from another website...
 
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Old 09-01-04, 11:38 AM
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Let us know if you do. I'm interested in what it is.
 
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Old 09-01-04, 11:56 AM
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I am not as quick as John to jump in and say to add new circuits as opposed to splitting the existing circuit.

My answer would depend on the answer to several questions. If you are satisfied with the number and location of the existing recepticles, and simply want some of them to be on a different circuit, it might be possible to split the circuit. It would depend on how the circuit is wired. It might very well be possible in the attic or at one or two of the recepticles to add a new wire from the panel, thereby splitting the circuit. For me, this would be preferrable to running all new recepticles, and having to be conscious of whether I was using an old or a new recepticle.
 
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Old 09-01-04, 12:54 PM
sk545
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I am satisfied with the existing receptacle positions, etc. All i want is not having the breaker trip every so often.

Since the one that is being used now is 15amps, if another one would be installed, it woud be 15amps as well, correct?

Thx.
 
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Old 09-01-04, 01:16 PM
J
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If you split the circuit, then it would (probably) use existing wiring, which only supports 15 amps, so yes you are correct. If you go with a new circuit, you can get either 15 amps or 20 amps.

One problem with splitting the circuit is that some amount of time would need to be spent analyzing the existing circuit and figuring out how it is run and where to split it. This time is of little consequence if you do the work yourself, but is of consequence if you're paying the electrician for it.
 
  #8  
Old 09-01-04, 01:23 PM
sk545
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yep, exactly why we are getting a electrician to do it since we know nothing about splitting circuits. We did manage to get one to come this Friday for a estimate, so i will let you know what amount it ends up being.

Servicemagic.com is pretty cool too...
 
  #9  
Old 09-04-04, 10:46 AM
sk545
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ok, someone came today and gave a estimate. Basically they said that they couldn't split the circuit since its complex. They want to install 4 more receptacles in each of three of our upstairs rooms on a newer circuit or more. Their reasoning is that this will balance the ratio of receptacles so people supposedly will use these newer receptacles and therefore the load will be balanced. I am not too sure if this will help solve the problem completly. I mean people are used to using the existing receptacles and it wouldn't matter if there were newer ones around. They will still use the older ones.

The estimate:

$1600 for 4 receptacles in each of 3 rooms, so thats 12 recptacles.
$ 775 for a subpanel, since the older one is full.

This is way higher than i had anticipated. Plus it doesn't even solve the problem of the existing circuit.
And since its only a estimate, who knows what else will pop up when they are working on this older home. Next thing you know its upwards of $3000. No thanks.

Thoughts?

Seriously folks, what the heck am i going to do with 4 more receptacles in each room? I already have three in each room (some have two), so i will have like 6 or 7 in each after they are done? No need for that at all. Sort of rediculous if you ask me.
 
  #10  
Old 09-04-04, 01:51 PM
bum4evr
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wow

that sounds expensive! Im just guessing here since im not an expert, but if this were me, I would make a note of what was running when the circuit tripped and see if there was one particular room you could isolate and perhaps get an estimate on just having that one room rewired or added to one of the existing breakers with some power to spare (if there are any).

Perhaps pick the room with the most power usage to have rewired and perhaps the rest of the rooms would be ok and it might be cheaper? Just an idea, but some people here might have better ideas.
 
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Old 09-04-04, 02:05 PM
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This is why it's impossible to give an estimate without a site visit. Complications (such as the need for a subpanel) cannot be predicted, and apparently the cable will be difficult to run.

Start by getting one or two more estimates, but don't count on them being drastically lower.

If you are afraid that people will continue to use the old receptacles instead of the new receptacles, then I suggest you put child safety caps on the old receptacles to steer people to use the newer receptacles. This seems like a reasonable solution to me.

You might be able to reduce the cost by only putting new receptacles in one or two of the three rooms, perhaps the rooms with the biggest power usage. Or by putting fewer than four new receptacles in each room.
 
  #12  
Old 09-04-04, 02:14 PM
sk545
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yes, we are going to get more estimates too.

It just seems like a simple splitting of a circuit is so much more difficult once a house is already built. But, i dunno why as to they insisted on putting 4 more receptacles in each room. I mean its a bit too much. That child safety cap thing sounds neat, maybe i could just cover the entire receptacle with a coverplate and make it permananetly closed?

The only thing that did make sense was a need for a subpanel, since i can see that the existing one is full. Plus i don't know how one figures out if there is power to spare in the existing panel. Even if it did, the electrician said its too complex to rewire. Well, that is why i got a electrcian in the first place since it was too complex for DIY, and now its too complex for the electrician too. Ah well.
 

Last edited by sk545; 09-04-04 at 02:26 PM.
  #13  
Old 09-04-04, 02:28 PM
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Figuring out if your electrical service has power to spare is called a "demand load calculation". It uses variables such as square feet of the home plus the electrical requirements of your major appliances. It's a fairly complicated computation, but I would request that any electrical contractor bidding for this job conduct one. Or we could do it for you if you're willing to answer about twenty questions.
 
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Old 09-04-04, 04:04 PM
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Ive done a few of these and they can in fact be very challenging and time consuming. In order to provide a fixed price I plan on replacing all of the existing devices with new ones of the rapid wire type. Those are devices were the side mounted screws tighten a clamping plate against the stripped wire that you have inserted into holes in the back of the device. I begin by removing all of the receptacles from the boxes. Before ringing out the circuit I test for faults with a megohmmeter at 250 or three hundred volts depending on which megger I'm using. If it passes the fault testing fine. If it fails fault testing then the fault must be cleared on a time and materials basis but with the circuit already broken into it's separate cable segments that is usually a reasonably priced task. I then ring out the circuit by applying a twelve volt lantern battery to the grounded and ungrounded current carrying conductors at the panel. I draw a sketch of how the circuit runs and split it at the most logical and accessible point. Since the circuit inevitably serves bed rooms I install Arc Fault Circuit Interuptors (AFCIs). The new circuits that I run to the upper floor include dedicated heating or cooling circuits and a dedicated bathroom basin receptacle circuit. Those two common loads are the most frequent source of overload that I find in residences.

If you are running window air conditioners or hair dryers on the circuit that has been tripping then providing new circuits for just those loads is likely to be curative.
--
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  #15  
Old 09-05-04, 11:53 AM
sk545
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Figuring out if your electrical service has power to spare is called a "demand load calculation". It uses variables such as square feet of the home plus the electrical requirements of your major appliances. It's a fairly complicated computation, but I would request that any electrical contractor bidding for this job conduct one. Or we could do it for you if you're willing to answer about twenty questions. __________________
Well one would think that electricians would do it by default, i mean that is why we hire them, no? I don't know about "demand load calculation" nor was this mentioned to me by the electrician.

Really though, i think (from ideas/suggestions presented by people here) the only plausible solution would be to just put coverplates on the existing outlet(s) and put a new one next to it around the same area with the newer circuit. So basically i am going to just need one new circuit with three new receptacles (one in each room, "replacing" the existing receptacle).

How's that sound?

If you are running window air conditioners or hair dryers on the circuit that has been tripping then providing new circuits for just those loads is likely to be curative.
Yep, exactly, but i want to cover up the existing recptacles so there aren't a trillion receptacles to plug into. Plus not only will that eliminate "too many receptacle" problem but will also free up the existing circuit from too much load for good. No one is plugging into a coverplate.

Only questions that remain are ("only questions" if the above sounds ok, please let me know if the above is a bad idea) :
1) Do i need a subpanel or does the existing one have enough to spare?
2) Is one 15amp circuit good enough for 3 recptacles or do i need more than one circuit? I mean, i am not running a factory here.

I am also wondering how much a subpanel plus installation would cost nowadays. Is $775 reasonable? Thats if i heard the electrician correctly and he wanted a subpanel, and not replace the existing one with a newer one. That would be pretty dumb, but what do i know...
 

Last edited by sk545; 09-05-04 at 12:11 PM.
  #16  
Old 09-05-04, 12:27 PM
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put coverplates on the existing outlet(s)
Well, of course you don't want to put covers on all the existing outlets, or you'll just trip the new breaker instead of the old one. As you originally said, you want to split the load, not merely move it.

1) Do i need a subpanel or does the existing one have enough to spare?
You're looking at the panel. We're not. Are there any unused spaces?

2) Is one 15amp circuit good enough for 3 recptacles or do i need more than one circuit? I mean, i am not running a factory here.
One 15-amp circuit provides 1800 watts of power. If you're running a high-power hair dryer or a window air conditioner, it might not even be enough for one receptacle. If you're running clocks, it might be enough for 500 receptacles. It is entirely dependent on what you're going to plug in. By the way, I see no point in running a 15-amp circuit. A 20-amp circuit will provide 33% more power for 2% more cost.

Rule of thumb is that a 15-amp circuit can support up to 8 receptacles and a 20-amp circuit can support up to 10 receptacles. But that's a very rough rule of thumb. Anybody who thinks for a 30 seconds about what they might plug in can come up with a better number.
 
  #17  
Old 09-05-04, 12:48 PM
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SK545,

I am a licensed electrician in Massachusetts, commercial and industrial work mainly.

If the sub-panel was to be installed next to the main panel with room to mount the equipment then I would say that price is high by around $200.

Small local contractors can still be had for around $38 - $45 per hour.

I asked around for a 200A service upgrade the other day and found out they get $1800-$2300 though .

I should think about going back to residential!!
 
  #18  
Old 09-05-04, 02:10 PM
sk545
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Well, of course you don't want to put covers on all the existing outlets, or you'll just trip the new breaker instead of the old one. As you originally said, you want to split the load, not merely move it.
Sorry if i was unclear, i meant only 3 of the existing outlets to be covered and new ones installed next to them.

You're looking at the panel. We're not. Are there any unused spaces?
No there are not. I was under the impression (for some reason) that a existing breaker might be able to take the load?


One 15-amp circuit provides 1800 watts of power. If you're running a high-power hair dryer or a window air conditioner, it might not even be enough for one receptacle.
Yes, the things that normally trip this circuit are: A hair dryer, Iron, or an AC or computer. Ofcourse we need to have like 2 computers, a ac, and some lights, turned on first. Then if you plug in any of the other mentioned equipment, the breaker would trip right away.

By the way, I see no point in running a 15-amp circuit. A 20-amp circuit will provide 33% more power for 2% more cost.
Cool, thats good to know. Thx.

If the sub-panel was to be installed next to the main panel with room to mount the equipment then I would say that price is high by around $200.
There is room underneath the existing panel. Its sort of mounted on a large piece of wood like 21-inches wide by 7-feet high or something close to that.

Alright, here are some pics of the panel:

http://files.photojerk.com/sk545/IM000504.jpg (full view)

http://files.photojerk.com/sk545/IM000506.jpg (closer view)

http://files.photojerk.com/sk545/IM000507.jpg (top view)

http://files.photojerk.com/sk545/IM000508.jpg (information on panel)

(note that on some internet browsers you have to click on the image itself to make it bigger)

It is a Murray panel and the layout of the breakers (if you can't tell from the pics is:

Main 100

Left
20
20
20
20
20
60 (double pole)
20
20
20

Right
15
15
15
15
15
15
15
15
30 (double pole)
 

Last edited by sk545; 09-05-04 at 02:56 PM.
  #19  
Old 09-05-04, 04:01 PM
J
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Be sure to ask your contractor about the possibility of using tandem breakers instead of a subpanel. If possible for your panel and allowed by your city, it would be considerably cheaper than a subpanel.

Using an existing breaker is unlikely to be a satisfactory solution.
 
  #20  
Old 09-05-04, 04:28 PM
sk545
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whats a tandem breaker?
 
  #21  
Old 09-05-04, 04:34 PM
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They go by various names: tandem, twin, skinny. They are two breakers in one package that fits into the same one-inch space as one of your current breakers.
 
  #22  
Old 09-05-04, 04:56 PM
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If I am mistaken, there appears to be a 2P 20A breaker on the left side that is a spare. Replace with single pole breakers for two available circuits.
 
  #23  
Old 09-05-04, 05:12 PM
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No tandems in that panel!

The panel is listed as A CTL assembly and its label only shows twenty poles in it's diagram. Placing additional breakers in that panel would violate it's listing and labeling.
--
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  #24  
Old 09-05-04, 06:54 PM
sk545
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who's right?
 
  #25  
Old 09-05-04, 07:37 PM
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Horney & Up-N are both right.
No twins and there is a two pole 20 with no wire on it. So right off the bat you have two spaces available.
 
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Old 09-05-04, 07:48 PM
sk545
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hrm. May i ask what in the world is a 20amp breaker doing without any wires going to it? Is it just there for show? And its a 2 pole, no less!
 
  #27  
Old 09-05-04, 07:54 PM
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Was probably used for something else once that is since removed. Perhaps baseboard heating or perhaps an air conditioner. You'll probably never figure it out, but it does mean that you don't have to spend money for a new subpanel. You can thank up-n-running's sharp eyes for saving you $775.
 
  #28  
Old 09-05-04, 08:34 PM
sk545
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yah, seriously. Thanks up-n-running, i should paypal you 20 bucks for that. lol.

What strikes me about this is that whoever that electrician was didn't even open the panel cover and assummed it was full. What kind of electrician am i getting here?

Ok, so its a double pole 20amper, but why would one use this? Can't they use two 20amper single poles? Hows that different? I could use the resulting space left behind the double pole for any kind of circuit, right? 15, 20, 30, 60, double, single?
 
  #29  
Old 09-05-04, 08:50 PM
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There are many reasons for using a double-pole 20-amp instead of two single-poles. The two most common are for a 240-volt circuit, and for a multiwire circuit. Actually, you can use this same breaker for your new circuit(s). That might even save you a bit more money. But yes, you could use those two slots for anything you want.
 
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Old 09-05-04, 09:22 PM
sk545
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cool. I could just then do two 20amp circuits with this existing breaker. Sounds good, hopefully the breaker is in working condition and so is the slot. So, if one of these 20amp circuit gets overloaded, it will trip the other one as well, i suppose, since they are together. I guess thats the only drawback of having it like that.

edit: Is that a twin or are they two 20amps singles? It looks like they are connected together by something on their handles.

Thanks all. Man, this has been quite a learning experience. I'll keep this updated as i get more estimates, etc.
 
  #31  
Old 09-06-04, 07:18 AM
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It's not a twin.
 
  #32  
Old 09-06-04, 08:20 AM
sk545
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I looked again inside the panel, and that breaker is a 60amp double pole. After testing it with a multimeter, it seems to be working just fine. I left it in the off position since its not much use right now. Thats ok to do, right?

Then i suppose the best thing to do would be to get 2 single pole 20ampers in its place.

Question though: What happens if someone used that 60amper for receptacles? or a 40 or 30amp? Is it required to use only 15 and 20 for receptacles? I am just curious as to why, pretty sure that one can only use 15 or 20.
 
  #33  
Old 09-06-04, 09:55 AM
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You should buy the two 20-amp breakers. Use of 60-amp breakers (or 30-amp or 40-amp) for receptacles or lighting would not only be a very serious violation of the electrical code, but it would compromise the safety of your electrical system. Code allows 15-amp breakers and 20-amp breakers only for regular lighting and receptacle circuits.

It's simply a question of whether you want the breaker to trip before or after your house burns down. For some strange reason, most people prefer before.
 
  #34  
Old 09-06-04, 12:27 PM
sk545
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lol. like the sarcasm there, John.

 
  #35  
Old 09-06-04, 02:52 PM
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As John mentioned use two 1 pole 20A breakers. If you run the branch circuits yourself make sure you use a minimum of #12 AWG wire or better.

Good luck!
 
  #36  
Old 09-06-04, 07:47 PM
sk545
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nah, i won't be doing this myself for sure. I think i will end up blowing up the house. But thanks everyone for the input, it really helps.
 
 

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