100 Amp Service -- upgrade?


Old 04-25-05, 12:17 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 21
100 Amp Service -- upgrade?

I'm in a 1962 house in which all the lights in the house flicker when we run the washing machine. I initially thought that it was because we needed more power (have 100 amp service). We had some people come take a look, and we got two different opinions.

1. Replace the panel, which is made by some company that has since gone out of business (Pacific something), but stay with 100 amp service. This guy said that upgrading panel and tightening connections would take care of flickering. Cost, $900.

2. Replace panel and upgrade to 200 amp service. This guy says we need the upgraded service. Cost, $1800.

So how do I know if I need 200 amp service? We have a small ranch-style home. Electric range, refrigerator, washer/dryer, stereo, garage door opener, central air.

Thanks in advance for any advice --
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Old 04-25-05, 01:11 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
If he was saying you have a Federal Pacific panel, then you do indeed want to replace the panel. Federal Pacific panels are known fire starters. Replace it, sooner rather than later, especially if you have loose connections.

Whether you need 100 amp or 200 amp is a good question. Your electric range, electric dryer and central AC are high energy devices. Other issues to consider are if you plan on adding any new circuits in the future. For example, do you need to have circuits added for power tools in the garage? Do you intend to redo the kitchen and/or the bathrooms? Do they meet current code now? Are the bathrooms on separate circuits, does the kitchen have two circuits?

I would probably go with the upgrade to 200 amp service. If you do stay at 100 amp service, make certain that a 40 circuit box is installed that can handle 200 amps, so that if you do have to upgrade later on you can just run new wires to the panel and replace the breaker.

I would also get some other estimates once you decide which path to take.
Old 04-25-05, 01:35 PM
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: USA
Posts: 719
If you have a Federal Pacific panel.
You may want to look at the link about Federal Pacific panels.
Old 04-25-05, 04:45 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: USA
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Oops, well, I guess the job is done -- we have a new 100 amp panel. New panel, no new service. Unfortunately, the lights still flicker when the washing machine runs!!!! I'm waiting to hear back from the electrician.

But the good news is that at least we got rid of the Federal Pacific panel -- and that's what it was. Whether it was one of the bad ones, I don't know. But I feel better just knowing it's out.

So now I'm wondering if we upgrade the service, was the $900 I just spent a total waste, or can they integrate it into the 100 amp panel they just put in?

Thanks for all the great info!
Old 04-25-05, 07:05 PM
Join Date: Jun 2002
Location: Brethren, Mi
Posts: 1,648
Seeing how this is an older house its highly likely that the washer may be on the same circuit as some lights. Maybe as a test run a cord to a different circuit somewhere and see what happens.
Old 04-25-05, 08:55 PM
hth is offline
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Location: Orange County
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200A Panel

I just upgraded my panel from 100A to 200A. The reason was some beakers broken and the cost to replace was almost 10 times for an obsolete (push-in type) breaker. I agreed with Bob here that you should upgrade your panel to 200A. Nowaday modern appliances need more and more power to run. Someday you may need a big screen, portable air, welder in garage, etc. Spend your $$$ once and you don't have to worry about it later. Too bad that you already changed the panel. Just curious: did you have the job inspected? When I had an electrician came for an option and a quote with my old panel, he told me to buy a new same size box and he would use the inside parts of the new box to replace inside parts of the old box!
Old 04-26-05, 05:16 AM
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Originally Posted by hth

Nowaday modern appliances need more and more power to run. Someday you may need a big screen, portable air, welder in garage, etc.
Not sure why (and this isn't directed directly at you), but why is there the misconception that TVs (or big screen tvs in this case) take a lot of power?
My 65" widescreen PLUS all the AV equipment attached to it take less than 400 watts to run. The TV itself only takes about 100 watts, the 27" only takes 60 watts. The equivelent of the average single light bulb.

To Robb:
Make sure the electrician knows that it was on his recommendation that replacing the panel would fix the lights and it didn't. My guess is that you need a new panel woth larger service (simply because it has more spaces) and then you need to split up the load so that there are fewer devices on each breaker. The washing machine should get it's own breaker, microwave too, as well as anything else that has a high startup load (such as a well pump, pool pump, etc). My 200 amp panel only has room for up to 4 more single circuits or ONE 240v device. It doesn't take long to eat up that space!

Keep in mind that your service entrance cable may not be 200 amp service. You'd need to contact the power company and find out, or you may need to replace your service drop as well.
Old 04-26-05, 07:41 AM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Fayetteville, NY, USA
Posts: 1,052
I suggest, if only to ease your mind, killing the breaker to the washer circuit and determining what else is on it. In my older home, when I use the microwave the kitchen lights dim quite a bit, because they are on the same circuit. (Lights and kitchen appliance receptacles on same circuit - OK in the Code once upon a time, not OK for new kitchen circuits.) However, when I use the washing machine, the kitchen lights do not dim. The washer is on a different circuit.

If you upgrade your service some day, the 100 amp panel will have to go. If you go to a 200 amp service, your panel must be rated for 200 amps. You can keep it around and maybe later use it for a sub-panel, like if you have a garage with little or no power out there, and want to add lots of lighting and power tool circuits. Or you can put an ad in the local Pennysaver and sell it for probably $100, and at least recoup some of your cost.

For other readers of this post who are contemplating replacing your panel, it is usually recommended to go ahead and upgrade to 200 amps, and to buy a panel that has lots of spaces, at least 30, even if you only have 18 or 20 circuits now. You may never end up using the additional space, but if you need some later and there isn't any - boy are you going to kick youself later! Also, you'd be surprised, but the difference in price between a 20 space and a 30 space panel is almost negligable.

Anyway, always good to see an FPE panel retired. Personally, I would enjoy taking it out to a quarry someplace and using it for shotgun practice!

Old 04-26-05, 08:06 AM
hth is offline
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Orange County
Posts: 233

I just pointed few samples. A bigscreen still draws more current than your 27 inch. A house now has more electric appliances and devices than 4 decades ago. Maybe I wasn't clear when I said so. Should it be Nowaday modern houses need more and more power ...?
Old 04-26-05, 09:18 AM
Join Date: Nov 2002
Location: SC
Posts: 171
Robb, only way to figure out the required service size is to do a load calculation, your electrician should be able to give you one for perhaps free since he determined 100A was sufficient. And it very well may be. In the future if you need to upsize you can still keep the 100A panel as a subpanel & feed it off the new 200A main, no problem. If the 100A is under sized just move some of the larger loads to the new panel.
Old 04-27-05, 09:46 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 21
Well, the bad news is that I should have posted the question here before arranging for the electrician to show up, b/c based on what I know now I probably would've sprung for the 200 amp service.

But the good news is that the electrician called the power company to come out and check the line, and it turns out there was a disconnected neutral line (I think he said) which, now reconnected, should take care of the flickering lights. I only just got the voicemail from the power company guy (I'm at work), but I'm eager to get home and run a load of laundry.

I guess the other bit of good news is that I got rid of the dangerous Federal Pacific panel!

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