How to install an electrical panel – Safely and up to NEC code.

Are you remodeling your house?? Do you have an old electrical panel?? Are you looking to add more circuits to your existing panel and there’s no space left?? You may need a new electrical panel. In many states homeowners are able to do electrical work on their own single family owner occupied dwelling.

Many homeowners as well as tradesmen are afraid of electricity and rightfully so there are many dangerous components involved if you do not have proper training and hopefully by the end of this post most if not all of their concerns will be laid to rest. With over 10 years of residential, commercial and industrial experience mounting an electrical panel seems like a trivial task at times. Understanding to some this may be the most hands on task they may have ever undergone so without any further here we go…

Is a panel/service upgrade necessary Selecting a panel and Why??

Though a 200 amp electrical panel/service is ideal in this modern day and age, if money is tight and you cannot afford to upgrade to a 200 amp service, a panel swap out/replacement may be an exactly what’s needed. Reasons to upgrade a service are lack of free breakers leading to not enough space to add new circuits, very old panels, adding an addition to the property, etc.

Depending on your city/states ordinance make sure the proper permits are pulled before any work is performed. Many authorities having jurisdiction would rather homeowners not perform their own electrical work because of the possible dangers of incorrect unsafe installations. So call a professional if the task gets out of hand.

Materials/Tools needed and planning the job

There are plenty of different panels, back boxes, ampere ratings on the market. Doing sufficient research before selecting the make/model that fits your needs is the best way to go. Planning the lay out for where the panel will be installed is extremely crucial, whether the panel is going to remain in the same location or be moved.

If the panel is going to remain in the same location save what you can it helps save on money as well as time. When relocating the panel make sure the location complies with the National Electrical Code (NEC), for example the front of any electrical panel should have 3 ft clearance for “working space” Article 110.26 of the NEC code book goes further into detail.

Material

  • Plywood with 2-2×4’s
  • Fire retardant spray paint
  • Appropriate size electrical panel & wire
  • Connectors for Romex, MC & Service wire
  • Circuit Breakers & AFCI Breakers
  • Wood screws & 1/4″ fender washers
  • Drop-in anchors with bolts or tapcons
  • Ground wire, ground clamps and ground rods
  • Meter pan (possibly free)
  • Adequate size PVC
  • Wire nuts
  • Ductseal

Tools

  • Screw driver & screw gun
  • Electrician’s pliers (Linesman)
  • Hammerdrill or Rotary Hammerdrill
  • Tape measure
  • Torpedo level
  • Wire strippers
  • electrical tape
  • sawzall or circular saw
  • Proper ppe: google, gloves, etc.

Installing an electrical panel and grounding

As alluded to in the above paragraph make sure to create a thorough material list because once the power is disconnected and the wires are cut there is no turning back. Though grounding is overlooked and underrated it is quite important for life safety due to the fact most older electrical systems installed before the 1970s did not have grounding electrodes (ground rods) driven into the earth. These older services were only grounded to the water service pipe entering into the dwelling underground.

Which needs to be implemented once updating upgrading or swapping a panel/service. Mount the fire retardant plywood to the brick or block wall anchoring the 2×4’s first. By this time you should already have the concentric knocked in panel and know which way you’re going to install the new or exist service wire. At this point all the old panel and plywood should be demoed and should have a played route of how the panel will be mounted including the route of the service entrance cable or PVC.

Preparation

  1. Cut the plywood to the required size
  2. Spray the plywood with flame retardant spray paint
  3. Cut the 2-2×4 to the pre-measured length
  4. Drill all necessary holes for service entrance cable connectors/PVC connector, anchoring and grounding
  5. Measure for the height and position of the panel make sure to make all necessary holes are the in plywood before mounting the panel (the max height of the main breaker can be no taller than 6′-7″ NEC article 240.24(A))
  6. Knock out the concentric hole needed for the service entrance cable connector or PVC connector

Installation

  1. Fasten the 2-2×4’s to the existing surface in the basement using anchors or tapcons
  2. Aligning any holes in the plywood with holes previously made in the basement wall, fasten the pre-cut plywood to the 2×4’s using wood screws, if the existing surface is sheet rock the plywood can be screwed directly to the surface without the use of 2×4’s
  3. Using a torpedo level and help from a partner lift the electrical panel to the predetermined height
  4. Once at the acquired height fasten the electrical panel to the plywood pushing the service entrance cable through the connector or PVC
  5. Using wood screws with 1/4″ fender washers fasten the electrical panel to the plywood
  6. DO NOT completely tighten the wood screws before making sure the bubble in the torpedo level is in between the lines of the level then tighten firmly.
  7. Congratulate yourself… You just installed an electrical panel!! Take a bow…

The importance of the panel size & Troubleshooting

Now that the electrical panel is installed there are vital finishing touches that separates a good job from a great job. Depending on the size of the property and the amount of electrical appliances (electric range/Hot Water Heater, AC units, etc.) in the property, the size of the service and panel can vary drastically. In terms of residential single family dwellings 200 amp and under are extremely common but there are exceptions to the norm so load calculations should be performed when square footage is 4000 and up, several panels already on the property etc.

Troubleshooting circuitry is key when changing out a panel or upgrading a service, its very important to know what circuit breaker is controlling what areas of the property. Many circuit breakers are missed labeled, usually because a property owners or handymen is changing circuits around and the panel schedule (if one exist) is never updated.

Having no panel schedule is the equivalent of looking through an electrical panel wearing a blind fond, one should take supreme caution; especially if there are circuits dedicated for life support or life safety equipment.

Conclusion the panel schedule will tell the story

The panel schedule is the ultimate finishing touch to the “How to install an electrical panel” project. It is the calling card of a truly competent professional that not only cares about doing his job right but cares about the next person that has to work in the electrical panel.

The panel schedule completely tells the story of what circuit breaker is controlling what portion of the property, labeled: bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen etc. This is very important when there issues in the panel this goes back to troubleshooting discussed in the previous paragraph and why its very essential that due diligence is done. Have a beautifully installed electrical panel can be overshadowed by lack of troubleshooting and panel schedule.

In closing hopefully the information provided has giving the ambitious DIY’ers enough to go off and install their own electrical panel… But if reading this information has made you feel that the task is too much to bear alone feel free to contact us at Lyric Electric. Where Safety Service & Innovation are our motto.

Sincerely Yours

Rayvonn Mercado

Owner & Founder of  LyricElectric.com

 

 

 

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