Electrical Problems Fixed (For Now)

Busy weekend of home improvement. Actually, perhaps home improvement isn’t the right word. More like keeping the home from going to hell, which I spend enough time doing that I never seem to get around to any actual “improvement.” This house is now about 25 years old, was never properly constructed according to code (built by the first owner, who was an incompetent builder, according to neighbors.) This is the kind of incompetence I’m talking about:

Note the location of the electrical panel. I even uploaded it to Fail Blog (Please vote for my FAIL. The guy who built the house is dead, but it’ll at least make me feel like I exacted some karmic measure of revenge.) The basement is finished, so options for where appliances go is pretty much limited to this corner.

Since I can’t really reach the panel without contorting my body in ways it was never meant to, relocation is going to cost more in time, money, and aggravation than I’m willing to spend right now. I decided to see if I could work with what I have. First order of business is to map out where all the circuits go. No one ever did that. Any time I’ve done electrical work on this house it’s involved flipping breakers until the circuit I was working on went dead. So now I know where everything goes and have a chart of the breaker layout and what’s on those circuits.

The bus bar stab the two fried breakers were on I’m considering effectively dead, because I’m fairly certain the stab is heat damaged. But he bus bar itself looked OK. Took a trip to Lowes and got two new circuit breakers, and an infrared thermometer. I had a spare stab at the bottom of the bar, so I used that and moved one of the lighter circuits to it. The heavy loaded circuit with the dishwasher I moved to the top, and put a new breaker there too. That left the sump, which was connected to the other breaker. Sumps need a dedicated circuit, so I took two circuits that were pretty light weight and tied them together. That got me the sump back on its own circuit. Running the dishwasher, and a few other heavy appliances shows the box running at 75 degrees F, and the busbar at the same temp. No localized heating where the fried breakers were. Not much higher than ambient temperature. Only hotter spot is the GFI breaker at 81 degrees, which I would expect.

Took less time to do than I had on the UPS that powers the blog an Internet in the even of power failure. Long term I will replace the panel, but probably not until I’m close to selling. The solution I’ve thought up is to put in a tankless water heater, which would recover a lot of working room, and allow the panel to be shifted over a bit to get the 30 inches NEC requires.

12 Responses to “Electrical Problems Fixed (For Now)”

  1. Kevin says:

    I don’t pay much attention to the electrical power part of the NEC. Can you splice the 10, 12 and 14 gauge circuits? If you can, you can just install a new box where convenient, run a new service cable to the meter, then remove the existing panel and put in some sort of box to protect the splices you make as you move them to the new panel.

  2. Sebastian says:

    Everything in this house is 12 gauge wiring, with the exception of one 15A circuit which the second owners added for the finished basement. Because that circuit moves in the direction I want to move the box, that circuit doesn’t need extension. Any other junction box I need to do for existing circuits will all be twelve gauge wiring on 20A circuits.

  3. chiefjaybob says:

    Can you just install another breaker box further to right and turn the existing box into a great big junction box (including the service)?

  4. emdfl says:

    Would it be possible to either raise the heater stack a foot or so above the panel or rotate it 90* clockwise and run it out behind the heater?
    If you can’t, just turn off the heater and remove a section of the exhaust while working on the panel.

  5. I like the ground wire clamped to the black iron gas pipe. Pretty sure that won’t meet code.

  6. Sebastian says:


    Never noticed that. It is tied to the copper water pipe below. No idea why that would be.

  7. flighterdoc says:

    I can’t really tell but it looks like moving the water heater forward a bit (away from the wall) wouldn’t be more than a three-trip (ie, easy) project, and give you more (maybe not up to code) clearance at the panel?

  8. Sebastian says:

    There’s a sump pit right there in front.

  9. Stranger says:

    I replaced the “energy efficient” 40 gallon tank with a Rennai (sp?) tankless. My summertime gas bill dropped 75%, to the $10.00 minimum. And gas is cheaper than KWH here. It took three years to recoup the investment – but when the grandkids come over, they can take long baths and I still get my hot shower.

    I recommend the infrared thermometer for a lot of things. Just remember that it is not accurate through glass.


  10. Kcoz says:

    Thats definately a good quick fix. You may not ever have any more trouble with it. I would recommend checking it periodically though in case the bus bar did take some damage. It’ll spread to nearby circuits if it did.

    The ground clamp on the gas pipe is actually a code requirement. Gas lines and cold water lines have to be bounded.

  11. DirtCrashr says:

    A tankless is good, our neighbor has one – the only reasons I still keep a tank is it’s paid-for, and the 40-gallons is a useful supply of portable water after an earthquake-event. Also, gas cost’s nothing compared to electricity. Go tankless!

  12. Ian Argent says:

    I looked into tankless a while back, and the internet seemed to be of mixed opinion. For every “I like it” story, there was a corresponding “I loathe it”.

    They seem to live at the corner of situationally dependent and personal preference, with a strong air of you get what you pay for…