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Subpanel in garage or basement utility room? Relocate service entrance?

Subpanel in garage or basement utility room? Relocate service entrance?

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Old 07-13-20, 12:12 PM
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Subpanel in garage or basement utility room? Relocate service entrance?

We're on NEC2017 here. I need to primarily install additional outlets into my garage, and so, considering potential future electrical needs that may arise with the house, I need help thinking through what course of action I should take (and why).

The 100A Cutler Hammer CH7CC Loadcenter serving my 1980s house has only two open spaces and is located in a drywalled basement living space, thus requiring drywall removal and repair for any future electrical additions (if there’s even room, which there will not be after adding a subpanel elsewhere in the house). The garage, where I need a minimum of two 120V and two 240V branch circuits for woodworking (simultaneous operation of a 15A tool and a 15A dust collector, could be either voltage but right now I have one of each), has only one wall outlet, located along the back wall and shared with the bathroom on the other side of the wall.

With the existing main panel located in a finished basement living space, would it be better to locate a subpanel in the basement utility room (located behind the garage rear wall and down one level, roughly 30' from the main panel), instead of in the garage, for accessibility reasons, e.g. future changes to the main level living space such as living room lighting, kitchen remodel, or house addition? I will be insulating and drywalling my garage, by the way.

The house does have central AC as well as an electric range and an electric dryer. I do not believe it is an absolute necessity to update to 150A or 200A service, but it is probably a good idea. While I do not intend to get an electric car or build a house addition, at least not anytime in the next few years, it is not be a bad idea to consider these possibilities when thinking through electrical updates.

Another possible option is to install a new meter socket and main panel on / in the garage exterior wall and trench for new conduit and wire from the pad-mounted transformer, located at the other front corner of the quarter-acre lot. I would have to bore under the driveway, though, which would probably have to be hired out (would it?). When I called my power company to inquire about a relocation, they specifically suggested this, noting it is not uncommon. The new main would then supply the current main as a subpanel, which would then have to be updated anyway due to the need to separate neutral from ground in a subpanel, and I could technically ultimately phase it out so the main and only panel is either in the garage or in the basement utility room. Even so, if I need branch circuits in the garage AND a main panel upgrade to 200A, would a relocation in this manner not kill two birds with one stone, so to speak?

I drew up a model in 3D and put together a a short, animated, narrated video to outline the situation described above.

https://youtu.be/Ro1DsZGcnSc

What should I do, and why? I won't insulate and drywall my garage, which I am eager to do, until I have more outlets in it. But at the same time, I do not want to jump to any decisions. Alternatively, I could install a two-pole breaker to run a single line to the garage so I can plug in my new 240V dust collector, then deal with everything else (having to cut into the newly-drywalled garage) at a later time.


This is the main electrical panel, likely as installed in the 1980s + basement addition about a decade later.


This is the available space in the very accessible basement utility room. There is 60" of space from the left side to the right side (in this photo). The shelf, screens, light and stand, and stool can be removed, obviously. The sump basket does not have a pump, but one may be needed in the future. The only thing to note is that a radon mitigation system will probably be added to the home, and it would be installed in this space.


Looking forward from the side / back of the two-car garage. The basement utility room is behind the AC unit and down one level. The reason I am including this photo is that, while it would be great to be able to move the meter socket and service entrance over here, I am assuming there is not enough room due to the AC unit being present. There is only about 2 1/2 to 3' of space to the left of the AC.
 
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Old 07-13-20, 03:54 PM
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I'd do a new 200A meter main combo making the existing 100A panel a subpanel and then come off the new new meter combo to a new subpanel in the garage.
 
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Old 07-14-20, 10:10 AM
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I think any of your plans are fine.
As much as I do love doing electrical projects, if it were my house, I'd probably just add a subpanel off your existing main panel, run a few circuits to the garage, amd call it done. For me, the cost of installing a new service, new main panel, etc. is just not worth it. It'll look all new and shiny, but only you (and us here) will ever see or notice it.

In 10 or 20 years, when that panel is getting older, and you decide you need a place to plug in your new electric hovercar, then it will be more worthwhile to upgrade your service and such. But if your current service is good, why bother spending the money now?

Just my $0.02
 
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Old 07-14-20, 10:30 AM
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The house does have central AC as well as an electric range and an electric dryer. I do not believe it is an absolute necessity to update to 150A or 200A service, but it is probably a good idea.
Does it have electric hot water as well as electric heating ?
It may be time for an upgrade.
 
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Old 07-14-20, 01:06 PM
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Does it have electric hot water as well as electric heating ?
It may be time for an upgrade.
The hot water heater and furnace are both natural gas. It's just the presence of an electric range and an electric dryer, both of which are often gas appliances, that I was concerned about.
 
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Old 07-14-20, 01:15 PM
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I think any of your plans are fine.
As much as I do love doing electrical projects, if it were my house, I'd probably just add a subpanel off your existing main panel, run a few circuits to the garage, amd call it done. For me, the cost of installing a new service, new main panel, etc. is just not worth it. It'll look all new and shiny, but only you (and us here) will ever see or notice it
Makes sense! I do not disagree. Would you place the subpanel adjacent to the main panel, then? Why not in the garage? The other thing is I could simply have the main upgraded right now (only two open slots is the larger problem lest I simply run individual branch circuits) and then run a few branch circuits the 20' or so to the garage. I really do not want to place another panel next to the existing panel, so if that means having somebody upgrade the main (and to 200A while they're at it), so be it. Or...is a main panel swap something I can do myself? How does that even work...have power company shut off power, pull meter socket, service entrance wiring, and panel, attach new and pull wires, rough in inspection, and then hookup, final inspection, and energize?

In 10 or 20 years, when that panel is getting older, and you decide you need a place to plug in your new electric hovercar, then it will be more worthwhile to upgrade your service and such. But if your current service is good, why bother spending the money now?
Agreed. It would be a more detailed project to move the service, as I would have some learning and organization to do before beginning what would be far more extensive work. On the other hand, I can get permit and materials this week yet, do the work in an afternoon or two, and be up and running a week from now.
 
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Old 07-14-20, 01:28 PM
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Where are the 2 open spaces? In picture all spaces have breakers. Isn't that panel a 22 space?
 
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Old 07-14-20, 01:32 PM
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Where are the 2 open spaces? In picture all spaces have breakers. Isn't that panel a 22 space?
From the angle the photo was taken, the bottom two are not visible. My bad! The hot bus bars down the middle do extend down one additional slot, and the cover additionally has space for these two breakers. I had actually temporarily moved a breaker months ago, and it worked fine.
 
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Old 07-14-20, 01:45 PM
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I'd do a new 200A meter main combo making the existing 100A panel a subpanel and then come off the new new meter combo to a new subpanel in the garage.
Is a main panel upgrade something I can do myself, and if so, would it be panel only, or service entrance wiring too? See, if the main panel had more than two open spaces, I could just run two 110V branch circuits (up to two and probably three 110V branch circuits (to accommodate two simultaneous tools + future possibility of electric heater or ductless mini split with heat pump) directly to the garage and avoid the subpanel altogether. Would that be a better route?

Here are two photos depicting my meter and surrounding equipment.



 
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Old 07-14-20, 02:07 PM
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You can do the main panel upgrade yourself. You need to have someone (licensed electrician/poco) to pull meter. Next issue is code. Upgrading the panel kicks in the new code requirement of AFCI circuits, but it depends on local code adoption. If you go to a 200A main panel the service entrance conductors will need to be upgraded and maybe the service drop to the house. I see the meter is a 200A meter. The down and dirty would be to do as suggested by adding a double pole breaker in the existing panel and running a feeder to the garage and install a subpanel. If upgrading the existing panel is the way you want to go I'd use a CH 40 space main breaker panel and use the existing panel as a subpanel in the garage. I'd rather run just one feeder to the garage for a subpanel than to pull multiple circuits to the garage.
 
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Old 07-14-20, 02:34 PM
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You can do the main panel upgrade yourself. You need to have someone (licensed electrician/poco) to pull meter. Next issue is code. Upgrading the panel kicks in the new code requirement of AFCI circuits, but it depends on local code adoption. If you go to a 200A main panel the service entrance conductors will need to be upgraded and maybe the service drop to the house. I see the meter is a 200A meter. The down and dirty would be to do as suggested by adding a double pole breaker in the existing panel and running a feeder to the garage and install a subpanel. If upgrading the existing panel is the way you want to go I'd use a CH 40 space main breaker panel and use the existing panel as a subpanel in the garage. I'd rather run just one feeder to the garage for a subpanel than to pull multiple circuits to the garage.
While it is unlikely I will go this far, I would at least like to explore it...

We are on NEC 2017 here, which I believe requires that AFCI breakers be installed for all receptacle branch circuits except for garage, bathroom, and exterior. Is this correct? I can't remember because it wasn't relevant to what I thought the project was going to be. Additionally, is an AFCI receptacle required as the first in the line? Or would it just be the breaker that needs to be AFCI?

Is the service drop (is it still called this when underground?) in a conduit such that it is an easy change? Is the only way to know if the conductors are large enough to have the power company or an electrician come out to inspect?

I feel like a new drop to the house is where I would draw the line. My power company did indicate that the pad-mounted transformer is member owned and so it is an electrician or homeowner who does downstream work, not the power company. But I don't know if it's worth going this far unless I need more than 100A.
 
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Old 07-14-20, 08:02 PM
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Was faced with similar situation in my 60 year old split level with 200 amp, 30 breaker panel located at far end of basement

Solution for expansion was similar to Pattenp post #10.

First installed 60 amp sub panel in garage for 20 amp circuits for upper level bathrooms and out door outlets.

Then panel in far end of garage for arc welder, air compressor and generator.

Next panel a front of basement for outlets there and on first floor.

Main panel originally used 20 circuits, now 24. Total house count is now over 50 including GFI and arc faults.

At main panel have file with multiple house diagrams for each numbered breaker showing actual wiring routing for each. A master diagram showing all outlets and lights is quick reference when something goes dead. Keep a copy in kitchen for quick reference.

While that may seem complex, it makes life simpler and safer.
 

Last edited by doughess; 07-14-20 at 08:23 PM.
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Old 07-15-20, 08:35 AM
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Was faced with similar situation in my 60 year old split level with 200 amp, 30 breaker panel located at far end of basement

Solution for expansion was similar to Pattenp post #10.

First installed 60 amp sub panel in garage for 20 amp circuits for upper level bathrooms and out door outlets.

Then panel in far end of garage for arc welder, air compressor and generator.

Next panel a front of basement for outlets there and on first floor.

Main panel originally used 20 circuits, now 24. Total house count is now over 50 including GFI and arc faults.

At main panel have file with multiple house diagrams for each numbered breaker showing actual wiring routing for each. A master diagram showing all outlets and lights is quick reference when something goes dead. Keep a copy in kitchen for quick reference.

While that may seem complex, it makes life simpler and safer.
Wow, that is a lot of subpanels! How large is the house?
 
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Old 07-15-20, 09:41 AM
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House is typical split level 2 sections, 25 foot square, plus finished basement 25 ft = 1875 gross

Sub panels make life easier, Instead of "home run" wiring to main panel at far end of basement. Main with 24 of 30 slots used is crowded.

Many original electric ckts were 14-2 Romex with separate bare wire ground. Out of caution installed are-fault breakers on them.

Original electric range replaced with gas and electric clothes dryer replaced with gas.

Original central 26 amp AC was on 50 amp circuit. Replaced compressor unit with with 12 amp unit on 20 amp circuit. Air handler is separate.

Modern USA home electric load is now lower than 1950's when TV's used 200 - 300 watts. Now 50 watts for big screen panel. Many home electric items now operate at fraction of power old ones used.
 

Last edited by doughess; 07-15-20 at 10:06 AM.
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Old 07-15-20, 12:31 PM
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