Need to add ground to subpanel

malgyverMay 8, 2014

Thank you in advance for any help!

I have a ground problem, and would like some advice to fix it. This is a 1912 Victorian that had electrical upgrades in the 70s or 80s.

There is a recently repurposed, large (40A) dryer run into a subpanel to provide 2 new 20A circuits for a remodel. One circuit for a microwave, and one circuit for a gas furnace. Apparently the ground is insufficient, as the furnace wouldn't work correctly until I provided it with a good, known, dedicated ground from a different circuit for testing purposes. The furnace would throw strange codes that didn't make sense. Everything else works fine on either circuit, including the microwave.

I'll describe the re-purposed circuit, and would like suggestions on ways to fix this problem. There will be an inspector coming to look at the furnace and 2 new circuits, and since this will be an "after the fact" permit, I think he may pass not only something to code, but something that is otherwise safe. He seems to have a fairly easy going attitude.

At the front of the house, there is the main 100A panel. There is a double 40A breaker that feeds steel conduit that has 3 black conductors, I believe 6 or 8 gauge (can't remember now, but was completed as part of a HUD upgrade in the 70s or 80s at the time of the 100A main panel replacement). There is no ground in the conduit. The conduit was run in the 4 ft crawlspace about 25ft to the middle of the house. A new subpanel is installed, and each hot leg of the original large wire was wire nutted to feed the hot leg of the two new circuits, which are 12ga Romex. The neutrals are wire nutted together. The grounds of each 12ga circuit are screwed to the inside of the subpanel. The steel conduit uses the set screw type of connector to attach it to the panel. I do not believe that the steel conduit has its own dedicated ground at the main panel side. Obviously, the older portion of the circuit is fairly weathered, though the crawl space does stay dry. California :)

Is the steel conduit designed to provide proper ground, and if so, what can I do to try and restore its functioning?

If there needs to be a dedicated ground wire, is there any alternative to trying to push a new conductor through all the existing conduit? I'm just not experienced enough to know if there's enough room to add a conductor.

Many thanks!

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Ron Natalie

A properly installed metal conduit can serve as the equipment ground between the panels.

It's near impossible to pull wires in conduit that already have wires in it.

I suspect there is some other problem with the furnace installation. HVAC guys are notorious idiots when it comes to power connections (or even low voltage thermostats).

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 3:33AM
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Post a photo of the inside of the sub-panel if you would.

I agree that the conduit, if it's continuous and properly bonded on both ends, would serve as the ground.

I'm not going to agree with ronnatalie about the HVAC guys...

What I'm curious about is the possibility of an open neutral. A photo of the inside of the sub-panel would help.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 9:33AM
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An unbonded or floating neutral would present the symptoms you are seeing.

There is tons of info on-line in discussions about using portable electric generators to provide power to gas furnaces during storm outages. (Many portable generators have unbonded neutrals and igniter problems exist when trying to power the furnace.)

This post was edited by saltidawg on Thu, May 8, 14 at 11:36

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 10:53AM
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Thank you for the initial responses.

I don't think its a neutral problem, as I plugged the furnace into another circuit, which is uses BX wiring, with the little bonding strip inside it, and the furnace did the same thing.

Adding a separate ground from a piece of Romex that I recently ran to the main panel solved the problem.

In terms of the conduit, it is not continuous. It is multiple sections, attached by the couplers that use the single set screw. The conduit is a little dusty and dirty on the outside, so I can only imagine that the ground path is just not very good or has a good bit of resistance.

I'm happy to post pictures, and will be at the house tomorrow.

Assuming that the neutral looks good, how do improve the ground path from the subpanel, through the conduit, and to the main panel? Do I need to loosen and sand the conduit and connectors so there is clean bare metal? Can I run a ground wire back to the main panel and attach it to the outside of the conduit? Are there grounding straps that I can bond between each piece of conduit in order to eliminate the need for the screw type connectors to carry the ground path?

The tech guy at the furnace company assumed it was a bad ground after I described the problem, and adding a different ground solved the problem, so I can only image that the ground path through the conduit simply has too much resistance for the delicate diagnostic system in the furnace.

I'll post pics tomorrow of the inside of the subpanel.

Many thanks!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 9:57PM
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"I don't think its a neutral problem, as I plugged the furnace into another circuit, which is uses BX wiring, with the little bonding strip inside it, and the furnace did the same thing."

This was another circuit off of the 40 amp sub-panel?

This is just a guess at this point without seeing the inside of the sub-panel... But I think the neutral is open and possibly you have a high resistance ground. I think when you ground the furnace back to the main panel, you are actually providing a neutral path for the furnace. The transformer, controls and such may be able to function because they are low current - but as soon as the blower or anything else kicks on, it would throw errors.

What I'm interested to see is if the neutral and ground buses are bonded in the sub-panel.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 6:14PM
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I'm interested in how this turned out. Let us know if you resolved it. Otherwise, add a pic of the inside of the subpanel, Esp show the neutral and grounding buss.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 9:00AM
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The way I read it, is that an old 40 amp circuit is in pipe, to a box, not sub panel, and two Romex cables are spliced onto it, to derive two circuits from the old 40 amp 3 wire circuit. The description doesn't sound to me like a sub panel at all. If this is the case, that breaker better not still be a 40 amp, or you have a house fire in the making. Also, if it is as I stated, there's no guarantee that the neutral is connected if the old dryer was straight 240 volt. If you are missing the neutral, you have a 240 volt circuit with a microwave and furnace in series. This will cause you all sorts of trouble.

To avoid a fire or killing yourself, you may want to call a professional ASAP.


    Bookmark   May 18, 2014 at 11:42PM
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