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Currently I have 200A electrical service that's brought to my house above ground and into the basement on the right side of the house, which feeds a 200A panel. I'm in the process of getting my service upgraded to 320A, which will be brought in underground and on the opposite side of the house.

It's an old house with mostly knob and tube wiring, so I will be eventually upgrading the electrical wiring throughout the house. But for the time being I need to complete this 320A upgrade (I'm working with the local electrical utility company, and have a permit which expires in a few months), while maintaining my existing electrical wiring. Since the new service will be on the opposite side of the house, I cannot simply re-wire all circuits to the new panel. What I'd like to do is temporarily use the existing 200A panel as a sub-panel to the new 320A/400A panel. The 200A panel obviously has its own 200A master breaker, so in theory it seems quite possible to wire the 200A panel as a circuit off of the new panel, assuming the correct gauge heavy duty wiring is used.

Is this temporary use of the existing 200A panel as a sub-panel possible? What steps would be involved to do this correctly?

Thank you!

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    Yes it is possible, the hard part will be finding a breaker large enough to power the sub. What is the type of your new service, some have the ability to install multiple "200" amp breakers then you could run a feeder to the sub. I have done this quite a few times when putting in larger services. If a standard panel most breakers top out at 125A. So this would require you to pull some of your heavy loads to the new panel to make it work. – Ed Beal Dec 4 '18 at 23:43
  • Thank you for your informative reply. I have not yet purchased the new panel, so if one allows me to use 200A breakers, then that would certainly influence my buying decision. Do you have recommendations? It is standard single phase residential service. Doesn't the existing 200A panel have its own 200A breaker on the main feed? Seems redundant to need a breaker also on the 320A panel to feed that sub-panel, though I understand typically that's how it's done. – onlinespending Dec 4 '18 at 23:59
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    My home had a 400 amp service that I installed 3 200 amp breakers I. All feeding sub panels with room for a 4th. Product recommendations are off topic but even home stores can look up and order your service panel. The 320 service in my area is called a 30/ 40 , 300 amp continuous 400 amp peak load. So you just need one that can handle larger breakers, and these are residential 240v split services , you probably can find it on line also. 400a 8 space 16 circuit. Meter socket main breaker load center is similar not a recomdation but something to look at to help you search. – Ed Beal Dec 5 '18 at 0:16
  • What make and model is the service-entrance device or main panel you're using for this new service? – ThreePhaseEel Dec 5 '18 at 0:17
  • And yes, what make and model is the old panel for that matter? – ThreePhaseEel Dec 5 '18 at 2:01
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Yeah, that's actually pretty routine and we often recommend it as a permanent configuration.

Presuming the old panel isn't a dangerous pile of junk like Zinsco or Federal Pacific or full of Challenger breakers, or fine but obsolete panel like Pushmatic. Then feel free to replace it with a modern panel, and if you do that, that is the time to think generator.

Since both panels are in the same building, the "main breaker" on the old panel is superfluous. The only exception is if you fed it more than 200A, but that's unlikely so I won't comment further on that scenario.

Nowhere is it written that you must supply 200 amps of feeder to that subpanel. What is written is that the wire/cable from main to sub must be protected by a breaker sized to protect the wire. For instance if you ran #6 wire to feed the subpanel, its run would need to be protected by a 60A breaker in the main panel.

So you have the option to save some $$$ on breakers and fat wire if you don't really need 200A down there.

On the Knob & Tube wiring, there is nothing wrong with K&T per se. Slap an AFCI breaker on it to catch the usual failure mode (arc faults) and I wouldn't worry further about lighting circuits. Focus on modernizing receptacle circuits, since modern loads can pull pretty hard.

  • Thanks. The old panel is pretty modern (not home to check out the exact make and model). I can probably move some of the higher drawing circuits to the new panel to reduce the breaker I'd need to feed the old panel. Seems like 125A circuit breakers are readily available and not prohibitively expensive. – onlinespending Dec 5 '18 at 18:37

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