Load center replacement

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by philbob57, Aug 21, 2009.

  1. philbob57

    philbob57 New Member

    Messages:
    5
    I've got a 44 year old 200 Amp Zinsco panel, and I'm considering 3 options for replacement, and I have a few questions that readers here may be able to answer. Note that in any case, a licensed, insured electrician will do the work.

    The first option is a complete panel replacement. I've been told that the biggest part of the expense of this option is cutting the pipes that the wires are in to fit the new box - the argument being that the wire in the pipes has to be pulled out so they won't be damaed when the pipes are cut.

    The 2nd option is to use a Cutler-Hammer retrofit kit (see, for example, http://www.inspect-ny.com/electric/Zinscoreplace.htm). An apparently reliable electrician (licensed, insured, bonded) estimates 3-4 hours to install the kit.

    The 3rd option is to buy a new panel with innards that fit into the Zinsco box and install the new innards in the old box - essentially the same as option 2, but probably cheaper, but there's no UL certification.

    *****************

    Wires enter the Zinsco from the top and bottom. Panel boxes seem to have customzable knockouts for wire entry.

    1) Are the pipes really so rigid that they couldn't be made to fit into a new box that is within, say, 1/4" of the old box's size?

    2) Are there ways to minimize the labor for a complete replacement? (I so, what are they?)

    *****************

    The electrical inspector in my jurisdiction has never heard of the C-H retrofit kit, so it wouldn't pass inspection unless he was convinced it was safe. He also said mixing new innards and old box won't pass muster because UL certification is based on the innards being in a specified box.

    I live in a 4 story, 16 -unit condo. Power to my panel can be shut off downstairs, so work on the panel is under everybody's radar. Other people in my association have replaced their panels without getting permits or inspections.

    3) How much value is added by getting a permit and an inspection? How likely am I to get hit with the consequences of not getting a permit? Would any reader be willing to estimate how much panel replacement work is done without permits?

    4) Can anyone make an educated guess as to how often new works are installed in old panelboxes these days? (I can see that a slight increase in danger could result, since each additional operation is an additional opportunity for s@#$ to happen, but I understand this used to be permissible.)

    Thanks.

    PB
  2. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    We will need an electrician to comment on the labor. Panel changeouts are done all the time, so one way or another, it is doable. Expect it to cost an arm, but not a leg.

    In general, you cannot MODIFY a UL listed device. The UL listing applies to the unit as a whole. The exception would be if a manufacturer applied for a UL cert for their mod. kit. Then UL would test the mod. This may be the case with your CH kit. A similar situation exists in plumbing: a commercial electric water heater can be configured for almost any combination of volts, watts, phases, simultaneuos/not. But that CANNOT be done in the field. It must be done in the UL certified location. Most manufacturers have several distribution points around the country, and those locations are listed to do the work, so you don't have to wait for a model to ship up from mexico to get just what you need. REPAIRING a water heater with authorized parts, does not constitute modification. Just as REPAIRING your panel with authorized parts MAY be OK.


    What is the cost of not having permits? What is the value of your home if it burns down and the insurance company denies the claim due to unpermitted work? What is the value of trying to sell your house sometime in the future, and the buyers home inspector raises that permit flag? Sale delayed, major penalties to the city for after the fact permit, etc.
  3. Alectrician

    Alectrician DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    689
    A panel is a recrangular steel box with 2 or 3 simple components screwed inside it. Though the listing may be voided (technical foul), there is nothing wrong or dangerous about a qualified person replacing the guts.

    If a panel has a LOT of conduits top, bottom and sides, I would install new guts in a heartbeat.

    If it's only a few conduits and I think I can get some play, I will install the new can just so the cover will fit witout modification. I've never had to pull wires out. A good electrician would use a tubing cutter to avoid damaging the existing wires.


    Generally the enclosures are the same depth (appx 3.5) and the width seems to be about 14" so the only issue is finding a new panel that fits nicely in the allowable height.

    The bus bars (guts) are just screwed on to the can with a couple of screws. It's not rocket science to measure it exactly and screw it into the old can.

    You will probably have to drill new mounting holes in the panel cover.


    I also wouldn't lose sleep over doing unpermitted work, but I have been doing this stuff since the mid 1970's. :cool:


    This stuff is a no brainer for a good, experienced electrician.
  4. ActionDave

    ActionDave Electrician

    Messages:
    346
    Location:
    Colorado
    Change the guts. I don't have any first hand knowledge that says the CH retro kits are UL approved but Cutler Hammer is a major manufacturer of electrical gear- it's gotta be UL listed. Get the paper that says so and show it to the inspector.
    The whole condo complex should be glad that the Zinsco Never Trip breakers are going away, and your inspector should be too.
  5. Jeff1

    Jeff1 New Member

    Messages:
    102
    Location:
    So Cal
    There seem to be a lot of unknows with the retrofit - is there one that fits your box? I'd opt for a full replacement. My first question is what is driving the replacement? I had a replacement done because I was out of space in the old Zinsco and was updating my kitchen. I had it done by an electrician and it was done very quickly. There may be issues with short wires though. Don't forget the cost of wall repair after the replacement.
  6. Alectrician

    Alectrician DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    689
    I totally missed the Zinsco part (the fist line :rolleyes:)

    You probably won't find a panel with the same dimensions since the bus configurations are completely different.
  7. jar546

    jar546 In the Trades

    Messages:
    432
    Location:
    USA
    1) Are the pipes really so rigid that they couldn't be made to fit into a new box that is within, say, 1/4" of the old box's size?

    Anything can be done and most knockouts will line up

    2) Are there ways to minimize the labor for a complete replacement? (I so, what are they?)

    Just get the panel replaced, most electricians are flat rate anyway and your inspector won't accept a retrofit without proper paperwork

    3) How much value is added by getting a permit and an inspection? How likely am I to get hit with the consequences of not getting a permit? Would any reader be willing to estimate how much panel replacement work is done without permits?

    This is actually a stupid question. It is required and you would be a complete idiot to not pull a permit as required by law and get it inspected. "The one not asked" is not the only stupid question.

    4) Can anyone make an educated guess as to how often new works are installed in old panelboxes these days? (I can see that a slight increase in danger could result, since each additional operation is an additional opportunity for s@#$ to happen, but I understand this used to be permissible.)

    Very rarely if ever due to the UL problems with assemblies vs components and this low cost of new panels.


    I hope this helps.
  8. philbob57

    philbob57 New Member

    Messages:
    5
    Thanks very much for the responses. My motives for the replacement include: I need another 240V circuit, and that will require a serious reorganization of the breakers, and at least one breaker seems to be a Never Trip model ... it seems to me that the cost of testing and reorganizing the current breakers and buying at least 2 new breakers (the new circuit & replace the never-trip) could be over half the cost of installing the retrofit kit, and that still leaves me with an old panel of questionnable quality.

    2 electricians proposed replacing the whole panel for $2500, more if the work is permitted, because they thought the pipes would be a problem. One said he'd install the repair kit for $300-$400 plus the cost of materials.

    1 electrician proposed panel replacment for $1450, but he did work for me that violated code and was unsafe (14 gauge wire to a 4500W water heater).

    C-H claims UL approval for the retrofit kits under the panel requirements, and they make a kit that fits my box. Supposedly, the new cover that is part of the kit does not damage the wall.

    When I lived in a detached house, I got permits, but nobody in this building has gotten a permit for any work in the 11 years I've been here, and no sale has been held up by an unpermitted alteration.

    Insurance coverage is a different matter, and, of course, I had no recourse when unsafe work was done without a permit or inspection. But unpermitted new C-H breakers and panel innards are likely to be safer than old permitted Zinsco stuff.

    No decision yet. It's saturday night. Since there are Homeline and GE panels that are within 1/4" of the size of the Zinsco panel, I think I'll look for an electrician who'll replace the panel and make the pipes fit....

    Again, thanks.

    PB
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