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Electrical Problem: How Do I Choose A Load Center?

The first step in choosing a load center for your property is to perform a load calculation on your electrical system. The average handyman will not know how to perform this load calculation. You could purchase a National Electrical Code handbook and do it yourself. If you have no experience in calculations for a system this size, I recommend you hire a professional electrician to perform this vital step. They should be able to perform this should only take two to three hours. Be forewarned, this step is a necessity to cover insurance and code requirements.

Next, I would have you check the size of your feeder wire. This is usually the aluminum wire that travels from your meter base to your current box. The most common way to figure this out is to remove the cover to the existing load center. Generally, a home will have a 150 amp panel, a 200 amp panel, or a combination of 2 or 3 of these panels depending on the size of your electrical service. A 150 amp panel requires a four wire cable consisting of three (2/0) wires and one (1/0) wire. These would be aluminum conductors. The 200 amp panel would require a four wire cable consisting of three (4/0) wires and one (2/0) wire. The existing wire should have a label somewhere on the cable.

Now you need to count the number of circuits that you want to power with your new load center. Sometimes, you will be able to acquire panels with approximately 32 slots for your circuit breakers. Generally I would suggest a 42 slot load center. This will allow for any additions that you may want to include in your residential electrical remodel. Be sure that your master electrician includes any planned circuits in his load calculation. Failure to include the added circuits could eventually cause a circuit overload. Circuit overloads can be a fire hazard. Ultimately this miscalculation will cause overheating in the electrical panel.

Generally, I never buy anything without considering the quality of the product that I intend to purchase. Most of the load centers, that are for sale currently, are equal. You may be able to find value packs. This purchase includes some random circuit breakers with your load center. Also the price of the remaining needed breakers can be a determining factor. The width and the length may weigh on your decision. Most of these load centers are 14 1/2 inches wide. This enables the installer to screw the load center directly to the interior walls. You should not have to modify the supporting lumber. I installed over 100 of these in the past few years. I only had to modify the structural lumber once. This installation was in an apartment complex.

Look for more directional items on electrical installations if you are unsure about moving forward. Don’t forget to acquire your load calculation. When removing the existing electric panel, don’t contact the live busses that are existing there.

George Argo

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Electrical Problem: How Do I Remove A Load Center?


I have replaced over 100 electrical panels in the past 5 years. You must locate your meter base. The meter base is the source of power for the existing load center. The National Electrical Code requires a main breaker in one of these. Saving money leads many electrical contractors to using cheaper meter bases. The more expensive meter bases have a main breaker within the box. If one is located inside the junction area, I flip that breaker off. The cycling of the breaker eliminates the energized service feeders from shocking the technician. A multi-meter will verify that there is no voltage in your load center. If there is no main breaker in the service entrance, you will have to contact the electric utility. It is illegal to remove the actual meter yourself.

Most counties and municipalities require a permit and inspection. As the contractor, I must coordinate the utility provider’s presence and an inspection after completion. The utility will refuse to reconnect your power until the inspection has been approved. Usually, we pull the permit.The work needs to be scheduled with the power company. The inspection will need to be scheduled for the same day. Failure to satisfy the inspectors requirements will delay reconnection of the electricity.

I always provide a load center with a main breaker. If the service entrance contains a main breaker, one is not required in the electrical panel. The main breaker in both locations may appear to be overkill. Dual overcurrent protection is a positive reinforcement of electrical safety. Be sure to review your load calculation before removing your existing box. A remodeling upgrade of this sort isn’t for the faint of heart. I usually perform the removal of these accompanied by an electrical apprentice or another journeyman electrician.

The process needs to be thought through. You must consider the degree of difficulty. The reconnection of electricity is the largest motivating factor. An advantages of permitting this process are many. Insurance companies will usually provide consumer discounts for electrical upgrades. There is a flip side to that album. If there is a fire issue in the future, the insurance company will deny coverage when there is no permitted inspection before reconnection. The local utilities would reconnect without an inspection. Generally due to local laws and regulations restrict their ability to reconnect without the inspector’s go ahead. Think twice before doing this. The local electrical contractor could have you over a huge barrel. The time to ask for help is before trouble is spotted.

George Argo

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