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I am redoing my basement and I am putting in a new subpanel to handle a few extra circuits since my current panel is undersized (I wanted to replace it, but according to the electrician who I’ve been using as a sounding board, that would open a gigantic can of worms).

Is it horrible to mount the subpanel directly up against the below-grade stem wall? (This is a daylight basement in a tri-level house.) I’d like to keep both panels close and we’re replacing the window to the left with a (if circumstances allow) bigger window. If it’s not kosher, then I either have to nix the window all together or make it much less wide and put the subpanel in where the #2 is. The new studs to build out the wall are 2x4s so I can’t mount any plywood behind it.

Also, it feels like it would be weird to put the subpanel that low, it just feels convenient.

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    Is there a reason you can't mount the sub-panel in the stud bay immediately to the left of the current panel? It's hard to be sure, but it looks like there's enough room.
    – FreeMan
    Dec 17, 2018 at 20:41
  • It’s possible, though because we’re bumping the wall out and we’re going to leave a recess for the main panel since I can’t pull it forward (which I also wanted to do, but is also part of the can of worms). Putting it there kind of messes up the recessed area/would make it really big, though it’s not completely out of the question.
    – kittywings
    Dec 17, 2018 at 22:37
  • You could still mount a piece of plywood on the wall the width of the panel then screw the panel to the plywood. Not a code problem on being low but you don't want the panel mounted to concrete that will eat it up.
    – Ed Beal
    Dec 17, 2018 at 23:07
  • What's the highest that flood waters have ever come? Dec 17, 2018 at 23:49
  • How wide will the recess be? Keep in mind that the 30" wide clear working space starts at the front of the loadcenter's cabinet... Dec 17, 2018 at 23:58

2 Answers 2

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Immediately to the right is the best place for the subpanel

If I were you, instead of using either location #1 or location #2 marked in your picture, I would position the subpanel in the bay immediately to the right of the main panel, provided it is a full-sized (i.e. 14.25" wide) bay, of course. This allows it to share the 30" width of required clear working space with the main panel, keeps the subpanel panel clear of minor flooding, and allows the nipple fill and derate rules to be used for the feeder, saving cost. It also accommodates the desire to expand the window to the left, albeit at the cost of removing the insulation batt and temporary support jack that have already been fitted to that right-hand bay.

Your panel-alcove will need to be 30" wide, and clear from floor to ceiling

Since you are building a wall out from the existing basement wall, and the NEC 110.26(A) clear working space extends out from the front surface of the hardware in question (i.e. the existing panel), you will need an alcove that is a minimum of 30" wide and provides enough space for the doors on both the existing and new panels to open 90°. Note that while this alcove need not be centered on the existing or new panels (and it won't be, in order to accommodate both of them in the same niche), it will need to extend floor-to-ceiling, due to the height requirements in 110.26(A)(3).

As to specifying the subpanel itself...

Given that your existing main panel is an Eaton CH, you are going to be limited to a 125A subpanel/feeder by the fact that the CH line lacks breakers upwards of 125A (CH2150s and 2200s used to exist, but were discontinued a while ago). As a result of this, and the fact there is no 30-space, 125A rated, main lug or convertible loadcenter in the Eaton CH line, we have a choice -- either you can go with the Eaton CHP24L125X2 (less costly, but shorts you on spaces), or the Eaton CHP32L150X5 (costlier and harder to find).

For either choice of subpanel, you'll want a CH2125 for the main panel to serve as your feeder breaker, along with a 1.5" RMC nipple of appropriate length, a tensile-capable stud shoe such as the Simpson HSS2-SDS1.5 with its full complement of specified fasteners, 3' of 1/0 Al XHHW-2 to connect the feeder breaker to the subpanel, and a NL20 neutral lug for the main panel to connect the feeder neutral to, as well as minor parts such as locknuts and fasteners, and some THHN and wirenuts of the appropriate size to pigtail the wiring for the displaced breaker over to its new home.

...and installing it

The nipple will go through a bored hole centered widthwise in the existing stud, with the stud shoe over the top of the bore to reinforce it, as per the 60% rule for reinforced bores in IRC R602.6, which allows a 2.1" bore vs the 1.9" OD of a 1.5" nominal rigid metal conduit. Furthermore, this hole will be located and the nipple placed to connect the bottom KO on the right side of the existing panel to the bottom KO on the left side of the new panel, as these KOs are 1.5" at their smallest, and our rigid nipple provides both a grounding connection from the new panel back to the old and 800mm2 of fill for inter-panel wiring as per the 60% nipple fill rule in the NEC, which is ample space for both the feeder wires (at just over 300mm2) and all 24 branch circuits fed from the new panel, if need be (at just over 400mm2, assuming they are all individual 20A branch circuits and they are all being moved over from the main panel). Furthermore, you'll want to invert the new panel's interior when it is installed so that the main lugs sit at the bottom (this will make wiring easier).

Once we have the conduit and new panel installed, then we can move onto the feeder breaker and wires. You will first need to take the wires off of a 2 pole breaker or adjacent pair of one pole breakers (as well as any matching neutrals), transplant those breakers into the new subpanel, and run THHN pigtails through the nipple from the old breaker's new home to the existing wiring, making the connection in the old breaker panel using the wirenuts, since it appears your existing panel is a 32-space unit that is full to the brim.

Once you have space free for the feeder breaker, you will then install it into the main panel along with the feeder neutral lug, and then run the fat aluminum wires from the feeder breaker and neutral lug in the main panel to the appropriate main lugs in the subpanel. You will need to ensure that all connections here are torqued to manufacturer specifications, as well, with am inch-pound torque wrench or torque screwdriver. This is a new Code requirement, found in Section 110.14(D) of the 2017 NEC, and also important to keep your electrical system from pulling a Greg Biffle on you.

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  • "the bay immediately to the right of the main pan" looks to me like it has a pipe in it. The bay to the left is empty, though possibly a little narrower than normal, not clear. Dec 23, 2018 at 0:57
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    @manassehkatz -- the querent plans to extend a window into the bay to the left, putting it off limits (I'd have used it otherwise). The "pipe" on the right looks to be a construction brace of some sort, as it seems to terminate in some sort of clamp on the bottom. Dec 23, 2018 at 4:50
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This is more of an interior design question then an electrical code one. If I were you I would put the subpanel just to the left of the main panel. I don't think I would want to be dealing with an sub panel as close to the floor as you're suggesting. I'm not even sure if there is a minimum height requirement for a panel. However, when you stub out you wall just create a niche opening with a bottom shelf probably to match the window sill and as wide and high as necessary to access the two electrical panels. The whole wall doesn't need to have an inset. Put in a simple painted plywood door panel that opens to the original stem studs and acts as the back of the niche. That way it will look just like a niche in the wall near your window when you are done. Put a couple nick knacks and Bob's your Uncle.

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  • It is a Code issue -- if you don't size the niche properly, it'll infringe on the 110.26(A) clear working space for the panel Dec 18, 2018 at 0:00
  • @ThreePhase Thanks for the clarification. My point was that I didn't think the OP needed a floor to ceiling alcove. NOT how wide the alcove or niche needs to be. However, the new stud wall being built in front of the concrete appears to easily be able accomodate a 30" wide niche. My thought was that a niche inset will have a smaller impact on the appearance of the finished room. I assume that will meet code? Dec 20, 2018 at 22:57
  • Also, the 110.26(A) clear working space extends down to the floor and up to the height of the equipment or 2m, whichever is taller, so yes, it does need to be floor-to-ceiling. Dec 22, 2018 at 18:43

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