Had an electrician over to do some work. No problem with that work.

While there he said my electrical panel was aluminum based and I may want to replace with copper. Later he said when he opened it up he saw signs it should be replaced and that copper would be advisable.

I realize every case is different and certainly if there are bad signs I should very it fixed.

But here are some of my concerns.

1) They said they could use the same city permit ($450 here) for both jobs. Sounds like such great news, but also seems it may be a way to convinced me to do the work NOW?

2) They said I have an aluminum panel that should be replaced and would be better to have copper. I don't know how to check for that and also I've tried researching this and have not found much online about "replacing aluminum panels". As far as I know my house wiring is copper. Also, I have had zero issues with breakers tripping in the house. As in never. Sure, that could be a bad sign if there were actual problems but I have no reason to think there are.

Oh, I'm not sure how old the panel is but it could be 20-25 years old. So I suppose that's relevant.

3) Price for replacement with copper panel,, $4,150 plus tax. $4500 if I want to include a surge protector. Seems a lot higher than I've read about online as general guideline though I realize prices can be regional and there's s lot of construction around here (Seattle) these days.

Will be hard to get other estimates before work is to be done so maybe I should delay the work until I can? That sounds reasonable but then I'll likely need a new permit? Perhaps worth it to be sure I'm not being scammed? enter image description hereenter image description hereenter image description here

  • 2
    Welcome to DIY.SE! Can you post pictures of your current panel? – mmathis Sep 25 at 14:08
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    Pics should show the sticker inside the panel to show mfgr and model; important to know what mfgr. – Jim Stewart Sep 25 at 14:19
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    Do you have time to get another quote or two? That's a lot of money to spend on a no-bid project. If the electrician won't allow you time to get additional quotes, then, personally I don't like to be rushed into things, even if it means I have to pay extra in the long run. – stannius Sep 25 at 19:39
  • Yes, can you post photos of the electrical panel in question? Also, where on this planet are you? (Aluminum panel buswork is not at all rare or categorically-bad, even big-time industrial stuff like SqD I-Line comes in aluminum bus a significant chunk of the time; however, some localities have...fear-inspired bans on aluminum conductors that reach beyond the actual scope of the aluminum wiring debacle to touch things like fat feeders and panel busses.) – ThreePhaseEel Sep 25 at 22:39
  • Sorry for not posting pics from the start. I've posted some now. I'm not very savvy on this subject. – BruceK Sep 26 at 3:44

He condemned a QO panel... Without even opening it??

QO is Square D's top line industrial grade panel, and it's current stuff. The way panel pricing works, you can get the industrial grade for just a few dollars more. (Square D also sells a residential grade line called literally Homeline, it is acceptable also, but QO is excellent).

So he's just wrong. And chasing dollars obviously. More disturbing... he didn't open with obvious defects in the location of the panel - or to be more precise, remodeling done around the panel. The original electrical work was well-done, but then somebody decided to "finish" the space, and disregarded the electrical codes, probably because they were a carpenter.

One wonders if the work was permitted, since what AHJ would permit a clothes closet being placed in front of an electrical panel?

The closet needs to be demolished (or at least truncated) so there is a work zone in front of the panel. It must be 30" wide (the panel can be to the left or right side of that 30") and 36" deep so the electrician can stand at arm's length. It must have at least a 6' ceiling so a fella can stand. And you must keep it clear of stored junk.

This is a $500 carpenter job, not a $4500 electrician job. Unless the closet is sacred for some reason; did George Washington hang his coat there? Maybe he hung his coat in the left side of the closet.

Aluminum

I'm sure the electrician told you a lot more than that... But the aluminum thing is what stuck. There was a problem in the 1970s with shoddy use of aluminum wire with receptacles (wire terminations/clamps) that had not been properly approved for aluminum, and this resulted in a lot of arc problems which led to house fires. Easily fixed with arc-fault breakers, but there is still an ooga-booga fear, moral panic style, where any aluminum wire of any kind is consided "cootie". Certainly a shoddy electrician could scare you into doing unnecessary work by mentioning the A-word.

The aluminum excuse is balderdash. Actually service and feeders are aluminum for good reason, and aluminum performs just fine in these large wire sizes. So you want lugs to be aluminum, since aluminum lugs are the universal donor - they work with Aluminum and Copper both. Copper lugs don't play nice with aluminum wire (and actually, that was the problem all along).

Even today, aluminum is not used for small branch circuits (lights, sockets, dryer etc.) because of the cootie. The alloy has been improved, the now-noncopper terminations have been vastly improved, and it's legal... Just nobody does it.


Now on panels, here are brands I would consider solid and not even think about replacing:

  • Eaton / Cutler Hammer CH (Cutler Hammer) or BR (BRyant).
  • Square D QO or Homeline.
  • Siemens/Murray
  • General Electric
  • Challenger, but only the panel. Challenger breakers are bad and should all be changed for BR breakers, which properly fit owing to a past relationship with Bryant.

Zinsco, Stab-Lok and Federal Pacific (in US) are dangerous and must be ripped out. Pushmatic is a fine panel, just obsolete.

If it were me...

The undiscussed problem here is that your panel is full/overfull. It looks like you have plenty of service, but are using "double stuff" breakers to get enough circuits.

Here on SE, we love large panels. Because many circuits today need AFCI or GFCI protection, and those breakers are not available in double-stuff. What's more, it's very frustrating to not be able to install something new, like an EV charger or hot tub, because of a full panel.

So. That's a 30-space panel, looks like the standard size that fits between 16" joists. I would get another one as a subpanel - also 30 space, also QO, but main-lug (no main breaker). Fit it in the next joist bay over so it fits in the same 30" wide electrician's work space. Move 2-4 circuits over to the new subpanel to make space, then fit a 100A breaker in the main to feed the subpanel.

You'll have 58 total spaces, which is a very happy number for a medium/large well-equipped house.

Now you can add anything you please without concern. And if a couple bus bars actually are arced up, just stop using them - leave the arced breakers in place connected to nothing and move the wires to new breakers.

  • Sorry. I've added some photos. Thank you for your response. – BruceK Sep 26 at 3:31
  • He did say he saw evidence of arcing. But he was saying he thought.that may be the case before ever opening it up, as soon as he saw.it and said, oh aluminum, you might want to charge that, and he never showed the evidence of arcing to me (I should have asked him to). He was there to add a bathroom vent fan, not because I'd had any problems. – BruceK Sep 26 at 11:57
  • By the way, thank you for the great answer. – BruceK Sep 27 at 0:20
  • Thank again for the help and your extremely informative answer. I ended up canceling the panel replacement job. In the end I now plan to eventually go with your final recommendation but also to remove the wing wall and doors that someone had added once that made that space into a closet. – BruceK Sep 29 at 13:32

Less expensive panels can be aluminum, if it is a brand still manufactured today I would not change it. If it is a brand like zinsco I might replace it if the buss shows signs of arcing. Talking price is off topic here but if you have copper wire that price sounds way high for just replacing a panel. Did he tell you that you have to bring things up to current code if you replace the panel in most cases arc fault and GFCI's , tamper resistant outlets and weather resistant GFCI'S with in use Or extra duty covers. I am in Oregon and some of the requirements are waived for just a panel but I would want to know the scope of work first, just a panel is an easy day job in most cases so this sounds high to me.

Added after looking at photos. That square D panel is a top of the line panels still made today unless damage to the busses is observed I would not recommend changing it out. With the panel being in a clothes closet if replaced it would need to be moved or the closet rearranged to be a dedicated electrical space at least 30" wide where there is working space (the door opening) has at least 30" inline with the panel since it is a shallow closet. ) NEC 110.26.A.1 requires 36" from the face of the panel out to be clear and 110.26.2 requires 30" wide minimum or the width of the equipment (the panel can be on a wall in a corner as long as there is 30" from the wall not required to be centered). Last 240.24.D. States the panel cannot be in a clothes closet, or easily ignitiable materials. So moving the panel would be needed to install a new one (more work than just replacing the panel). I hope the additional information helps.

  • Thank you for the response. I was not aware of the rules about discussing prices. I will keep that in mind and try to respect that. – BruceK Sep 26 at 5:04

Sounds like it's over priced and not necessary. Aluminum buss bars are a valid option for main panels and reduce the price significantly. I'm not sure of your installation but many times materials are less than $500 for a typical 40 slot installation with breakers. It is a full day's job to complete though. I would look elsewhere for quotes.

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