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  1. #1
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    Default Help needed understanding panel

    I would like some help here. I have a couple of questions regarding this panel. #1 Where is the ground wire for this panel? I could not find a ground. No connection to the meter, I could not find a ground rod outside. I can't even find a ground wire coming out of the panel?
    #2 A question for this GFCI breaker. What is this aluminum wire for? Could someone explain this GFCI system for me?
    #3 What is the main disconnect rating in this panel? I see two 60 amp breakers labeled "main disconnect". Would this panel be rated 120 amp service?
    This panel belongs to a friend of mine who allowed me to inspect his house so I could get some experience. As far as the ground wire is concerned, I am used to seeing a bare wire coming out of the panel and connecting to ether the water meter or a ground rod. I understand how a GFCI breaker works, but I thought they were a single breaker and not doubled? I am also used to seeing a main breaker at the top of the panel, Which makes it easy to determine service rating. I am just a little confused with this setup. Thanks in advance for your help.

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    I believe what you have there is a split buss panel where the top grouping of double pole breakers are for things like AC, water heater, dryer, etc., and one of them is the main breaker for the bottom grouping of breakers which are general branch circuits for receptacles and lighting and such.
    There should be a label somewhere showing the panel rating. Looks like 200 amps to me. You can't figure out the panel rating by adding up breaker ratings.
    If there's no ground wire, that's a problem.


  3. #3
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by John Arnold View Post
    I believe what you have there is a split buss panel where the top grouping of double pole breakers are for things like AC, water heater, dryer, etc., and one of them is the main breaker for the bottom grouping of breakers which are general branch circuits for receptacles and lighting and such.
    Thanks John, a split buss panel was explained to me but I was still confused. I thought that the split buss meant one disconnect controlled the right side of the panel and the other side controlled the left. You cleared that up for me. Does it matter that the disconnect breakers are only 60 amp when the top breakers add up to more than 60 amps? There is a 50 amp breaker that controls another panel(sub panel).

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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    I can't see it enough to tell you anything about the ground, but there are panels out there without a ground. It's not correct, but they are out there.

    Adding up the breakers is not relevant. Whether 60 amps is enough is determined by the things connected to the circuit, generally at the receptacles. You can have as many breakers as the panel is allowed to hold on that lower 60 amp section of the panel.

    For # 3, if you are talking about "what is the service amperage", that can be determined on a split buss panel by factoring in the meter capacity, service wire size and panel rating. Whatever the lowest denominator is determines the amperage rating. Sort of like the weakest link theory. Panel rating is different, and is determined by the manufacturer, as stated by John.

    Jim Robinson
    New Mexico, USA

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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    David,

    Re: "No ground", are you certain there is not a seperate service disconect upstream of that panel?. In that case it could be a mis-wired load-side panel - unlikely, but I've seen it, and at least around here it's more likely than ungrounded service equipment.

    Last edited by Michael Thomas; 10-26-2008 at 09:26 AM.
    Michael Thomas
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  6. #6
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by David O'Keefe View Post
    I would like some help here. I have a couple of questions regarding this panel. #1 Where is the ground wire for this panel? I could not find a ground. No connection to the meter, I could not find a ground rod outside. I can't even find a ground wire coming out of the panel?
    "#1 Where is the ground wire for this panel?"

    "Panel" or "service equipment"? Yes, it could be the "service equipment" and "panel" combined, however, in that case, you still need to think of it as "service equipment".

    Being as that is a "split bus panel", it is 'most likely' "service equipment".

    Being "service equipment" (my presumption), then the ground is also the neutral conductor going from the meter to the service equipment.

    If that is an older house, you may not have a ground rod outside, it may be grounded to the old metal water service, in which case you would need to verify that the old metal water service pipe is still there. If it has been replaced with, or even a section cut out and replaced with, PVC, then that ground path is broken and a ground rod needs to be installed.

    If you cannot find and verify proper grounding, I always called for the electrician to verify proper system grounding while on site making other repairs (there are always other repairs for the electrician to make).

    #2 A question for this GFCI breaker. What is this aluminum wire for? Could someone explain this GFCI system for me?
    Not sure what aluminum wire you are referring to.

    #3 What is the main disconnect rating in this panel? I see two 60 amp breakers labeled "main disconnect". Would this panel be rated 120 amp service?
    Don't know.

    You would need to find the panel rating, the service entrance conductor rating, and it would be the lesser of those two.

    With split bus panels, you cannot simply add up the 'mains' and arrive at a 'main rating'.

    I understand how a GFCI breaker works, but I thought they were a single breaker and not doubled?
    Many of the older GFCI breakers were doubles like that. No different than a newer GFCI breaker except that the newer breakers take up less space in the panel.

    I am also used to seeing a main breaker at the top of the panel, Which makes it easy to determine service rating.
    See above: look at the rating of the panel and of the SEC, it will be the lower of the two.

    Don't forget those staples are not allowed to crush those cables like that.

    Also, the grounding conductor/neutral conductor from the SEC all needs to be twisted together and go to *ONE* screw terminal in the neutral/ground terminal bar.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  7. #7
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Thanks for the help. I'm calling for an electrician to make repairs on a number of issues with this electrical system. I've ask to be there with the electrician so I can get educated about this electrical setup.


  8. #8
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    How can you inspect a panel if you do not know what you are looking at? It is not an inspection...it is an observation with pictures. Glad it is not my house he is inspecting!


  9. #9
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by James Duffin View Post
    How can you inspect a panel if you do not know what you are looking at? It is not an inspection...it is an observation with pictures. Glad it is not my house he is inspecting!
    Quote Originally Posted by David O'Keefe View Post
    This panel belongs to a friend of mine who allowed me to inspect his house so I could get some experience.

    James,

    While David is doing what he said inspecting a house of "a friend of mine who allowed me to inspect his house so I could get some experience", it seems to me that you need to get some experience in reading ... such as reading what David wrote.

    In which case, with suitable reading skills, you would not have made (hopefully, anyway) your cutting and uncalled for post.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  10. #10
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    James,
    I wondered how long it would be before I got a response like yours. Yes itís true, I didnít know what I was looking at. Thatís why I asked for help. This MB is filled with inspectors that sometimes donít know what they are looking at. Thatís why they ask for help. Iím new to the home inspection profession and electrical is not my strongest area. So, when I see something I donít understand, Iíll ask the question ďWhat is this??Ē
    Sometimes Iíll receive very helpful answers from the professionals on this MB like Jerry and others and then sometimes Iíll get answers like, ďYou idiot, donít you know what your looking at.Ē Thatís OK. Those answers wonít stop me from asking more questions. Thatís how I learn, by asking questions. I also learn by experience. Thatís why I was inspecting my friendsí house, to gain experience. He gave up a Saturday afternoon to help me in my new profession, and I thank him. Iíll be there when the electrician goes to his house to look at the issues I brought up, and Iíll ask questions, and learn.


  11. #11
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Good for you David, everyone had to learn in the beginning! As long as you are not charging customers for your learning experience, go for it!

    Jim Luttrall
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  12. #12
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Hi David, Welcome to the board and the profession.... something in your original question that I didn't see addressed:

    The right/left side the panel thing... Look at the bus bars on an empty panel (got to Home Depot if need be).... They basically zig zag back and forth in such a way that the breakers on each side contact each leg/phase of the panel.

    I know I'm not explaining this well (it's late and I'm headed to bed).... but this is something that threw me while I was learning. Each hot wire energizes one of the bars and they weave back and forth so that a 240V breaker (one that takes up two slots on one 'side') is actually getting power from each leg. I guess my main point is that just because the breakers are on the same 'side' doesn't make them any more related than two on different sides of the panel.

    Maybe someone else can finish my thought....


  13. #13
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    GREAT reply, David. I work on computers and hang around a few computer help news groups to help the newbies. Those groups are the worst with know it all smart@$$'$ who never read the first post and have a better computer than all of us.


  14. #14
    Richard Pultar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Soares book on grounding is a classic ISBN 1890659185 is the one i have right here , there have to be newer editions
    where does that green #6 conductor go?
    Ground rods can be tough to find since they are supposed to be buried ie protected from damage


  15. #15
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    David,
    Welcome to the profession. It is allways the right thing to due to ask for a consult when your unsure. You can not be expected to know everything but you should know how to look it up...Like logging on to Inspection News.
    Stephen


  16. #16
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Luttrall View Post
    As long as you are not charging customers for your learning experience, go for it!

    Jim,

    What?

    You expect a new inspector to not do what we all did and still do?

    Learn at each inspection and charge our clients for allowing us to learn, where they graciously pay us for that learning?



    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  17. #17
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Fellman View Post
    Maybe someone else can finish my thought....
    Matt,

    This is just a visual of what you were explaining.

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  18. #18
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Usually in a split bus panel there is only one feed to the lower section of the panel (the lighting section). In this panel it looks like there are 2 double pole breakers feeding the lower section. What is the reason for doing it this way?


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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Meyer View Post
    Usually in a split bus panel there is only one feed to the lower section of the panel (the lighting section). In this panel it looks like there are 2 double pole breakers feeding the lower section. What is the reason for doing it this way?
    Ken,

    Not sure what you are asking, there are always two feeds to the bottom section - one to each bus bar.

    That photo shows (from what it looks like to me) that the left side bus bar is fed at the top and the right side bus bar is fed at the bottom. That is unusual, typically both are either fed at the top or the bottom.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  20. #20
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    There are 2 double pole breakers on the upper left, in positions 5&7, and 9&11. The leads from both double pole breakers look like they feed the lower section. Usually there is just one double pole breaker feeding the lower section.


  21. #21
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Jim,

    What?

    You expect a new inspector to not do what we all did and still do?

    Learn at each inspection and charge our clients for allowing us to learn, where they graciously pay us for that learning?

    Touchť'
    We all continue to learn (of at least we should) but also, in the beginning, we should at least learn the basics before charging customers for expertise it is obvious does not exist.

    Jim Luttrall
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  22. #22
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    A closer look at those 2 double pole breakers and the lower buss:

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  23. #23
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    David,

    When I first decided I was going to enter the home inspection business I read my way systematically through the entire contents of all three major HI boards, occasionally asking questions and even posting pictures of things I encountered at my own and friends houses which I did not understand.

    Occasionally, I took some flak from other posters - to a certain extent this is understandable, for example because very few of the people who intend to enter the home inspection business will still be active home inspectors two or three years later.

    OTOH, many people patiently took the time to answer my questions, and I also went on to discover that some of the people who are real dragons on the boards are amongst the most patient and helpful when you encounter them face-to-face.

    After reading my way through the boards I eventually became licensed, and began to look for ride-alongs with more experienced inspectors.

    My first was with the inspector who not only had a good deal of experience, but actually taught licensing classes.

    We started in the attached garage, and I noticed that an access hatch had been roughly hacked into the Transite ceiling.

    I was pretty curious about how the inspector would handle this, as it was an asbestos containing material normally not an issue if not disturbed, which in this case had been disturbed.

    He mentioned nothing about it.

    Later, when the clients walked away for a moment, I asked him about it.

    "That's not asbestos, that's Masonite "

    "But look,the fracture pattern at the edge, it's a sharp break, and that's exactly what I've seen in the pictures".

    It turned out that this inspector had never seen a Transite ceiling. Nor have I seen one since - apparently, they are unusual in my area.

    So here I was, a complete newbie walking in to a live inspection for the first time.

    And I knew something - something significant - that this experienced inspector didn't! - because I had got the benefit of tens of thousands of other people's inspections and experience and generous willingness to share it.

    It was a real eye-opener.

    Now, if anything three years of inspecting have made me increasingly humble about the state of my own knowledge, and I try to keep it that way.

    Because when I've seen people make embarrassing and/or expensive mistakes in this business it's always been because of ignorance, or arrogance or carelessness or some combination of these factors - and never because of knowledge, or a willingness to admit what you don't know, or to learn from others' "careless mistakes".

    So I try and learn is much as I can here, and I try to contribute what I learned in return - even if that means that occasionally I find that I still am asking "obvious" or "elementary" questions.

    And sometimes, I still get shot down here for asking questions, usually by somebody who sees something every day (say, an oil furnace) that's unusual in my market, or when I ask about something when it's just been the luck of the draw that it's taken me a few years to stumble across it.

    So my advice is: keep asking.

    And if you need to give yourself an excuse for asking a basic question, remember that it's often when trying to answer an "obvious" question that the "expert" discovers there's something they ought to understand more thoroughly, or even something in ignorance of which have operated for years.

    For example, when I saw those two double pole breakers I thought "New to me - let's see what people say" - so I was surprised that nobody had commented on it before you clarified your question, and if you hadn't asked for clarification, I would have.

    Michael Thomas
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  24. #24
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Meyer View Post
    There are 2 double pole breakers on the upper left, in positions 5&7, and 9&11. The leads from both double pole breakers look like they feed the lower section. Usually there is just one double pole breaker feeding the lower section.
    Ken,

    I see what you are saying, now - effectively conductors in parallel except from two separate breakers (meaning they are not 'effectively conductors in parallel).

    Look at where that conductor goes through below the 9 & 11 breaker, it go through a bushing and to the top of the bottom bus bar. That conductor appears to come from the 7 breaker.

    Does that mean that the bottom bus is energized both top and bottom?

    The angle of the photo does not allow us to see the bottom connections to the bottom bus bars.

    The only way to know what is going on is for David to go back and take a photo of the wiring schematic for that panel and a couple of more photos showing those connections and the bottom connections.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  25. #25
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Thomas View Post
    A closer look at those 2 double pole breakers and the lower buss:
    Michael,

    You have them labeled as "Main disconnects" and they are not 'the only mains' - at least they do not look like 'the only mains'.

    They look like they are suppling the lower portion of the panel 'only'. If that is the case, then *ALL* of those top breakers are "the main disconnects".

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  26. #26
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Jerry,

    Those labels are on the original pic David posted, I just cropped/enlarged it.

    Michael Thomas
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  27. #27
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Thomas View Post
    Those labels are on the original pic David posted, I just cropped/enlarged it.

    Michael,

    I started to say 'They are?" because I did not, could not, see them on "the original" photo David posted ... then I realized you were referring to David's next photo posting with those on it.

    Oops.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
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  28. #28
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Great thread. Learned a lot.


  29. #29
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Thanks for the great information and advice. One more question. The breaker for the water heater is no longer used (switched to gas). the wiring that connected to the old water heater is not secured in a box but is just hanging from a joist in the basement with wire nuts attached. I called this out as unsafe and needs repair but was wondering if you would recommend removing the breaker from the panel and also removing the wiring? I would like your thoughts.


  30. #30
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by David O'Keefe View Post
    Thanks for the great information and advice. One more question. The breaker for the water heater is no longer used (switched to gas). the wiring that connected to the old water heater is not secured in a box but is just hanging from a joist in the basement with wire nuts attached. I called this out as unsafe and needs repair but was wondering if you would recommend removing the breaker from the panel and also removing the wiring? I would like your thoughts.
    David,

    My primary recommendation would be to disconnect the wire from the breaker and put the exposed ends in a junction box. I don't see any need to remove it, but removal wouldn't hurt.

    Department of Redundancy Department
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  31. #31
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    Default Re: Help needed understanding panel

    David,

    Just terminating the wires (where they are) inside of a covered junction box, with the wire nuts in place, should be sufficient. I have seen electricians post a notation in the panel indicating the unused circuit and showing where the old circuit wires terminate to help anyone wanting to know the history and why the breaker might be turned off, etc.

    Welcome and good luck in the industry.

    Mitch Toelle


  32. #32
    John Allingham's Avatar
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    Angry Re: Help needed understanding panel

    Quote Originally Posted by James Duffin View Post
    How can you inspect a panel if you do not know what you are looking at? It is not an inspection...it is an observation with pictures. Glad it is not my house he is inspecting!
    I hope I never get to be such an arrogant A-hole that I would put down another inspector who is trying to learn.


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