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I am currently in the process of planning a room remodel to convert an existing bedroom into a home office and storage room. One thing that makes this conversion a little bit tricky, is the existence of a breaker box at the rear corner of the room.

As you can see in the image below, we plan to have the back 5' of the room become a storage area (there would be 2' deep shelving units along the back wall, stopping short of the breaker box, we would use this area to store Christmas decorations, misc. stuff, etc..). I know it is illegal to place a breaker box in a closet that will store clothes or other combustibles. So my questions would be: 1) how would one define a storage room vs. a closet (i.e.- could this be classified as a walk in closet somehow?) and 2) with > 36" clearance in front, and 30" around, would this be legal?

enter image description here

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2 Answers 2

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National Electrical Code (NEC) typically defines rooms and areas based on the "intended" use of the area. They do not provide a definition for a "storage room", but they do provide a definition for a "clothes closet".

Clothes Closet. A non-habitable room or space intended primarily for storage of garments and apparel.

To answer the rest of your question, we'll have to take a look at Article 110. Since section 110.26 of the NEC is a bit long, quoting the entire text here may not be considered "fair use" so instead I'll summarize it for you.

National Electrical Code 2008

ARTICLE 110 Requirements for Electrical Installations

II. 600 Volts, Nominal, or Less

110.26 Spaces About Electrical Equipment. Sufficient access and working space shall be provided and maintained about all electrical equipment to permit ready and safe operation and maintenance of such equipment.

110.26(A)(1) Depth of Working Space.
This section says the depth of Working Space must be between 3 and 4 feet, "measured from the exposed live parts or from the enclosure or opening if the live parts are enclosed". In a typical residential situation, the depth of Working Space will be 3'.

110.26(A)(2) Width of Working Space.
This section says the width of Working Space must be the width of the equipment or 30", whichever is greater. And that there should be enough Working Space to allow the equipment door to open 90 degrees.

110.26(A)(3) Height of Working Space.
The Working Space must be clear from "the grade, floor, or platform" to the height of 6 1/2', or the height of the equipment whichever is greater. There is an exception to this which says:

In existing dwelling units, service equipment or panelboards that do not exceed 200 amperes shall be permitted in spaces where the headroom is less than 2.0 m (61⁄2 ft).

This section also says that any other equipment associated with the electrical installation"located above or below the equipment, cannot extend more than 6" beyond the front of the equipment.

110.26(B) Clear Spaces. Working space required by this section shall not be used for storage. When normally enclosed live parts are exposed for inspection or servicing, the working space, if in a passageway or general open space, shall be suitably guarded.

Which means the equipment can be in an area used for storage, but the Working Space cannot be used for storage. The basic idea is if you draw a box on the floor in front of the equipment 30" wide and 36" deep, and then extend that box up 6 1/2', you'll have your "Working Space". As long as you keep this Working Space clear, you should have no problems. However, there are a few more things to consider.

110.26(C) Entrance to and Egress from Working Space.

110.26(C)(1) Minimum Required. At least one entrance of sufficient area shall be provided to give access to and egress from working space about electrical equipment.

You'll have to check local building codes to determine what the "sufficient area" is, and then make sure you keep this area clear too.

Another important consideration is lighting.

110.26(D) Illumination.
This is a section that is often overlooked in residential situations, and is often satisfied simply by having lights in the room where the service panel is installed. Personally, I take this section seriously. I recommend installing a dedicated circuit, consisting of a single switch and a single luminaire. Then installing it just above the equipment, as to provide adequate light for anybody working on the equipment. Putting the luminaire on a dedicated circuit allows you to deenergize other circuits, while maintaining good lighting while servicing the equipment.

It's a good idea (though a bit overkill), to also provide emergency lighting near the equipment. Installing a simple fixture like this near the equipment, ensures that you won't have to fumble in the dark to flip breakers if the power ever goes out.

enter image description here

This unit can be installed on the same dedicated equipment luminaire circuit. That way even if you have to switch off the whole panel to do work, you'll still have light.


tl;dr

  • Keep an area 30" wide, 36" deep, and 6 1/2' high in front of the equipment clear (Working Space).
  • Provide "sufficient area" for entrance to and egress from the equipment (see local building codes to determine "sufficient area").
  • Make sure the area has enough lighting.
  • Rooms are defined by intended use.
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So by these definitions, it looks like I'd be fine. One thought was to move the entry door to the storage room in front of the breaker box, then set up heavy duty shelving past the 30" lateral clearance of the breaker box, along the back wall. This would provide the proper working space, sufficient area and ease of entrance/egress. And then put a ceiling light over the box. I suppose I just need to hang a sign on the door that says "no clothing in here!" ;) –  MarkD Mar 12 '13 at 18:14
    
@MarkD No sign required, just tell the inspector that you don't "intend" to store clothing in the closet. –  Tester101 Mar 12 '13 at 18:41
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Spoke with the inspector, and he agreed with your reply. It will be fine to have the box in the storage room. Thanks! –  MarkD Mar 16 '13 at 18:46

According to 2005 NEC code 204.24 (note that newer editions may differ, but are probably only more strict in their requirements), it looks like you would not be able to store things like clothes, paper, and other combustibles in that closet, and you probably wouldn't be able to have any shelves in the closet:

240.24 Location in or on Premises
(D) Not in Vicinity of Easily Ignitible Material. Overcurrent devices shall not be located in the vicinity of easily ignitible material, such as in clothes closets.

Examples of locations where combustible materials may be stored are linen closets, paper storage closets, and clothes closets.

Additionally, you must allow 36" clearance in front of the panel for an area 30" wide starting at the panel.

Could you split the storage room space so you have a dedicated room for the panel, with a wall outside of the required clearance, and then have the rest of that area be the storage closet?

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That is the section of the code I had in mind when posting the question. We have the proper clearances around the panel as I mentioned in my original post, and as I also mentioned in my post, have no intent on storing combustibles anywhere in that room. What I am unsure about is how a typical inspector would interpret the room. –  MarkD Mar 11 '13 at 18:22
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I think if you stick shelves in the closet, it would likely be a no-go. What about my suggestion at the end—put a wall up in the closet dividing it between the storage side and the utility side, and then you can do whatever you want in the storage closet? –  geerlingguy Mar 11 '13 at 18:24
    
That could work- so another sub-wall and a door on that wall, within the closet. One thought I had was another door from the outside accessing that space, however I need 10' of continuous space along that wall for a 10' white board that is going up. I suppose the other possibility is rotating the storage room to be along the wall on the right side of the drawing, leaving the breaker box completely outside. –  MarkD Mar 11 '13 at 18:27
    
10' white board—sounds like a nice writing surface! Rotating the storage room might be the simplest solution. –  geerlingguy Mar 11 '13 at 18:28
    
A nice pocket door would preserve your space on either side of the breaker chamber.. –  HerrBag Mar 11 '13 at 18:54

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