I find as a knowledgeable home DIYer, that my Siemens 200 amp circuit breaker panel to be a pain in the butt to use. It is less than 25 years old, and yet it seems to have been intentionally designed to obfuscate which circuits are connected to which breakers.
I don't think it is a problem which only exists with Siemens brand breaker panels, as far as I can tell, all brands have the same problems.
Here are the major problems:
- All info on cover. Once you take off the dead-front cover to the panel, all useful information written on the dead-front stops being easily available, including the numbering for circuit breakers.
- Poor numbering. The breakers are normally numbered so that all of the odd numbers are in the left column, and the evens are in the right column. Problem is: in my house there are two legs of power, and the odd rows have power from the left leg, and the even rows from right leg. If you want to balance the power between two legs, you can not "look" at the circuit breaker number and easily figure out if it is left or right leg. If the designers had run all the numbers down the left column first, then all of the left leg breakers would be odd, and the right leg breakers would be even. Instead lefts are 1,2,5,6,9,10... and rights are 3,4,7,8,11,12... (You won't believe how long it took me to get those two lists right!)
- Breakers unfriendly. If you want to label the breakers in a way that allows visibility when the dead-front is off the panel, good luck, because at least with Siemens, they have not provided a place for you to write on the breaker itself, and for that matter, even provided a good flat surface to attach tape to write on to.
- Poor construction. On my panel, 4 out of 6 of the screws holding the dead-front on to the circuit panel box are stripped. A google search for "stripped screws circuit breaker panel" turns up pages and pages of people experiencing this problem. If you live in an old house like I do, which has had three major renovations and several minor renovations in the last 25 years, you are looking at a panel which has been opened and closed many dozens of times. Because the box is almost maxed out, there are a lot of cables in there, which when you push them in to get the cover on, they spread the sides of the box out so that it is bent wide. When you put the cover on, the screws in the middle are completely undersized for the job of bringing the sides of the cover back in line, and not getting themselves stripped. Once they are bad, then the problem spreads to the bottom... I suspect that all brands of breaker panels suffer from under gauge sides in combination with undersized and therefor shallow female threading locations.
Now I have my suspicions about the poor design choices being foisted on the final consumers of these panels, and this is not the place to air that, but I would like to know why the standards organizations in North America allowed circuit breaker panels to be designed so poorly? Am I missing some benefit that all of these complains I've raised bring?
Now you may wonder why I care so much about this, let me explain why I got so annoyed with this panel. I bought an IoTaWatt electrical energy monitor. It really only has inputs for 12 separate circuits when you get down to it, and so I wanted to "bundle" several circuits per CT (Current Transformer) sensor. To do that, you need to have to know what leg they are on, and it helps if they are on the same side of the panel etc. etc.
In the process of tracing down every circuit in my house, I discovered that the only electrician I had ever thought was not a jerk was also a jerk (he wired in a light and plug in a little closet in the basement into the house-wide smoke detector circuit which turns out the electrician two times ago thought would be best to wire into a subpanel on the third floor.
...Now I get it, when you are stuck working on an old house, with too many illogical circuits, it is tough to do the right thing, but I think part of the problem is that when electricians open up the service panel, they are already down two pitches because of the design problems I outlined above.
When I had finally moved enough circuit breakers around to stick CTs around all of my important circuits, then balanced between right and left legs again, and weeded out some unused cables and made room for the addition of a new subpanel for a new garage, I must have taken the dead-front off 5-10 times. Keeping track of those changes was VERY difficult, in part because of the lack of convenient and visible labeling.