Upgrading my service panel

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Old 12-16-05, 12:05 PM
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Upgrading my service panel

I had an electrician replace my main panel last weekend. He did everything live. Almost every post that I read from this site on replacing the panel myself told me to cut power from the street.

I realize that I am not an electrician, and like any pro, he made everything look easy. I also realize that people that post here are not standing in front of my panel and don't want any blame if I killed or hurt myself.

Still, it looked so easy, removing the two hots and capping them. He wore no big rubber gloves nor had lots of safety equipment that some people recommended when I asked about doing this myself. When he put the hot wires and neutral back on, he did use a kind of Allen head style tightner that I had never seen.

We just need to open up some concrete near the panel to drive a ground rod and wire it to the panel, then he said we can call for inspection.

Could I have done it myself? Yes. Could I have done it as well in the same amount of time? Not even close.
 
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Old 12-16-05, 12:28 PM
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Even though everything came out okay, I think he was being irresponsible as a professional by taking more risk than he should have. Not only could an arc flash have killed, burned or blinded him, but it could have started a fire and burned down your house or exploded the power company's transformer and caused a fire.

Can you work in high places without a safety harness? Yes. Can you operate a jackhammer without safety glasses? Yes. Can you use hazardous chemicals without a respirator? Yes. The list goes on and on, but I think it is rather irresponsible to perform dangerous work without protective gear when there are industry-standard safety procedures and gear available.
 
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Old 12-16-05, 12:29 PM
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Because of the clearances inside the panel, I wouldn't attempt to change out a panel energized regardless of whether or not I was wearing rubber gloves, a face shield and standing on a rubber blanket. I'm not sure why anyone would attempt this. Just the thought of having the clamp fall and bridge to ground when removing or re-installing the wires feeding the panel is crazy. I've seen the after-effects of what a fault fed by a 167 kva transformer can do and it ain't pretty.

He would have had to straighten out the wires to get the old panel out and then re-bend them to place under the lugs of the new panel. Was this guy an electrician or a power company lineman with oversize kahunas? What possible justification could there be for doing this work energized?
 
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Old 12-17-05, 07:38 AM
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I had my MSP upgraded a couple of years ago. Although I was certain I could have done the job myself, I was much more comfortable having a pro do this job since it was so involved and it required disconnecting the POCO meter to kill the power to the house. I also wanted to be confident that the job was done correctly.
IMO the guy you had was just taking an unnecessary chance. It only takes a minute to kill the power and I'm sure he could have worked a lot faster knowing that there was no danger.
 
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Old 12-19-05, 10:32 AM
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All the pros do it this way

When our power company field engineer came out to look at the panel and verify that I could upgrade from 100 to 200 amps, she told me that most if not all the electricians do the panel change with everything hot. She said that they could cut the power but it really was not done that way.

The electrician I used had done a few other upgrades in the neighborhood and is a neighbor too. He has been an electrician for 20 years. I get the feeling that the people who did this kind of work everyday do not take the safety precautions discussed on this forum.
 
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Old 12-19-05, 10:36 AM
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I would not hire an electrician who was not going to have the power company cut the power before doing a main panel and/or meter change.

I would recommend that anyone who does hire an electrician who would do this work live to do two things first. Make sure that the electrician has proper insurance and make sure that you (the homeowner) have proper insurance.
 
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Old 12-19-05, 01:59 PM
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"Still, it looked so easy, removing the two hots and capping them.""

Just curious. What did he use to cap the wires?
 
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Old 12-20-05, 04:33 PM
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Wire nuts

Originally Posted by alittle
"Still, it looked so easy, removing the two hots and capping them.""

Just curious. What did he use to cap the wires?
He used big blue wire nuts and then a lot of black electrical tape.
 
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Old 12-20-05, 04:51 PM
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Upgrading my service panel

Anyone who has been in a "flash" or seen a pad mount explode due to primary arcing, learns to respect the safety issues and would never do what this guy did. So it meant he had to pull a permit, he should have done it anyway. It is his license on the line if a secondary arc burns down your house, not to mention frying anything close to it.
 
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Old 12-21-05, 06:27 AM
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People can get very complacent around familiar risks, especially when the 'don't get bit'.

The problem is that he is working with a relatively small risk of a _catostrophic_ failure. I don't know if the risk is 1 in 100 or 1 in 10,000, but as you've described, this electrician has done quite a few of these 'hot' service changeovers, so the chance of an actual failure has to be pretty small. But one slight error, say brushing the exposed service entrance conductor against some grounded metal, and things will go _very_ bad _very_ quickly.

For someone with DIY experience, things would go no worse, but the chance of a failure are much higher.

That momentary ground contact would cause an arc, and with no PPE, you can expect the electrician to be in no position to control things after the fault. If the service entrance conductor remains in contact with the grounded metal, then very high current will flow, with _no fuse_ to stop the fault current. With luck the transformer _primary_ fuse would open. But more likely the current would keep flowing until the service entrance wire burns clear.

I've seen pictures of service entrance conductor faults, including one where the service entrance mast was burned from bottom to top as the failure moved upward, chewing up the conductors. Imagine a 1000A welder burning a metal pipe running up the side of your house. Not a happy making occurrence.

As this electrician demonstrated, if everything is executed perfectly, 'working hot' may be accomplished without incident.

What this electrician gave up, by working hot and not using suitable PPE, is all of the backup safety should something go wrong.

Do the math: a small chance of an event that would injure or kill you, burn down the house that you are standing in, and probably get you sued, in order to save a bit of time waiting for the POCO, and possibly a small charge. Would you do it if the risk were 1 in 50? 1 in 1000? 1 in 1000000? Think about it as a reverse lottery. You earn a very small benefit (not waiting for the POCO), and have a small chance of a very very costly 'jackpot'.

-Jon
 
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Old 12-21-05, 06:47 AM
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Originally Posted by racraft
I would not hire an electrician who was not going to have the power company cut the power before doing a main panel and/or meter change.

I would recommend that anyone who does hire an electrician who would do this work live to do two things first. Make sure that the electrician has proper insurance and make sure that you (the homeowner) have proper insurance.
I will be upgrading the service from 100 to 200 AMP Service. Out of 3 contractors I received a quotes from, all of them told me that they will pull the meter then upgrade the panel. Is this a standard industry practice?
 
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Old 12-21-05, 07:25 AM
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I think one thing that hasn't been mentioned here is that, if you are "upgrading" the size of the panel, wouldn't the wires from the meter socket to the panel and riser cables to the weatherhead (if overhead service) need to be upgraded, too? How would one do that without pulling the meter?
 

Last edited by alittle; 12-21-05 at 09:04 AM.
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Old 12-21-05, 08:57 AM
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Originally Posted by kevin2010
I will be upgrading the service from 100 to 200 AMP Service. Out of 3 contractors I received a quotes from, all of them told me that they will pull the meter then upgrade the panel. Is this a standard industry practice?
Yes. They will often cut the overhead lines to your house also, but this depends on the local rules of your power company.
 
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Old 12-22-05, 06:19 AM
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When I had my MSP upgraded the EC called the POCO, pulled the meter to kill the power and replaced the panel and meter. The POCo came out a couple of days later and replaced the seal on the meter. The Se cables were sized adequately and didn't need replacement.
 
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Old 12-22-05, 09:17 AM
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What I cannot understand

The thing that really bothers me is that the power company field engineer said that all the electricians do this work hot. She came to my house and inspected my old panel and meter to see if the 200 A upgrade would be a problem and that is when she told me about how the electrician would do the work.

When I asked her about getting the power back on she said she could not guarentee it to happen the same day as when they cut it. Mostly, she said, the work was done hot, then the city inspected it and then notified her. She would come back and verify that everything was fine and that closed the issue.

I also asked the city inspector when I pulled my permit and he said that he did his own home upgrade with power turned off by the utility company. He told me that he did not live in my city so perhaps he has a different field engineer.

My electrician pulled the meter out of the old plug and put it in the new panel. My electrician said that the meter was rated for 200 A and I saw that on the meter. We have underground service if that makes a difference.
 
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Old 12-22-05, 10:57 AM
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Now you are saying he pulled the meter. So he changed out the meter base/panel with an underground service. That's a whole lot different than changing out the panel without pulling the meter. I HAVE done that. The clearances in the meter base are much greater than in a panel.
 
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Old 12-23-05, 11:03 AM
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Sorry for not being clear

I see I should have been more descriptive in my first post, or even when I asked my initial questions to this forum some months ago. But why didn't some one explain the clearance issues earlier? It seems like a first step if getting a question about panel upgrades. I might have done this myself and saved about $500.
 
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