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Electrical Wire and Cable

Upgrading an Electrical Service Panel

ML in Rockwell, North Carolina asks:. How should I upgrade my electric service panel? Considerations when Upgrading an Electric Service Panel.

Residential Electric Panel
Electrical Question: How should I upgrade my electric service panel?

Our home was built in 30’s. The service meter is 200amps. The panel originally installed is an old Square D. The problem is there are several circuits bundled together and terminated under breaker lugs.The service entrance wire from the meter to the panel is two insulated 2/0 aluminum wires and one aluminum stranded twisted around both the others. The entire service wire is in a sheath covered cable. There is a solid number 4 copper ground coming from the exterior ground rod to the existing panel. There is no visible insulated neutral wire (Typically seen in older homes). We want to change out the panel and install a new 200 amp main panel.

My questions are: Is it safe, being I have a solid ground to take the single strand wire and twist it together, coat it with insulation electrical tape not to have any bare wire existing, and use it as a neutral wire? The existing wire was installed when walls were open and is strapped. We will have to tear out a wall cavity to replace it, which is what I want to avoid if possible. Second, What is the farthest distance allowed from the meter can to the location of a panel with main? I will consider running copper as feed. Third, If replacement is our only choice for the entrance wire, will the meter head can have to be changed also?

Additional Comments: Great website.

This electrical question came from ML a Homeowner in Rockwell, North Carolina.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical question.

Upgrading an Electric Service Panel

Application: Upgrading a Residential Electrical Service Panel.
Skill Level: Advanced – Not recommended for homeowners, This project is best performed by a Licensed Electrical Contractor, or Certified Electrician.
Electrical Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools, Voltage Tester, and appropriate Safety Gear.
Estimated Time: Depends on the personal level experience, ability to work with tools, install electrical circuit wiring, and the available access to the project area.
Electrical Safety: Identify the electrical power source to the Main Panel, turn it OFF and Tag with a Note before working with the electrical wiring.
Electrical Wiring Parts and Materials: Electrical parts and materials for the Main Panel should be approved for the specific project and compliant with local and national electrical codes.
Electrical Codes and Inspections: Installing or changing home electrical wiring should be done according to local and national electrical codes as adopted in your local area. A permit and inspections may also be required.

Main Electrical Service Panel

Be aware that at the main electrical service panel the neutral and ground wires are bonded together. This however is only at the main service panel. Additional panels that are added such as a sub panel, are then required to have separate wires for the ground and neutral which will originate and bond together back at the main electric service panel. Typically the bonding of the neutral wires and the ground wires is done at the main electrical service where these wires are attached to the terminal block system which is located inside the main electric service panel.

The service entrance cable that you have described is typical.
The ground wire system that you have described is also typical as long as it has been installed and bonded properly.
To correct the problem of having more than one circuit wire attached to a single circuit breaker you may want to consider installing an additional sub panel where more circuit breakers may be installed.

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Complete Guide to Home Electrical Wiring

Perfect for Homeowners, Students,
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The Non-Contact Electrical Tester
This is a testing tool that I have had in my personal electrical tool pouch for years, and is the first test tool I grab to help identify electrical wiring. It is a Non-contact tester that I use to easily Detect Voltage in Cables, Cords, Circuit Breakers, Lighting Fixtures, Switches, Outlets and Wires. Simply insert the end of the tester into an outlet, lamp socket, or hold the end of the tester against the wire you wish to test. Very handy and easy to use.

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The wire gauges are shown on the side of the tool so you know which slot to use for stripping insulation.
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