What qualifies as a "main panel"?

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  #1  
Old 06-19-14, 12:06 AM
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Question What qualifies as a "main panel"?

My home warranty company is trying to deny my claim because we can't seem to agree on what this term means.

Last week, several of our outlets, lights and appliances started switching on and off every few minutes for no apparent reason. After troubleshooting for a while, and getting some help from the local utility company's tech, we figured out the problem was that water had gotten into the box next to the electric meter and corroded the breaker there. We placed the claim with the warranty company, and their electrician says it's the "400 Amp main breaker at the service disconnect" that is corroded and needs replacing.

The warranty company's Terms & Conditions excludes "exterior wiring and components" with the exception of "main panels mounted to exterior wall." So the question now is, is this main breaker inside what would be called a "main panel"?

The warranty company says this is a service disconnect, not a main panel. But as far as I can tell, what makes a main panel to be called a "main panel" is that it contains a breaker and/or disconnect on the main line. It doesn't have to have any branch breakers in it in order to qualify as a panel. Or does it?

...And it doesn't have to be a "breaker" vs. a "disconnect"--so long as it's on the main line and controls that main line, it's a main breaker or main disconnect, and whatever box it's in, could be called a main panel. Or can it?

From my research over the past few days, I read that some states even require the service disconnect to have the "main" label on it.

I can post a picture tomorrow if this isn't clear enough (too dark to take pic right now, lol). The warranty company is sending another electrician tomorrow to give a 2nd opinion, but I want to be armed with as much information as possible to help me understand whatever the electrician has to say. The 1st electrician was completely convinced this claim would be covered, and he is just as confused as I am on why the claim is being denied.

FYI: There are two mains coming off of the utility company's equipment at our house. Both have water damage, but only one has experienced failure. Both have redundant breakers in the interior panels, which are a couple of rooms away from the meter and these exterior breakers/panels/disconnects/whatever-they're-rightfully-called.

And in case this is relevant in any way...the electrician said that what was causing the on/off is that the corrosion was interfering with the free-flow of electricity, but not completely blocking it. When one of the A/C units would kick on, it would draw enough power through the line to turn everything back on. But when the unit kicked off, there wasn't enough draw on the line to pull through the corrosion and everything on that line would turn off. We didn't completely lose power, though, because several outlets and lights are connected to the 2nd main instead of the one having problems right now.

And if it helps...per the electrician's recommendation, we've had all double-pole breakers switched off at the interior panel on the main that's having problems. We also switched off any single poles that weren't absolutely critical--some of the single poles weren't affected, like the lights/outlets in my office, and I need those because I work from home. But we have no power to kitchen appliances and no A/C (for a week now because of all the delays from the back-and-forth). My 4 kids are home all day with me, and the youngest is only 3. No A/C, no fridge, no power in the little kids' bedroom--we've had to run extension cords through the hall to get fans in there and there's no light at all in there at night--can't even plug in a lamp to the outlets in their room.

Is that clear as mud?
 

Last edited by dazzledaze; 06-19-14 at 12:16 AM. Reason: ETA: We're located in Georgia.
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  #2  
Old 06-19-14, 12:19 AM
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Welcome to the forums.

The warranty company says this is a service disconnect, not a main panel.
....... and they are correct.


with the exception of "main panels mounted to exterior wall
A main panel on an exterior wall would be the main PLUS all the house breakers in one box.


You have a 400A main disconnect breaker.
And you have a second one to the same premises ? Seems strange....and an awful lot of power.
 
  #3  
Old 06-19-14, 06:05 AM
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My home warranty company is trying to deny my claim because we can't seem to agree on what this term means.
And now you know why home warranties are an excellent sales tool when selling your home, but not so good for the buyer.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 06:32 AM
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For the purposes of grounding, the "main" panel is the panel or box holding the first master disconnect switch for the building. It could be a box with nothing except a breaker that can perform that function. Actually there could be more than one box holding a maximum of six breaker handles all within easy reach of each other and which 6 or fewer will kill all power to the building. (There may be additional breakers in the same panel, such as a split bus panel, or in other nearby panels.)

The meter, although it kills the building power when snapped out, does not count as a master disconnect switch.

Panels, even if just one holding all of the branch circuit breakers, downstream of the main disconnect, are considered subpanels for grounding purposes. (The National Electric Code does not recognize the word "subpanel".)

Subpanels (unless grandfathered) must be fed with separate neutral conductors and (equipment) grounding conductors where there is no bonding between these at such panels. Neutrals, EGCss, and the service neutral are bonded in the main panel.

Fortunately in your case, if your argument does not prevail, you don't have that much to pay for, just one breaker set and one small box.

If you have any circuits that are working properly I hope you ran a heavy duty extension cord to your fridge.
 

Last edited by AllanJ; 06-19-14 at 06:55 AM.
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Old 06-19-14, 06:46 AM
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Neither the term main panel or subpanel is defined by the electrical code. The code considers the first means of disconnect past the meter as a service panel. I think this is a matter of interpretation as to what panel is affected by the damage.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 06:54 AM
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The "Main" is the first overcurrent device, or set of overcurrent devices (up to 6) in a building. This can be a panel with a main breaker, a disconnect with a single set of fuses, or switch gear of a multi story building.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 08:17 AM
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So it sounds like even electricians aren't in agreement on what this term means? I'm sure it was written by a lawyer, not an electrician. It seems the term should be interpreted based on the spirit of the document, then. The things specifically mentioned as covered are core components of the electrical system, and the things not covered tend to be peripheral components (like outdoor lighting, separate structures, that kind of thing). So wouldn you consider this to be a core component?

I have a pic but can't upload it from here...Will try again when I get home.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 11:00 AM
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Question

Here's a picture of the three boxes side by side...two mains branching off of the meter. Each of those boxes is 2+ feet tall, I guess. The panel on the left is the one having problems.

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We put plastic bags on top of the panels after the electrician found what the problem was, since both are letting a little bit of water in due to rust. We plan to put silicone on the boxes to seal them off.

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Here's the problem panel open. I didn't want to take the cover off, but I'll try to get a pic of the inside today when the 2nd electrician comes.

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The Terms & Conditions document specifically includes things that are core parts of the electrical system. The things it specifically excludes are peripheral components, such as exhaust fans, detached structures, light fixtures, remotes, telephone systems, door bells, exterior wiring, that kind of thing.

So if the spirit of the document is to include core components of the electrical system, would you or could you, in your professional opinion as an electrician/contractor, identify the problem box as a "main panel"? Especially knowing that the document specifically lists "main panels mounted to exterior wall" as the only exterior component that would be covered?

I talked with the 2nd electrician this morning to schedule his coming by. He seems really nice and I look forward to seeing what he thinks, too.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 11:07 AM
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When I go on a service call and I see the bottom area of the disconnect(s) rusted like that I think trouble. This is actually a problem the home inspector should have picked up.

Those disconnects could be leaking from the top but more than likely from the sides where the connection was made from the meter pan to the disconnect. They make nipples with sealing gaskets but I'm imagining those weren't used.

Main service disconnect panel. It is the main service disconnect and it is a panel.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 11:13 AM
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Given that definition i would consider the disconnect as a core component and think they should be covered.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 11:15 AM
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Thumbs up

We bought the home in foreclosure...which is the only way we could afford a house so big. It needs this much power because the way it's designed (Victorian replica), they had to use 4 different heat pumps to heat & cool the house (the ductwork design wasn't done efficiently...long story, which is par for the course with this house!).

We did bring in an inspector before we closed, just for our own purposes to know what all the house needed, but I don't remember if he mentioned this. That was almost 2 years ago, though, so it may not have been as bad then. The 2-year warranty expires next week.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 11:18 AM
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Thanks for the tip, PJmax. I'll be sure to check that out more closely today, to see where the leaking is coming from.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 11:25 AM
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Given that definition i would consider the disconnect as a core component and think they should be covered.
Could you consider it to be a "main panel" by any reasonable definition of the term?
 
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Old 06-19-14, 11:54 AM
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Thumbs up 2nd opinion...

The 2nd electrician just left. He agrees with us, that it should be covered. He's going to call the warranty company and go from there.

Here's a pic of the inside of the box. They said there's no significant rust, just needs some silicone over the screws and/or a new gasket. The water leakage isn't coming from the entrance of the wires, since that's really low in the box. Well, there may be leakage there, too, but that's not what damaged the breaker, right?

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  #15  
Old 06-19-14, 12:19 PM
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When reference is made to a "panel" it's almost always a reference to an assembly that includes a "bus" assembly , a "bus" being a copper bar with multiple connection-points for Over-Current Protective Devices; fuses and circuit-breakers.

Though not exactly and definitely defined as such , the "Main" panel is a panel with buses that are directly connected to the Over-Current Protective device that protects the Service Entrance Conductors from conducting excessive current.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 06:25 PM
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Could you consider it to be a "main panel" by any reasonable definition of the term? So if the spirit of the document is to include core components of the electrical system, would you or could you, in your professional opinion as an electrician/contractor, identify the problem box as a "main panel"? Especially knowing that the document specifically lists "main panels mounted to exterior wall" as the only exterior component that would be covered?
Yes to all. Both of the boxes on either side of the meter, and the meter, are the "electrical service" of the building and "main panels/disconnects". They have the first overcurrent protection device. Everything after these panels/disconnects are sub panels and should be treated/wired as such. (separate ground and neutral buses)

Note the ground and neutral are wired to the same terminal in your enclosure. This is also an indication of the main service.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 06:46 PM
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They said there's no significant rust, just needs some silicone over the screws and/or a new gasket.
Silcone over what screws...... not the ones in the breaker. That would be useless. The water needs to be kept out of the enclosure.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 07:30 PM
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They look like NEMA 3R raintight panels, there would be no gaskets.
 
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Old 06-19-14, 08:26 PM
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Talking

I don't know what screws or gasket they were talking about--it's high, and I couldn't see the top of the box. I'll try to get a good pic of it from the porch tomorrow and see if that helps it make more sense.

In the meantime, the warranty company approved the claim! I talked to the electrician they chose to do the work (they went back to the 1st one), and he says it's a 24-hour turnaround time to get the part. We also have to coordinate with the utility company, and we're coming into the weekend. So it'll probably be Monday or even Tuesday before it's fixed. We've had a full week delay with all the back and forth. I learned a bit about residential electrical systems, though.

Thanks so much, EVERYONE, for your insight and feedback. We do a lot of DIY around the house, so I intend to stick around on the boards here as projects come up. Y'all are great!!
 
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Old 06-20-14, 05:28 AM
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Glad it worked out for you.
 
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Old 06-20-14, 04:58 PM
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Ok, Sunday Quarter back here. According to the picture of the main disconnect the feeder hots are correct but the ground is separate from the neutral, that is the GEC; it is connected to the box on a ground bar. The neutral coming in is connected to an isolated connection not making contact to the box. The neutral going into the house is connected to this isolated neutral bar but so is the ground wire going into the house. I believe, but correct me if I am wrong the neutral and ground should be bonded together in this box because now the ground going into the house is not truly the ground but an extension of the neutral coming from the utility service. Then in the house where this enters to a box the ground and neutral at that point should be separate. This I believe on the outside is not grounded properly.

If I am wrong please let me know. I may not be seeing it right.
 
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Old 06-20-14, 05:15 PM
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Look closer AFJES, The larger ground wire going into the house is connected to the same place as the neutral on the left side. That bus appears to be bonded to the can with a strap.

The smaller ground wire on the right to the ground bus is going to the ground rod. (I'm assuming)
 
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Old 06-20-14, 08:10 PM
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The larger ground wire going into the house is connected to the same place as the neutral on the left side. That bus appears to be bonded to the can with a strap.
I am going to agree with AFJES on this one, merely bonding the ground and neutral with a small bonding screw won't fly with the stickler inspections here. In my opinion, there would need to be no less than a #6 copper conductor to connect the ground connection to the neutral bus to satisfy the NEC.
 
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Old 06-21-14, 09:44 AM
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So the bonding screw, or strap, that is normally provided in residential panels is not adequate in your location?
 
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Old 06-21-14, 06:44 PM
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So the bonding screw, or strap, that is normally provided in residential panels is not adequate in your location?
In my area the neutral/neutral bus itself must be directly grounded by the GEC and the bonding screw or strap just bonds the can to ground.
 
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Old 06-21-14, 07:28 PM
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That is how his is. You can clearly see the bonding strap from the neutral bus to the can.

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Old 06-21-14, 09:23 PM
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The bond strap or screw through the neutral bus is I have ever needed to bond the can.
 
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Old 06-22-14, 05:46 AM
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That is how his is. You can clearly see the bonding strap from the neutral bus to the can.
I see the strap too, that would bond the neutral to the can, but where is the GEC terminated?
 
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Old 06-22-14, 08:44 AM
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GEC circled in green.

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Old 06-22-14, 03:40 PM
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GEC circled in green.
That was the point, the neutral conductor/neutral bus isn't directly grounded by the GEC, but is bonded to it by the bonding strap and in some cases, just bonded to the GEC by a few threads of the bonding screw.
 
  #31  
Old 06-22-14, 06:23 PM
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Let me illustrate my point a little more clearly with backup. I read a code question article around a year ago in Electrical Contractor magazine where Charlie Trout regularly answered code questions, much like Code Question of the Day at the NECA website that I read every morning. This particular issue was one of Trout's last columns as he retired last summer. This issue we are discussing was the subject of the article. The article points out that relying on the bonding screw/strap to connect the GEC to the neutral bar is using the panelboard can as a conductor and is not permitted.

Connecting the grounding 
electrode conductor

Does the grounding electrode conductor have to be connected to the neutral bus, or can it be connected to the ground bus?


NEC 250.24(4) permits the grounding electrode conductor to be connected to the ground bus in the panelboard if there is a wire from the ground bus to the neutral bus. Using the panelboard housing as a conductor is not permitted.


Connecting The Grounding Electrode Conductor, Protecting Copper And More | EC Mag

I found this article especially interesting since this is the rule inspections in this area have followed for as long as I can remember.
 
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Old 06-23-14, 06:16 AM
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I made a post to this thread with a reference yesterday evening and for some reason it had to be approved by a mod. Can a mod find and approve it please. I can recreate it if necessary.
 
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