Turning old panel into Disconnect for New Main panel

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Old 08-26-13, 04:10 PM
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Turning old panel into Disconnect for New Main panel

I have an old Cutler Hammer panel with a split design. The breakers for the dryer (40A), Range (50A), and the labeled 'Main breaker' (60A) that feeds the bottom half of the panel reside in the top half -- directly fed by the main service with no additional OCPD. All of the other branch circuits (including AC) are on the bottom half of the panel fed by that 60A main breaker. The panel is rated for 150A max. This panel resides on the far side of the garage, directly behind the meter box.

I picked up a 200A QO load center that I had intended to use as a replacement panel for a planned heavy up because we picked up a new geo spring HWH that needs a 2 pole 30A feed. Although there are 2 free spaces on the top end, the old panel is maxed out in amps from the (3) existing 2 pole breakers for the above mentioned dryer, range, main.

Well, the HVAC took a dump and we had to have that fixed. The budget for the heavy up is just gone, and there is no way I can pay for the work now.

Instead, what I'd like to do, assuming it's up to code, is to pull all the breakers out of the old panel. Replace them with a single CH2150 150A breaker, replace the 200A main breaker in the QO load center with a 150A main fed with #1 AWG copper from the old panel, and move all the existing circuits over to the new panel, plus the new circuit for the HWH. The new panel has been roughed in, in the laundry room with a 3ft clearance. I have decided that I'd like to the new panel in the laundry room for 2 reasons, first, when we pop a circuit, it's a long trip through a crowded garage to reset it. 2nd, I've got sagging voltages (~8.5%) on the far side of the house when the circuits are loaded. Moving the circuits to the new panel will shorten the runs about 20 feet each, give or take a few feet.

FWIW, I've replaced all of the crappy backstab only receptacles with higher grade screw clamp types. All of the existing circuits are fed with 12/2 romex (except obv the dryer, range, and AC).


Does any of this sound crazy, or am I good to go? Thank you in advance.
 
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Old 08-26-13, 05:05 PM
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Welcome to the forums!

Does any of this sound crazy, or am I good to go?
It sounds like you're planning to do some work and spend some money for no apparent gain.

the old panel is maxed out in amps from the (3) existing 2 pole breakers for the above mentioned dryer, range, main.
No it isn't. A panel can be overloaded but it can't be "maxed out in amps," unless you're using that to mean overloaded.

First of all, your existing panel isn't overloaded. Besides the fact that the 60A main breaker for the single-pole 120V section adds nothing on its own, loads are not calculated by adding up the numbers on the breaker handles. Doing that is assuming that every circuit is loaded to its maximum at all times. Do the values for all of the breakers in the lower section add up to more than 60A? If so, how is that main breaker holding?

Although there are 2 free spaces on the top end,
Move all 240V circuits to that area. Leave the lower section for the 120V circuits.

I've got sagging voltages (~8.5%) on the far side of the house when the circuits are loaded. Moving the circuits to the new panel will shorten the runs about 20 feet each, give or take a few feet.
That may be due to either or both of two factors. One is that you have at least one 240V circuit fed from the 120V area. The other is that you may have one or more overextended circuits. Map your existing receptacles and light switches by circuit to determine that.

Unless it is more than 100' from your existing panel to the furthest devices in your house, distance is probably not a factor and reducing that by 20' probably won't make a difference.

I have decided that I'd like to the new panel in the laundry room for 2 reasons, first, when we pop a circuit, in a long trip through a crowded garage to reset it.
OK. Now we have a solid reason to relocate the panel. This work requires a permit in every jurisdiction that I'm familiar with so, if you're planning to do the work yourself, your first step is to pull a permit from your local jurisdiction.

what I'd like to do... is to pull all the breakers out of the old panel. Replace them with a single CH2150 150A breaker, replace the 200A main breaker in the QO load center with a 150A main fed with #1 AWG copper from the old panel, and move all the existing circuits over to the new panel, plus the new circuit for the HWH.
#1 AWG copper is rated for up to 110 amps. You might be able to use 2/0 AWG copper for 150 amps. But, if you have a reason to believe you'll actually need 200A at some point, I would run the 4/0 or 250mcm feeders for that now.

I don't, BTW, see a need for the 200A in what you've told us so far. With the A/C, though, it's not a bad ides.

Mount the 2-pole 150A breaker as the only breaker in your existing panel. You can leave the 200A breaker in your new subpanel - it's just a means of convenient disconnect.

Pull 4 wires to your new subpanel. The ground can be #4 AWG copper IIRC. Isolate the neutrals and bond the grounds in the new subpanel.
 
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Old 08-26-13, 05:11 PM
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Welcome to the forums!

First off, you do not add up amps on the breakers to determine if a panel is maxed out. You would do a load calculation for your home. You can find them online.

Second, I doubt that the 150 amp CH breaker you linked will plug into your existing panel. The largest size plug in breaker I have ever seen is a 125 amp ITE/Siemens.

Third, unless your home is massive I doubt you are really getting that much voltage drop because of the length of the circuits. Shortening the circuits by 20 feet will have almost no effect.

My suggestions are either replace the existing panel and install the new 200 amp QO panel in the location of the garage, or leave the existing panel and circuits as is, and use the 200 amp as a sub panel. You should be able to get a 100 amp plug in breaker with little trouble.

If you can, post a picture of your existing panel with the cover off so we can see what you see.

***EDIT*** The breaker you posted appears to be a plug in breaker, but requires 4 spaces. I would still leave the existing panel. So, if you have the space in the existing panel, you could install it and use that to feed your 200 amp subpanel. As Nash posted you would need to run 2/0 copper if using NM cable or 1/0 copper if your running the feeder in conduit.
 
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Old 08-26-13, 05:33 PM
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Good information. I'll grab a picture of the panel later and post it.

The panel reads 150AMPS Max on a sticker on the inside. The Main, Dryer, and Range together add up to 150A. There is no other breaker between the service and those three breakers. I had assumed it was against code to load the panel up beyond it's rating, even if the expected continuous load was lower.

My home is 2 floors 2100Sq ft, with a 2 bay garage -- panel on the far side. It has only 2 circuits for 3 (of 4) bedrooms and two of the 2 bathrooms up stairs. Some of those circuits share with receptacles downstairs. The wires stretch all the way across the garage ceiling, snake up and down between the first and second floor into multiple rooms. Truthfully, I haven't measured the linear length, that'd be very painful. I have no doubt at all that the runs exceed well over 100ft for the two bedrooms I'm having trouble with. While the A/C is down, I have (2) ~1000w window units in those two far bedrooms. I'm getting 103-104v (from 120v at the breaker) when the A/C's and one or two computers are on. The main A/C is down until parts can be ordered, and is not a factor, as I have shut the A/C breaker off.

The real problem is that the circuits are tripping somewhat often, because it seems half the damn house is wired on those two breakers. The living room TV & Stereo share the same circuit as the office (bedroom) with 3 computers and now a window shaker. The other bedroom (with a window unit) shares it's circuits with the bathrooms and the dining room. It's ludicrous. I am not willing to split the circuit yet. I have simply powered down devices and tried to move them around to balance the load between the circuits. It's now tripping a lot less often, but I'm still getting a concerning voltage drop. From the breaker to (I think) the first receptacal is a 3 volt drop. From that first receptacal to the next closest one in the room on the same circuit is another 3v drop. I have triple check the quality of my connections. I'm not sloppy, and I'm using quality devices. The wire isn't over heated and shows a good clean copper color. I am racking my brain and I just can't think of anything else to lessen the voltage sag than to shorten the runs.

Even if that weren't an issue, I still want the panel in the laundry room. If the wife trips over my **** in the garage one more time -- well lets just not go down that road.
 
  #5  
Old 08-26-13, 05:35 PM
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I just looked at the breaker you linked to. It looks like a 200A bolt-in main breaker to me, but maybe I'm missing something.
 
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Old 08-26-13, 06:03 PM
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Here is the best picture I could find of the breaker. I have never seen one like this: https://www.platt.com/platt-electric...aspx?zpid=9997 Click the catalog page link for the info I found on the breaker space requirements.

Your voltage drop issue also has a lot to do with you maxing out the current of the breakers. It sounds like you are running them close to their tripping point. Again, shorting the circuit length will have very little effect on the voltage drop. Reducing the load on the circuit will have more an effect on the voltage drop then shortening the branch circuit 20'. Shut off one of the A/C's and you will see what I mean.

IMO I would still leave the existing panel as is, install a breaker to feed the subpanel in the laundry room, and then run some more circuits around the house to lighten the loads on the existing circuits.
 
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Old 08-26-13, 06:53 PM
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The panel reads 150AMPS Max on a sticker on the inside. The Main, Dryer, and Range together add up to 150A. There is no other breaker between the service and those three breakers. I had assumed it was against code to load the panel up beyond it's rating, even if the expected continuous load was lower.
Originally Posted by Tolyn Ironhand
First off, you do not add up amps on the breakers to determine if a panel is maxed out. You would do a load calculation for your home. You can find them online.
Originally Posted by Nashkat1
First of all, your existing panel isn't overloaded. Besides the fact that the 60A main breaker for the single-pole 120V section adds nothing on its own, loads are not calculated by adding up the numbers on the breaker handles. Doing that is assuming that every circuit is loaded to its maximum at all times. Do the values for all of the breakers in the lower section add up to more than 60A? If so, how is that main breaker holding?
The real problem is that the circuits are tripping somewhat often, because it seems half the damn house is wired on those two breakers. The living room TV & Stereo share the same circuit as the office (bedroom) with 3 computers and now a window shaker. The other bedroom (with a window unit) shares it's circuits with the bathrooms and the dining room.
Yes, that's the problem. In addition to all that extension, the bathroom requires a dedicated 20A circuit and the dining room requires two!
Originally Posted by Nashkat1
The other [factor] is that you may have one or more overextended circuits. Map your existing receptacles and light switches by circuit to determine that.
The amazing thing is that those circuits are holding at all.

I am not willing to split the circuit yet.
Why not? That's the problem and doing that will almost certainly give you the best return on investment.

I am racking my brain and I just can't think of anything else to lessen the voltage sag than to shorten the runs.
Don't bet any money on that one.
 
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Old 08-26-13, 08:06 PM
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That breaker I linked says: Standards: UL Listed 150 amps. Its the same type (CH) as the panel, and is a snap in.

Didn't realize NEC required (2) dedicated circuits for the dining room. Seems kind of odd. I would have expect that for just the kitchen.

I hear you that 20' will not do much to lessen the voltage drop. However, under load I'm getting 120v at the breaker, and a 16v drop at the receptacle where the load is, with steady drops measurable at each connection point along the circuit. The receptacles that I installed have 2 slots to clamp wires under each screw (4 total connection points on each half). I have wired each one with both line & load wires under the same screw clamp, with plenty of torque. I'm lost as to why 15ft of 12/2 with a 10A load causes a 3v drop from one outlet to another in the same room. At the point of the load, I'm even seeing 4v N-G. Under low loads, there is virtually no potential there.

Splitting the circuits would easily solve my problem, yet is not easy to accomplish. The laundry room, which is just a sectioned off area of the garage, but close to the house is at the bottom level. The 12" floor joists run perpendicular to the direction I need to go. I'd have to feed it up into the attic, which I just laid an additional foot of fibreglass batt down to offset the massive heat loss I was experiencing due to only have 3" of insulation up there to begin with. The ceiling joists are just 2x4s, so there is basically no place to stand where you are not knee deep in fiberglass. There is no place for me to staple a new wire in the attic without thoroughly mucking up the insulation job, which was miserable enough the first time. This only leaves trenching the walls and downstairs ceiling to get it where I need to go.

There are no easy answers to solving this problem, except to lighten the load, which is not likely to happen until mid fall.

No matter how I look at it, splitting the circuit is an ugly proposition. It's a colonial style house, and every single receptacle on the front wall, on both floors, (except the downstairs bathroom) is on the same damn circuit. The house was not designed (electrically) with any room for expansion.
Even so, the problem is that all the loads are in the same place in the house. The AC is needed in that room *because* of the computers.

Anyway, one step at a time. I see now that am not able to do much about the voltage drop. Which, coincidentally, is probably why they put a 15A breaker on a 12/2 run.

I am able (I hope) to install the new panel and move the circuits over to avoid the trip to reset a *trip*. (pun intended).

Most of the house doesn't have dedicated lighting, or rather you get a switched receptacle that is fed off the main circuit on the room. For that reason, and general savings, I changed all the lights that are on the most to LEDs, the lights that are on intermittently to CFLs, and there are only 3 lights in the house that use Inc lighting due to dimmers, and they are seldom on for long. The lighting load is not negligible, but very minor. The real problem circuits in the house are on ones with electronic equipment on them. The ACs trip the UPSs momentarily every time they kick on, if the computers are on too.
 
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Old 08-26-13, 09:18 PM
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The ACs trip the UPSs momentarily every time they kick on, if the computers are on too.
A sure sign of an overloaded circuit.

No matter how I look at it, splitting the circuit is an ugly proposition. It's a colonial style house, and every single receptacle on the front wall, on both floors, (except the downstairs bathroom) is on the same damn circuit. The house was not designed (electrically) with any room for expansion.
Even so, the problem is that all the loads are in the same place in the house. The AC is needed in that room *because* of the computers.
It's often a challenge. On one like this that I did, I made two changes. One was to relocate the 240V breaker for the A/C compressor from the 120V part of the split-bus part of the panel to the 240V part. That immediately cured the "brown out" effect associated with having that unit kick on.

The other change was to run a new circuit to pick up half of one that had 17 receptacles on it. Yes, I said 17 - including much of the floor where the MBR and the owner's computer room were located. He had at least 2 towers and 3 printers running in there with UPSs and plenty of lights. The house was a 5-level split level. The MBR and computer room were on the top level (Level 5). The panel was on the back wall in the basement on the other side of the split (Level 2). We punched through the wall and ran a piece of liquidtight up and through the eaves to get into the attic, then transitioned to Type NM to get over to where we made the separation and pickup. It took two of us maybe 3 or 4 hours to do everything. And, after we did it, there were no more overload problems.

That job started with the owner's mapping his electrical system - every light, switch, appliance, receptacle, you name it - at my request. That map and revised panel schedule let us spot the problem and work out a solution almost before we started the job clock.

Didn't realize NEC required (2) dedicated circuits for the dining room. Seems kind of odd. I would have expect that for just the kitchen.
Two 20A dedicated Small Appliance Branch Circuits. Just like the kitchen countertop receptacles. It's a relatively recent revision.

The only difference in the circuits is that the ones in the kitchen must be GFCI protected and the ones in the dining room must be AFCI protected. They're there to power our coffee pots, crock pots, chafing dishes, waffle irons... you know.
 
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Old 08-26-13, 09:40 PM
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Two 20A dedicated Small Appliance Branch Circuits. Just like the kitchen countertop receptacles. It's a relatively recent revision.
Technically can still be just two circuits for both kitchen and dining room receptacles. Use AFCI breaker on one circuit. Pick up the dining room first before landing on the kitchen countertop with a GFCI outlet.
 
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Old 08-26-13, 10:10 PM
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Y'know what? I don't think SABCs are actually required in the dining room (or pantry, or breakfast nook or...) unless there's a counter and countertop outlets.
 

Last edited by Nashkat1; 08-27-13 at 01:49 PM.
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Old 08-26-13, 10:15 PM
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My service panel is also at the far end of my incredibly junked up two-car garage. I have never tripped a circuit breaker except when I have used a portable GFCI tester and tripped the CBs for the kitchen receptacles.

When I bought my home the (home) inspector remarked on how few circuits there were in the panel. He then mused it was because I have a gas-fired water heater. I don't remember exactly how many CBs there were but there were a lot of empty spaces in a 20 space (30 or 40 circuit) panel. I have since filled every space on that panel and added two 8/6 sub-panels. If I add up the rating on all the circuit breakers I get a ridiculous 900 amperes on a 200 ampere main. I have never tripped the main CB.

Originally all the fixed lighting and receptacles in the two smaller bedrooms along with the lighting an all but two receptacles in the master bedroom were on a single circuit. The back bathroom lighting and exhaust fan may have also been on this circuit. The two receptacles that were on a different circuit also included three receptacles in the family room as well as the outside porch light and kitchen lighting. Most of the rest of the fixed lighting and receptacles in the house were on a single circuit save the kitchen counter receptacles, the bathroom receptacles and of course the kitchen range. The furnace and washing machine were on a multi-wire branch circuit. The bathroom receptacles were all on one 15 ampere circuit along with the single (GFCI) receptacle in the garage which also powered the garage door opener and the security system. This house was built in 1987.

I have added at least fifteen new circuits over the years and I am not yet finished. I have on occasion connected a clamp-on ammeter to my incoming power conductors (in the service panel) and I have never seen it exceed about 40 amperes on each leg although I admit I could have probably increased my load to 80 amperes by turning on all burners of my kitchen range along with the oven.

Honestly, it reads to me as if your house was built the same as mine, to absolute code minimums. Adding circuits IS the proper thing to do. I doubt that moving the bulk of your load to a new(er) sub-panel will have ANY positive effect. There is also the chance of not meeting the clearance code in your laundry area, I know I couldn't in my laundry area.

I would mount the Square D panel adjacent to the existing C-H panel and run a stub conduit out the side of the garage for eventual connection of a new meter base. Connect the two panels together with a short length of conduit (maybe more than two to allow for moving the existing circuits to the new panel) and install a 100 ampere C-H circuit breaker in the old panel to feed the new. Run new circuits as needed to lessen the loads on the existing circuits. When you have the funds install the new meter base, have the incoming service moved (or replaced) to the new meter and then demo the old panel. Obviously you would need to cap the conduit stub for the meter base until you could mount the base.
 
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Old 08-26-13, 10:19 PM
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Y'know what? I don't [think] SABCs are actually required in the dining room (or pantry, or breakfast nook or...) unless there's a counter and countertop outlets.
I don't know if this has been changed in the last few code cycles but my house has the two receptacles in the dining area connected to one of the SABCs feeding the kitchen counter receptacles. No counter in this area in my house.
 
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Old 08-27-13, 09:46 AM
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Honestly, it reads to me as if your house was built the same as mine, to absolute code minimums. Adding circuits IS the proper thing to do. I doubt that moving the bulk of your load to a new(er) sub-panel will have ANY positive effect. There is also the chance of not meeting the clearance code in your laundry area, I know I couldn't in my laundry area.
When I redesigned the laundry room last year, I took into consideration that I wanted to mount a new panel in there. I built a platform for the washer and dryer to sit on, and I spaced this platform exactly 30" from the corner where the panel would be. There is also exactly 36" facing the panel before the door to the garage. So, facing the panel, you have a 30" space laterally between the wall and the washer platform (which is only 16" high, it's like 36" laterally to the washer), 36" between you and the panel, and the vertical space is uninterrupted to an 8' ceiling. There is no obstruction to the panel door. As far as I have read, I believe that complies.

My house was built in the late 70's, cheap and fast. It was also poorly upgraded by the first owner. He double tapped the A/C breaker for a large wall heater that he didn't use a connector for, just shoved #10 into the bottom of the panel, and ran the wire on the outside of the drywall without even so much as a single one hole strap -- well he mudded over the hole in the wall and painted the wire, that's enough right? SMH... The insulation was quite darkened at the breaker. This same guy thought it'd be smart to split only the hot out of #14 romex feeding a ceiling fan and run that hot into a box (without a connector) to a switch in the middle of the room! That's so irritating. I'm in the process of refeeding the fan from the right switch at the entrance of the bedroom. Waiting for cooler weather before dealing with the attic again. Also, I want to slap the hand of every person who buys #14 instead of #12. It's like $10 more for 250' of #12. Spend the damn $10.

The second owner failed to maintain any part of the interior of the house. When I bought it, it had mold damage from plumbing leaks in the laundry room, that led to a termite infestation that was never treated. It's cost me nearly $1,000 and 5 treatments (4 of them were under warranty) to (maybe) get rid of them. I've had to replace every single plumbing valve, including the main shutoff. The toilet in the master bathroom lacked a wax seal, which we discovered after finding poo-water in the kitchen. Explains that terrible patch in the ceiling. Problems, problems. The main bathroom is still gutted from a full mold outbreak. The walls were squishy. This place isn't perfect, but it's still a mansion compared to where I moved from and I will take all of it's problems on it's worst day than go back there again.

I guess my point is, if I'm a little reluctant to open a wall and run a new wire, it's because every time I open a damn wall in this house, I find more stuff that needs to be fixed. I fix one problem, and find 3 more. I suppose I will eventually run a new circuit to that bedroom, I'm just not looking forward to it.
 
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Old 08-27-13, 02:00 PM
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I guess my point is, if I'm a little reluctant to open a wall and run a new wire, it's because every time I open a damn wall in this house, I find more stuff that needs to be fixed. I fix one problem, and find 3 more. I suppose I will eventually run a new circuit to that bedroom, I'm just not looking forward to it.
It sounds like you should be able to easily run a new cable into the attic from either panel location. The only tricky parts will be supporting the wire in the attic, finding the best place to split the existing circuit, and creating enough slack to get everything wired up in accessible boxes.
 
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Old 08-29-13, 03:51 AM
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Man, I hear you! It sounds as if you really did your homework regarding the new panel in the laundry room, good for you as most homeowners do not.

In my home I found bathroom exhaust fans with crushed ducts that were simply duct-taped to the roof trusses near an attic ventilator. The ONLY circuits wires with anything but #14 were the few circuits required to be #12 such as the kitchen counter receptacles, the washing machine receptacle and the furnace. Most of the wiring was by use of multi-wire branch circuits and box crowding where the splices were made was unbelievable. All the receptacles throughout the hose, save the kitchen were the 39 cent variety that had ONLY back-stab connections. I have a tool that places an intermittent load on a circuit for a period of time and then measures the voltage to determine if there is a voltage drop problem. Several of my front room receptacles failed this test until I replaced them with higher quality receptacles and used the screw connections.

Several other areas where the builder cheaped out but at least I have never had any mold.
 
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Old 02-28-14, 05:27 PM
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things to fix your overload issues

You are on the right track by replacing those cheap backwired receptacles and switches.
I find also one of the reasons for trouble like you have is that many times the device stab-in wiring was used to make splices for the conductors. That is always a bad practice and the wires needing to be joined together should be spliced with wirenuts and then pigtails run to the devices as necessary. It will reduce the troubles consderably in the future and whenever it may be necessary to replace a faulty or broken receptacle or switch.
The other thing which causes a lot of trouble is loose connections. In the past most splices were soldered but since the 1950's that was discontinued and wirenuts were introduced to save a massive amount of time to splice.
splitting up circuits where ever possible will more than likely stop most all of your overload conditions.
Like a previous person commented, there is rarely if ever an overload of the main breaker - especially in a 200 amp residential panel. Most of the time the average service drop will register about 15 amps per leg unless there is no effort to turn off unused lights and appliances etc. On thanksgiving Day with a house full of relatives the load could reach 50 or 60 amps per leg if the house has no gas appliances and no electric heat. Electric heat is another issue though which can have some high currents on the service.

I want to add that it is not normally necessary to use anything other than #14 wire for the circuits in a home other than the kitchen, dining room, rec room, bath outlets, laundry etc. All the lighting should be on 15 amp ciruits wired with #14 to make box fill and especially box fill for lights not to be an issue. Overfilled boxes are a real pain to deal with when trouble-shooting a fault. Also more is served by splitting up loads than by running #12 and putting lighting on 20amp breakers. The limit on the known load for a 15 amp ciruit is 12amps and for a 20amp circuit is only 16amps so you gain only 4 amps of load. You are better served by 2- 15amp circuits than 1-20amp given that splicing and box fill gets to be a bigger issue with the #12. Also the #12 is more likely to have a bad connection at a fixture in joining to a #18 fixture wire.
 
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Old 02-28-14, 10:46 PM
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Mmm necro'd thread.

Now that some months have passed, and it was brought back, I'll give you guys an update.

I brought in another electrician just to get another set of eyes on the project. I was recommended and quoted about $3000 or so to add in the second panel as separate feed, including a new 320a or 400a meter, disconnect box, ground rods, etc. or $800 to just feed that panel from a 100a breaker in the main panel. I don't think it included the price for the utility to upgrade the feed from the transformer. Both options seemed too expensive at the time, so we did neither.

I beared my way through the summer, and was greeted by a thankfully early fall. Our furnace blower wheel (but not the motor) fell apart inside the housing, on a friday night when it was 15* outside. Between that and the failed AC unit, I decided I had enough, and we replaced the whole thing. $10k later, my electrical issues are mostly solved, and my utility bills are a bit lower. I expect I notice it more in the summer, however.

I would also add that the runs in my house are well over 100ft, and even if they weren't I've never bought #14 for even the shortest run. For the minor cost increase, you get a 5a extra safety margin before the circuit pops, and truly I'd be miserable in any home with only 15a branch circuits.

Thank you everyone for your advice and input, it was very much appreciated.
 
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Old 03-01-14, 06:35 AM
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Thank you for the update.
 
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