Residential Electrical Nightmare - Questions

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Old 12-14-12, 07:11 AM
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Unhappy Residential Electrical Nightmare - Questions

This house was originally built in 1932, with additions in 1967 and 1985.

Original wiring is knob and tube.

It appears that the '67 addons included a GE 60amp split bus panel to service the entire house.

A lot of scary things have happened since....

Every outlet, light swtich, etc had it's own wire/drop, leading to some outrageous wire bundles protruding from junction boxes - with jumpers and electrical tape wads the size of baseballs - TYING IN TO THE KNOB AND TUBE STUFF ALONG THE WAY! The wiring was of various age and quality.. from fabric covered to modern 12/2. When switching off a breaker, you would find that the front porch light, a bedroom ceiling fan and outlets in a 1/2 bath would cut off. It was nuts! If most of the appliances weren't gas, this place would have melted down years ago!

Now, most of that has been sorted out. Initially by running proper circuits - to cut down on the sheer quantity of wires running everywhere - then tying into the breakers at proper load, getting away from the knob and tube.

Anyhow, these upgrades have rendered some of the fixtures and outlets useless (disconnected completely) due to taming the load on the panel to within operating recommendations - which is why I've come to seek advice from the DIY masters.

Because there is no way to shut off main power to the breakers without having the meter pulled, there are runs of line that can't be removed (without some heavy duty dielectric garb, a non-conductive lucky rabbit's foot and a prayer - AKA "Not Likely"). This would mean no power until the left over runs are pulled and the breakers replaced - with the end result being the same 60amp service... in 2012.

Question 1: Could the current panel (60amp) be replaced with a main disconnect only box, with #2 run to a 200a interior panel for distribution?

Question 2: If so, what would recommendations be for the main disconnect box? If not, what other ideas are there?

Question 3*: Has anyone pitched a reality-show idea about crazy wiring in the attic, and electricians have to fix it without being electrocuted or burning the house down?

*I'm only kidding

Thanks in advance.
 
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Old 12-14-12, 07:31 AM
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It sounds like it's time for a service and main panel upgrade. Unfortunately, it's really not a DIY project unless you're willing to go a day or two without power while the POCO disconnects and reconnects the power for you. An electrician will upgrade the service entry, meter pan, install a new breaker panel, and you'll be good to go in a few hours. I don't see any need for a main disconnect (other than the main breaker that'll be in your panel)

My other question though is why there are runs that can't be removed? Even in an old split-bus panel, if you turn off all the breakers, all the branch circuits (should) be dead. You have still be careful of the main lugs and bus bar, but all the other wiring is dead. Maybe I'm misunderstanding something.
 
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Old 12-14-12, 07:31 AM
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Adding a disconnect ahead of a panel with a main breaker is not necessary unless there is too much unfused service conductor inside the house.

I think a more reasonable approach would be in do a load calculation to see what size service you need. Then install a new service and replace the fuse panel with a breaker panel.
 
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Old 12-14-12, 07:46 AM
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RE: ...runs that can't be removed?

It's the main lug and bus bar that keep me away. I was about 11 when my stepfather had me put a breaker in a live panel. Never will forget it... or even remember much of it.

Each breaker has about 12' of run where it goes into the wall from the outside panel, up to the attic and to a junction box where it connects to the upgraded circuit. Replacing the current panel would (in my head) remove the need for those junction boxes (and connections) as the wiring to the new circuits could be cut back and come straight from the interior subpanel - reducing overall wiring and secondary connections.
 
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Old 12-14-12, 07:58 AM
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A 200amp service would allow the house to be powered with some breathing room and an eventual run to a workshop out back (which was powered by knob and tube dangling in mid air for a 20' stretch - until I cut it down.)

There are no fuses, just breakers. To the best of my knowledge, whoever had the breaker panel installed in the late 60's figured that wiring from 1932 was legit enough to tie in to dozens of times.
 
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Old 12-14-12, 08:16 AM
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I doubt your split bus panel is only 60 amps. The 60 amp breaker typically fed the smaller 120 volt branch circuits. The 240 volt circuits were above the split. There could be up to 6 "mains" to disconnect the power.
 
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Old 12-14-12, 08:36 AM
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I'd saved what was left of the panel's paper sticker.. it was only a corner and it said something about "70amp max with Cu, 60amp max with Al." IIRC some of the old wiring was aluminum, so I was going with the 60amp number. There are no other panels, and there isn't any 240v wired. There are currently 3-20amp breakers installed, which replaced the, IIRC... FIVE single-pole, 30amp breakers out of six slots. The box is maybe 12" tall by about 9" wide and sits next to a meter box.

I've looked for numbers on the box and found nothing but that old scrap of sticker that had a GE logo and the amp stuff mentioned above.

Forgive my lack of knowledge regarding older residential panels. Most of my experience is underground for municipal lighting and power.
 
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Old 12-14-12, 05:01 PM
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I'd saved what was left of the panel's paper sticker.. it was only a corner and it said something about "70amp max with Cu, 60amp max with Al." IIRC some of the old wiring was aluminum
I don't think I recall ever seeing a split bus breaker panel smaller than 100 amps, but regardless, you need a new service of at least 100 amps and you won't know exactly how big it should be without doing a load calculation. You may have some aluminum wiring from the 1967 addition, aluminum was used widely at that time. If the wiring you suspect of being aluminum is much older or part of the knob & tube wiring, what you have is probably tinned copper and not aluminum at all.
 
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Old 12-14-12, 05:42 PM
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@CasualJoe

I figured on 200 amp because the load calculations I did using various scenarios left me thinking that it would be sufficient for all of my planned upgrades and have enough room to add something else in the future. I don't want to install a 125a or 150a and then be unable to add a bandsaw to the workshop, or a hot tub out on the deck... if you catch my drift.

RE: The Panel... I'm not sure what it is. That scrap of paper was the only remaining detail that may identify it. And upthread I mentioned it was 9" across.. it's more like 6 or 7. I was just looking for evidence that a disconnect throw was on the side because I haven't seen any panels that small anywhere... the meter box is bigger!
 
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Old 12-14-12, 07:31 PM
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When you have the service entry upgraded, you can have the electrcian install a meter/disconnect. They aren't cheap, but it would allow you to totally cut off power to the panel (which would then be wired as a subpanel).

It may be more cost-effective for you to make friends with an electrician and have him make the connections to the main panel when needed if you don't feel comfortable working in it. It could also be a good opportunity for him to review your work, it's always a good idea to have a second pair of eyes on any work.

Just some thoughts...
 
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Old 12-15-12, 08:09 AM
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And upthread I mentioned it was 9" across.. it's more like 6 or 7. I was just looking for evidence that a disconnect throw was on the side because I haven't seen any panels that small anywhere... the meter box is bigger!
I have seen many 60 amp fuseboxes from the 50s that small and quite a few 100 amp split bus breaker panels from the early 60s that were nearly that small. The actual amperage rating of the old panel makes no difference, it still needs to be replaced. I don't like having an outdoor disconnect at the meter unless it is absolutely necessary, but if it is necessary then by all means, install one.
 
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Old 12-18-12, 06:41 AM
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***UPDATE: + More Questions

I found another panel on a shelf behind the workshop that appears identical to the current panel on the house (inside and out). It's partially crushed and not installed to anything, but it has about 50% of the paper sticker legible.

GE "RainTight" Cat No. TL410RH - 100 amp, 8 pole. NOT the 60 amp I was assuming previously.

There are two diagrams (camera broken). One showing as a main panel with the lines running to the lugs (One to poles 1, 2, 5 and 6. The other to poles 3, 4, 7 and 8) and the other shows the lines running to a main breaker (on the side with the 70 amp CU max, 60 amp AL max) on the top (converting positions 1 - 4 to 1 - 2) with "Sub Feed" from the lugs.

Is it possible to just put a 70 amp breaker up top (as a main disconnect) and run #2 to a sub panel?

I don't like having a main disconnect outside either, but I'm trying to work with what I have for the time being (aka - not shell out $2k more for electrical work). I did a load calculation with what is currently in the house and it's not even at 40 amps (everything is gas). My dreams of massive power to the shop and adding 240v circuits for the electrical appliances can just go on hold for now. My main concern is making sure the wiring in the house is new and uniform vs. the current, multigenerational scrap yard. Once I get that squared away, I can start worrying about future upgrades.

Sorry for the initial confusion. Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.
 
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