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3 Important Tips When Upgrading a Main Electric Panel


When we moved into our house, it had an old Murray 60 amp main load center with no free breaker slots (i.e. could not add more circuits to the panel).

allthumbsdiy-electrical-main-murray-60-amp-old-flTo boot, the previous owner jammed multiple rooms into a single circuit which resulted in tripper being tripped whenever someone used a hair dryer with a clothing iron.

So when we upgraded to a brand new, 200 amp Square D QO series panel, I was happy as a clam.

I am still happy with it, but given the chance to do it again, I would make slightly different choices. I am outlining them here in hopes that you would not repeat my mistakes.

Upgrading a main load center isn’t something I wanted to do myself. Knowing what I know now, I could probably do it (you will need to pull your meter out) but this is one instance where I think it is better left to a licensed electrician

Tip # 1 – Time of Year

Whenever possible, pick a nice hot day to upgrade your panel. Thick electric cables (or even 20 amp wires) become more bearable to work with during hot summer days.

Unfortunately, I chose to upgrade my panel in January (on one of the coldest days) and I saw my electrician struggling to just peel off sheathing on a new service entrance wire. I am sure the whole job took lot longer than necessary too.

Tip # 2 – Main Disconnect

I should have paid extra $100 to install a main disconnect right next to the main panel (with its own main breaker).

What I did not realize the at time was that even with the main panel breaker off, the lugs attached to service entrance cables were still energized. Although I am comfortable working with inside wiring at this point, but from a safety perspective, it would have preferable to have the ability to completely shutoff electricity feeding into the main panel.

Tip # 3 – Service Entrance Cable Routing

allthumbsdiy-images-electrical-main-panel-upg-tips-service-entrance-cable-location-flMy electrician asked me if I wanted to mount the panel upside-down due to to the Power Company’s (POCO) meter being directly opposite of the main panel location. Confused, I just told him to install it the correct way (with the main breaker being on the top).

What I realized later (too late) was that my decision meant a large chunk of space inside (left) was now taken over by three very thick service entrance cables.

I like to even the load by installing approximately equal number of circuit breakers per side but these thick service entrance cables make that task very difficult.

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Tuesday 11th of January 2022

You didn’t hire a real electrician, a real one would not of struggled with stripping wire and asking the customer which way to mount it. And when you even your load it’s not about equal amounts of breakers on each side… please stop writing these articles that you know nothing about. And it definitely sounds like you know enough to get hurt. Do us electricians a favor and stay out of your panel and hire a real professional next time.

dan johnson

Tuesday 13th of November 2018

Why is it ok to connect the ground and neutrals together in a main service panel and not so in a sub panel? As I understand it - the subpanel needs to have all the neutral conductors routed through the main panel neutral and then to ground. Is this because the neutrals may find an easier route to ground than going thru the main system of neutrals. Sounds to me it would separate the neutrals in the house and cause a voltage drop if you connect the sub panel neutral bus to direct ground. What do you think?