Main lug as a primary service panel

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by madpenguin, Jan 5, 2008.

  1. madpenguin

    madpenguin New Member

    Jan 5, 2008
    Greets all. This might get a little complicated trying to explain but I'll do my best...

    I live in an old house that is split up into 4 units. The service panels are in pretty bad shape IMO. 3 units have been upgraded with newer panels but one unit still has a circa 1920's "lever" disconnect with a similar era subpanel tied onto that, both use fuses. Knob and Tube wiring throughout the entire house (which has been overfused for MANY years). Pretty scary. The wire sheathing cracks if you look at it wrong. The old setup still has 30amp fuses in it with all 14 gauge K&T tied in...

    Anyway... The 3 new panels are main lugs that are fed straight from the quad meter box outside. No disconnects any where. In one of the new panels the 2 hot legs go into a 60 amp double pole breaker that serves as the main (note that there are no lugs in this box except for the neutral bus). The other 2 new panels have no "main" at all. They are straight up Main Lug LC's with just a couple individual branch circuits on the hot bus.

    What are your guys' thought's on this? Doesn't seem legal by any stretch of the imagination and more importantly, is questionable safety wise. What is to stop someone from running space heaters on every circuit? There's no main to trip so it seems like the SE cable might heat up pretty good. I get a little worried when I go to sleep at night. Especially being winter with the furnaces running and possible space heaters, fridge's, microwaves, toasters, et. all...

    The old cloth wrapped SE cable coming from the meters looks VERY thin. Looks like 10 gauge solid AL but could be 8.. Dunno.

    The one new panel that has the 60 amp "main"... It works in the fact that you can kill power to the hot bus but I'm not sure how it's supposed to act as a real main breaker since it's being "backfed"... Correct? Pull more than 60 amps on that unit and it's not going to trip or will it? Power is coming into the breaker, not going out...

    A little confused on that one. Any and all thoughts would be most appreciated.. The reason I ask is that the landlord wants me to whip things into shape since I've stated that the power situation is extremely shoddy. Been doing electrical work for about 3 years. Have rewired 3 houses from the ground up and numerous old work jobs but I don't have too much experience with service panels. I typically leave that stuff for the certified's to do.. Thanks again for any input.

  2. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Nov 12, 2005
    Unless you can pull a permit and have this job inspected stay away from this.

    I am guessing you can't pull one.

    #1 is the liability you will incur by just touching any part of this especially if you are not licensed and don't have liability ins.

    Anything you do could affect the property and / or lives of others in the building as well as your own.

    The land lord needs to call a competent, licenced electrician in to correct all this.

    Just my NSHO.
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2008
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  4. Speedy Petey

    Speedy Petey Licensed Electrical Contractor

    Jun 16, 2007
    Licensed Electrical Contractor
    NY State, USA
    If I were you I would NOT touch this job. Not unless you will be working with someone certified/qualified.

    I very much know that some landlords can be cheap SOBs and want folks to work for nothing. They'll hire the cheapest handyman to do all sorts of plumbing, electrical, whatever.

    You might think 3 years is enough to know what you are doing, but I am sorry to say it is definitely not. Please take this as the constructive criticism that it is, and not an insult.
  5. Bob NH

    Bob NH In the Trades

    Oct 20, 2005
    New Hampshire
    The best service that you could do would be to report the situation to the fire safety officer or some inspection authority.

    It would probably be outright illegal (criminal liability) for an unlicensed electrician to work on a multifamily dwelling. The exception that lets someone work on their own home without a license doesn't apply to multifamily dwellings in any jurisdiction that I am aware of.
  6. madpenguin

    madpenguin New Member

    Jan 5, 2008
    Thanks for the replies. I've already decided that's the course of action to take. Can't legally pull the meters and no disconnect means I'd have to disconnect/tape each leg and work hot. Not really comfortable doing that. But just for curiosities sake, would anyone care to comment on what's going on with the panels?


    1.) If the SE cable is indeed 10 guage as it appears to be, what's the max draw a cable like that can handle? 40amp? Tenants need to be aware of the situation and not do anything stupid like run arc welders or anything.. ;)

    2.) The 60 amp DP "main". Still not really a main with regards to limiting power draw, correct? It just serves as a disconnect to the hot bus and is there anything "wrong" with doing that besides the fact that it won't trip anything load side?

    3.) Considering the size of the SE cable, The house would need a service upgrade, no? Mast down?

    I see shoddy crap like this at almost every job I'm on with the electrical contractor I work for. It's amazing what people do sometimes... I never understood why people have no qualm about endangering others lives to make the work easier and quicker...

    Thanks again for your input. I'd like to be able to inform the landlord of what it's going to take to make things proper and safe. I'll ask at work Monday but this has been eating at me all weekend...
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2008
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