I have a Federal Pacific Panel and I read that I need to replace ASAP. I’m getting some bids from several electricians. Can you please help me learn what I need to ask?

In addition to replacing the panel I plan on remodeling my kitchen. I’m plan to include a double oven and microwave. What should I ask the electrician?

This is a condo unit in San Jose , California... with approx 789 sq ft

Right now my total amperage is 100. Thank you!

  • Where is this--country and city? If US state and city? What is the size (sq ft) of the unit and is it fully detached, a duplex or an apartment? – Jim Stewart Feb 18 '19 at 20:30
  • I’m in San Jose, CA and it’s a condo unit with approximately 780 sq ft. Thank you Jim! – Trina Chau Feb 18 '19 at 21:47
  • Is the main breaker for the unit a FPE as well? – ThreePhaseEel Feb 18 '19 at 23:40
  • Ask him if he got a permit. – Lee Sam Feb 19 '19 at 0:21

You shouldn't have to ask anything.

Simply provide an outline of your plans in diagram or list format. Any competent electrician should be able to infer your needs from there and ask any simple clarifying questions. If there's any confusion at all, find a better electrician. This is pretty basic stuff for a professional.

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How many spaces can I get?

Coz you got a fever and the only prescription is more breaker spaces!

I have seen so many panels in this forum where someone has a 32-space and it's wedged solid. You cannot have enough panel spaces.

Some panels advertise "20 spaces/40 circuits". That's smoke and mirrors, they are relying on double-stuffing each breaker space. But these days, almost every new or remodeled circuit needs AFCI or GFCI, and those breakers take a full space. Consider only the "spaces" figure.

Now some things particular to homes in rarely-freeze urban California.

  • Heating infrastructure is modest, with many homes being ductless and using an Empire wall/floor furnace or electric heat as the only heat. So it's not uncommon to have five 240V breakers (10 spaces) just for heat.
  • House values are insane, and many homeowners are in hot pursuit of the best resale value. Which causesa lot of remodeling, and that tends to be deluxe. Wiring demands are in proportion. You can have 4 circuits in a bathroom (floor heat, other fixed loads, 2 receptacle circuits) or 4-5 receptacle circuits in a kitchen.
  • High disposable income leads to more gadgets. Atoms are the new bits, Techshop went bankrupt, and that means wood shops with 240V tools, 2 breaker spaces per tool.
  • due to conservation, Californians love on-demand water heaters and electric or plug-in hybrid cars. Interest in this at the Federal level has slacked off due to the political redshift, but not in California.
  • Conservation also drives a lot of solar, so 2+ more spaces for that.
  • Tesla PowerWall. ??? spaces.

Can I get a 100A main in this 200/225A panel?

Any panel remotely big enough will have a 200 or 225A backplane. And most likely a 150-225A breaker. You'll want the big panel and change the main breaker for 100A if that's what your service is.

The big main panel will also greatly simplify any future power service upgrade.

Keep in mind many "service upgrades" amount a new meter only. They know what your service drop size is, and they have the smart meter tell them if your usage actually increases enogh to need a bigger service drop.

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Get as many panel spaces as you can

Most of the time, if you simply let an electrician have at a panel replacement/upgrade, they will use the smallest (aka cheapest) panel that will accommodate the number of circuits the house has, along with any circuits that are being installed at the same time.

However, this is penny-wise and quite pound-foolish, as it's much more expensive and laborious to have to replace a panel that filled up than it is to simply be able to pop a breaker into a spare slot, land your homerun, and call it done.

As a result, I would be insisting that the electrician put in a 30-space (or better), 100A/125A (or 200A if you can't get the slot count you want in 125A bussing) loadcenter. This way, you won't have to worry about running out of space.

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  • I agree with max panel size as far as slots but a 100 amp 32 slot panel should be large enough for a small condo. I did my apprenticeship close to there and the climate is fairly temperate rarely gets much below freezing or not for long and the fog keeps it cooler in the summer or once it gets hot the fog comes in at night and cools things down, depending on the age of the condo it may only have a 60 amp main now. I know we put quite a few FPE & zinsco panels in in the 70's. But we would to know the current size and if there is AC and the type of heat gas or electric. – Ed Beal Feb 19 '19 at 0:10
  • @EdBeal -- my understanding is that true 100A MLO panels aren't going to show up in the larger slot counts -- in general, you're looking at 125A for MLO or convertible configs there, with 100A MB panels using 125A bussing and a 100A main breaker. – ThreePhaseEel Feb 19 '19 at 2:08
  • Look at home depot 100amp 32 slot main breaker I installed one of these in a modular , trailer or what ever you want to call them, multi family dwellings still only require a 60 amp service if memory serves, but I haven't looked that up today but I did find a 100a 32 slot main breaker today I think GE in 20 seconds because I had done similar a few years back. Since I commented and you disagree - because you did not take a few seconds to look, still working must be great to be retired, been there 2x but still work. – Ed Beal Feb 19 '19 at 2:52
  • @EdBeal -- yeah, it sounds like a 125A bussed interior with a 100A main breaker :) – ThreePhaseEel Feb 19 '19 at 3:19

Older panels had low amps because they didn't have to account for central air and modern appliances. You would probably want to ask for a quote to replace the panel and to run additional wiring for any new appliances you want to add. Here's a good source to get you started.

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