Adding Circuits - Time to Upgrade Panel?

Tom PultzDecember 4, 2009

I want to add at least 10 new circuits during our major remodeling of the downstairs living space.

Our current electrical panel is a 1984 vintage GE. The only model number I can find on it is TM2020. It has 20 full size slots and the label says a maximum of 40 circuits... all the 15 and 20A circuits use 1/2 size breakers (total of 14). There is also one full size 20A, and one each double pole 30, 40 and 50.

This leaves six (6) full sized slots open, which should be sufficient for 12, 1/2 size breakers but leave no room for expansion or additional double pole breakers.

The problem is... I don't like these 1/2 size breakers. They look cheap and have minimal contact with the bus bars; it seems like a bad idea to cram in so many circuits in a small space due to the heat generation. I also don't like the 3-tiered structure for neutral and ground wires... it's a nightmare of wires.

Therefore, I am considering upgrading the panel to at least one with 30 slots/40 circuits so I can use mostly full sized breakers, or possibly a 40/40. A 30/40 panel would be almost the exact same size as my current GE so might be an easier install. Two that I've looked at are the Square D, QO13040M200 at Home Depot, and the Siemens G4040B1200CU at Lowe's. I believe both of these have copper bus bars.

The Siemens is $145 at Lowe's and the QO is a bit less.

Thoughts or recommendations?

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Looks like a plan....

Who will be changing the panel?

    Bookmark   December 4, 2009 at 6:41PM
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Tom Pultz

I'll decide who's going to change the panel once I get all the rough wiring run. After that I have a lot of insulation, drywall and flooring work yet to finish before we'll be needing all the new circuits hooked up. I may do it myself with some help.

Right now I'm leaning towards the Square D QO140M200C with 40 spaces and circuits as it is only about 3" longer than my current panel. Too bad it costs about double the version with 30 spaces and 40 circuits, which would still be a good choice but would require at least a few tandem breakers, which I suppose would be fine on the more lightly loaded 15A circuits.

Think I'll stop at HD on the way home and see if they can get the QO with 40 spaces. Prices at the big box stores are drastically lower than other retailers.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2009 at 7:28PM
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I'm surprised the QO panel is cheaper than Siemens.
what about the breakers themselves? I would bet anything that QO breakers are going to be much more expensive than Siemens.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2009 at 8:41PM
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Tom Pultz

The Eaton/Cutler-Hammer CH42B200KP looks like a really nice load center. It has 42, 3/4 in spaces and costs about $195. I like the looks and functionality of the CH style breakers with the beige colored handles. I also like the fact that when a breaker trips the reset handle goes fully to the off position so it's easy to see which one tripped.

The only problem I see is this panel is designed for straight in wiring with the wires from the meter coming in from the top... thus it doesn't have a knock-out at the top, back, center like my current GE panel. Would this be a problem or would I or the installer just bore a hole as needed?

The 40-space QO still looks like a good choice but this Eaton panel is very attractive, with a lot of neutral connections.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2009 at 1:33PM
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Tom Pultz

Here's a picture of my existing electrical panel. There are four open full size slots at the top and two at the bottom.

Based on the location of the neutral and ground wire connections shown I think the SQ D QO140M200C with 40 spaces should work well. If I were starting from scratch the Cutler-Hammer looks really nice, but I think the neutral and ground wire connections may be harder to connect to my existing wires.


    Bookmark   December 5, 2009 at 5:15PM
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the main thing is going to be preference really. Personally I use Siemens in almost all of my projects because of cost and they're pretty reliable (except their arc faults sometimes). I like QO a lot, but the panels and breakers are very expensive. I had problems with Homeline and nuisance tripping despite the manufacturer telling me that they're made the exact same as QO. None of the suppliers around here kept/keep a good stock of Cutler Hammer, and I refuse to use GE because I've literally had a breaker catch fire once when I was trying to trip a circuit.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2009 at 5:27PM
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My first choice would be Square D QO or Cutler-Hammer CH. Around here both are readily available. Siemens is around too and they're fine too. Because you have a retrofit, pick the panel that physically works best for you.

Certainly money is a factor but given you're doing this once and are going to live in the home, presumably for some time into the foreseeable future, it's going to work to a few dollars per year.

Just out of curiosity, what's the MC cabled circuit for?

    Bookmark   December 6, 2009 at 12:06AM
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Other than the fact that you "don't like" the 1/2 space breakers, have you had trouble with the panel/breakers/etc?

    Bookmark   December 6, 2009 at 8:51AM
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Tom Pultz

Wayne: other than the fact that I will be out of room after adding the new circuits, I have not had any trouble with this panel per se. However, if you look how the 1/2 size breakers attach to the bus bar the connection does not seem nearly as secure as when using a full size breaker and the thicker, longer bus extension.

We'll be living in this home for many more years, and while I don't want to spend money needlessly, the cost of a panel and breaker upgrade is a very small amount compared to the overall cost of our remodeling, and will give us good piece of mind that we have up-to-date equipment to go along with the rest of the upgrades.

Mike: There aren't any circuits with MC cable that I'm aware of :-) There is an exterior circuit running to the A/C disconnect box though, but it runs in PVC.

BTW, the reason 1/2 the drywall is missing is the house was recently retrofitted for Earthquake protecion and the drywall was removed to add anchors to the garage wall. The rest of it will be removed and replaced with plywood to create a shear wall. The plywood wasn't required per the approved plan, but will make it a lot stronger, and also give me the opportunity to insulate the wall.

I ordered the Square D QO140M200C panel. Will pick up the breakers locally. It will be a few more months before it will be installed.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2009 at 1:19PM
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Thanks. glad to know you have not had difficulty. I have a similar panel.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2009 at 5:25PM
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That knockout at the bottom of the picture with the green wire. It looked like a "red head" (anti-short bushing) poking through, which I thought odd for a Romex house. On second look I'm assuming it's a red wire.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2009 at 11:27PM
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Your panel is fine, it's safe, it's installed in many thousands of homes just the way it is.

If you only need 10 circuits and you have 12 available, I would just keep it the way it is. Or you could consider a sub panel in the new addition, a $15 Homeline 100Amp 6/12 panel could be installed in a hallway and covered by a picture.

I just think you are worrying yourself over nothing.

Mike_Kaiser, that appears to be a PVC fitter coming into the panel with THWN running thru it.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2009 at 2:49PM
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