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  • Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

    My parent's house was built in the 1960s and the main electrical panel has fuses and fusestat inserts. Over the years my father has added many circuits and several adjunct boxes to the original. He is not a licensed electrician, but worked beside the electricians in the appliance repair shop he worked in for many, many years. He's very familiar with how electricity works in the field, AC/DC, single phase, 3-phase, generators, motor windings, etc. but may be a bit short on the actual code rules. My dad is now in his 80's, eyesight is failing, and is really not in any condition to do any of this kind of work anymore.

    Some time ago, he was contacted by his insurance agent (State Farm) with questions relating to his electrical service. The agent had said that they were contacting all homeowners with "old" houses to make sure they're electrical service was up to par. The agent said that he needed to have the service upgraded and to replace the main panel with a breaker panel. As far as I can tell, no specific site visit was made, these were just general terms in a mailing/questionnaire. Many years ago, my father had upgraded to a 200 AMP service, but did not replace the panel as he felt that breakers were inferior to fuses (he's a little stubborn). He replied to the agent saying that everything was good and he hasn't heard anything since.

    My question isn't so much to the insurance as it is to the eventual sale of the home as I will be the one who has to take care of those details. I'm wondering if the upgrade to breakers might be a condition for selling the house. Is it actually required by law? Or might it be called out by a buyer's home inspection?

    I also noticed something unusual about the type of NM cable that was used. The wire gage for the hot and neutral are correct for their purpose (14# in bedrooms, 12# in kitchen),
    but the ground wire inside the sheath is very small - solid copper, but closer to 16# or 18#. My dad acknowledged that it was normal back when the house was built. Would this need to be replaced, too? My guess is that if the electrical panel needs to be replaced, that pretty much opens up everything else to be brought up to current code.

    Jim

  • #2
    Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

    Jim,

    First, let me state that I'm NOT an electrician. Surely one of those guys will jump in here quickly. I'm not sure what the code requirements are with regard to a fused load center vs a modern circuit breaker system. However, I recently had my older 100 amp circuit breaker system upgraded to a new 200 amp system. For my particular installation, that required a new line in from the pole and of course, a new weatherhead, and heavier guage line down to the electrical meter and then to the main panel (the older 100 amp line was less than half the thickness of the new service line.

    This work was done by a certified master electrician and it cost me about $1200, as I recall. Other than swapping over the connections from the old panel to the new panel, no other work had to be done. This particular home was built in 1887 and had over the years been upgraded here and there to whatever the requirements were at the time. So, there's mix of knob and tube, armoured cable, and newer romex. Also most of the outlet are the older 2-prong without the ground. I'm currently going through the house with a remodel and I'm upgrading the wall outlets (and the wiring) wherever I can.

    I basically use only 12 ga wire, and the ground wire is smaller. I'll let one of the pro's explain that if they care to. But, I thought I'd make my post only to alleviate any concerns that you may have to rewire the whole house. Obviously I can't speak beyond my own experience, but that's how things seem to work in this area. Mainly, the concerns are for past practices that have since been considered hazardous (like the use of aluminum wire, for example).

    CWS
    Last edited by CWSmith; 07-05-2007, 07:52 PM.

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    • #3
      Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

      it is common to have the ground smaller than the hot/neutral. I am using the Canadian code book, it you look in the tables there is a table for grounding.
      table 16 for bonding(proper term) 20A(12 awg hot/neutral) 14 awg copper 12 awg aluminum bonding. if it were my house I would install breakers and take out all the old knob and tube and replace with romex.

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      • #4
        Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

        Generally speaking insurance companies like to see circuit breakers instead of fuses. The reason is this. In the days when they used fuses, houses were wired sub standard to todays codes. The electrical demands were much less than they are today. No microwave ovens, 1800 watts hair dyers, computers, and a whole host of other electrical devices we enjoy in todays life. As a result older houses being lived in by todays electrical minded society caused the preverbial "blown fuse" syndrome. It was quickly realized that by upping a 15A fuse to a 20 or 30A fuse solved the problem, but this is a recipe for disaster!! This is why alot of "old houses" burn down. One day that overloaded 15A circuit with the 30A fuse causes the fire, the rest is history. You see, it's just too easy to change a fuse and put the wrong size in. BUT...if you have circuit breakers, one is less likely to open up the panel and start changing breakers. People get scared when they remove the elcectrical panel cover, and usually dare not do it. The insurance companies work mainly on statistics, and they show that less people violate the "overloaded" circuit with breakers than with fuses. So that is the story with insurance.

        On the other topic, if you go to sell the house, they can not force you to rewire the house "by law" if it has old wiring techniques even knob and tube. You can not rewire a new addition with knob and tube, but if it is there already in an old structure they can not "force" you to rewire. HOWEVER...in most cases home inspectors will make note of such things and make recommendations, again, this can NOT be forced, but COULD cause a potential buyer to "think twice" before buying a home with certain situations prevailing. Now as for the electrical work your Dad did over the years, A 'good" house inspector could find code violations at the electrical panel and if your Dad did anything wrong, they could force you to fix those problems at the panel area, since that works was not "original" to the house. Being an electrcian, I once overhauled an old fuse system in an old house that had a 4X8 sheet of plywood for an electrical board, ther was not one square inch of the 4X8 piece of plywood that did not have an auxillary fuse box for "something". There must have been 30 boxes in all on this board, you just had to see it!! I removed all of them and added one single 200 amp panel with all new breakers. It was one hell of a job, but the homeowner really likes the ease of everything now. Good Luck,,,,,,,,Lou

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        • #5
          Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

          Originally posted by QROKING View Post
          Generally speaking insurance companies like to see circuit breakers instead of fuses.....The insurance companies work mainly on statistics, and they show that less people violate the "overloaded" circuit with breakers than with fuses. So that is the story with insurance.
          I figured it was something like that. The town suffered a lot of damage from a tornado a few years ago, and gradually the local utilities have been changing everyone from overhead to buried service. I figured if a panel replacement had been required, they would have done it then. That might be what prompted the insurance company also. Although it's got me thinking that I might need to contact he insurance agent myself and make sure that my Dad hasn't inadvertently "misrepresented" something about it that would cause the policy not to cover the house.

          Originally posted by QROKING View Post
          There must have been 30 boxes in all on this board, you just had to see it!!
          Next time I go to my Dad's I'll have to take a picture and post it. ;-)

          Over the years, I've run into many other things that technically work, but make me wonder. Things like outlets in the same room, but mysteriously getting power from different circuits. Multiple "hot" feeds in the same box. And even a couple of nasty things like tapping off a 240 V Air Conditioner circuit to feed a 120 V outlet nearby, and using shared neutrals form other circuits... :-(

          My gut feeling is that it will be better all around to replace the panel and all the wiring. My wife and I plan to do some rather extensive remodeling before trying to sell the house (50 years with no updates has taken quite a toll). This will most likely involve several new circuits anyway. Once the drywall comes off, it's a simple matter to run new wires. I'm competent enough to run the new circuits, but I'll hire out the actual panel replacement. It will be a great peace of mind to know that my Dad's questionable stuff will be out of there.

          Thanks for all your insights,
          Jim

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          • #6
            Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

            I can tell you as a recent homebuyer, I purchased a house in NJ last summer, it was built around 1965 and there was one inspected change made to the electrical system and that was the adding of a central air unit. When we did our home inspection we found a number of extension cords with most of the plugs cut off wired in, in place of Romex or BX cable. In our home sale contract we arraigned for reimbursement of cost that an electrician would charge to replace the “handyman wiring” as it was called we ended up getting around $900 in escrow to pay for an electrician to fix the really big things that were wired improperly. Shortly after moving the electrician came and did the corrections. In NJ the purchaser can press you to get inspections for work that was done that should have had a permit. And the purchaser may be able to go to the local municipal office and request copies of all permits on record for a specific address for a small copy fee. The house I sold I had to get an after the fact inspection of a attic stair that was installed prior to my purchasing the house. Things like failure to have work properly done and inspected can be a deal breaker of a sale.
            A few months ago we had our electric service upgraded from the old 100-amp panel to a 200-amp panel. As we work on renovations to upgrade the home, as everything is near original we can add a few needed circuits to areas like the kitchen, bathrooms to enable the circuits to not be on the verge of tripping with modern loads. We are also finding more and more things that appear to have been done without permits and nowhere near code from plumbing, to framing to more electrical that was hidden inside walls. To ensure a smoother sale of the property and even to add a little peace of mind it wouldn’t hurt to have an electrician come in and upgrade the panel properly. Chances are when the feed to the house was buried the power company didn’t pay any attention to the panels because they usually stop at the meter. If your meter is still on the outside of the house they had no real reason to go to the service panel. I know that my local power co stops at the drop after a service upgrade the will come and check the connections on the drop and that’s it.

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            • #7
              Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

              Hello Jim, It's one thing to understand what is "wrong" about electrical work. But somethings that may "seem" wrong to you, may not be. By code, there is NOTHING wrong with having outlets in a bedroom, or ANY room that are on different circuits. There is NOTHING wrong with multiple "hot" feeds in an electrical junction box, or most any electrical box. You mentioned "shared nuetrals", it is perfectly permissible to run a 3 wire 2 circuit feed where the red and black are HOT and the white is shared between the 2 circuits. The "key" to it's safety issue is it is "imperative" that the red and black wires are on different phases at the panel. Here is something that could be percieved as "dangerous" but is perfectly legal. You can have 2 separate circuits on one duplex outlet. For example, the top outlet on one circuit and the bottom on another. This is why there are "tabs" on a duplex outlet that can be broken. The "key" again here for safety is that in this situation the 2 circuit breakers at the panel must be tied together with a bar so they both go off if one goes off. Then, and only then, is that a legal set up. SO you can see, things that my not seem kosher could be if they are done right. Happy wiring.....Lou

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              • #8
                Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

                Originally posted by QROKING View Post
                You can have 2 separate circuits on one duplex outlet. For example, the top outlet on one circuit and the bottom on another. This is why there are "tabs" on a duplex outlet that can be broken. The "key" again here for safety is that in this situation the 2 circuit breakers at the panel must be tied together with a bar so they both go off if one goes off. Then, and only then, is that a legal set up.
                Do you have a code reference for that?

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                • #9
                  Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

                  Nec 2005 210.7(b)
                  Practicing at practical wood working

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                  • #10
                    Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

                    Thank You GoFor, yes it is in the code. It may read a little funny and some may not understand it, but it IS perfectly OK to have 2 circuits on one outlet providing the 2 circuit breakers are tied togther. Thank You for reporting the article #.....Lou

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                    • #11
                      Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

                      The 2 circuit thing doesn't seem funny, I've done that a few times. I did not know about the tie bar though. No inspector has ever called me on it, and they're pretty picky some parts around here.

                      Thank you for the article #, I'm going to check that out tomorrow.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Upgrading main panel from fuses to breakers

                        The tie bar on the 2 separate circuits is part of the code that aloows that type of wiring to be permissible. It also makes good safety sense. Assume someone wants to change the outlet of check something pertain to it. They stick a tester in the socket and turn off the circuit breaker that shuts off the tester, if the 2 breakers were not tied together then the other socket on the duplex will still be hot, you mazy not know it and can get shoked thinking the power is off to the outlet cause you DID NOT check both of them. Tieing the 2 breakers together makes it safe and conforms to code. Most inspectors DO NOT look that close at wiring and therefore would not pick that up. Lou

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