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I have bought a gazebo (closed) that will serve as a studio and I want to place it on the edge of a wood that is approximately 400 feet from my house.

I was planning to run underground wiring from my existing electrical panel (if it isn't exorbitantly expensive) to a sub panel in the gazebo. We've determined that I will need 40 amp in the gazebo. I looked at the Southwire voltage drop calculator and it looks like I would need a 2 awg wire which I'm not sure could be wired to the existing 100A panel in my house- it is huge! Would I need a sub-panel on this end too?

In addition, I'm not sure whether I shouldn't change the existing panel in my house to a new 200A panel - it is a Westinghouse, from what era, I have no idea - I can't find any serial number on it. I have attached a picture below.

The run will go through a former local gravel 'pit', actually a hill that was levelled in the 50's, so it is pretty gravelly. It then runs into an area that is quite clayish and not terribly stable - there is a bit of creep on the surface. I assume the best way would be in conduit. I would like to allow for future capacity, should I make an addition on the gazebo, though I will be limited by municipal restrictions, because my land is in a 'panoramic corridor' facing the sea. So my maximum out-building area permitted is 400 sq. ft., one storey and I am not allowed municipal water nor sewage services.

All to say that the additional electrical requirements would be for a workshop (tools or, if I dream, a kiln? - that would require some serious electricity) So, given this and the size of the wire(s)that I need now, I would have to oversize the conduit for future wiring. Does one leave a feeder wire in the cable to feed future wires? How deep does one have to bury the conduit? Foundations here are at 4'-6'' - it freezes. Also, people sometimes drive onto my old gravel pit with their trucks so I guess I would have to take that into account.

Maybe a silly question, but we have a serious population of voles that devour roots and create a network of tunnels - I suppose they wouldn't have an appetite for plastic.. Would be grateful for any feedback you may have. This is really a great forum!

Picture of my panel

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    400ft is far enough that you may want to consider using a transformer on each end to step up and down the voltage. You'll probably also want aluminium wire as it will be much much cheaper. See Harper's answer here if you're interested in going the transformer route: diy.stackexchange.com/questions/138169/… – Nate Strickland May 3 at 16:53
  • Thanks for the info! So I guess I would run the wire at 240v and step it down to two 20 amp circuits at 120v. Is that that you meant? – Maureen May 3 at 17:07
  • @Maureen, It's already at 240v coming in to your house. A transformer would take it up to 480v or higher for more efficient transmission. – JPhi1618 May 3 at 17:15
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    Because you took Southwire's defaults of Cu and 3%. Those are bad choices. Try Al and 7% and numbers are much happier. Voltage drop is not the end of the world, and 3% is not in Code, it's just a wives tale propagaged by wire salesmen. – Harper May 3 at 17:50
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    Am new to this site...was out and just came in and saw the 2 detailed answers. As you can see by my comments, I'm in the construction industry (or was) but I'm not an electrician and won't be doing the installation myself (I'm a retired architect) so pardon for the naive questions. Have to take a break but will take the time to read your detailed answers this evening and read up on them, then probably ask more naive questions! Thanks! – Maureen May 3 at 20:01
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Wait. What? You need two 120V circuits at 20A? At 240V, that's only 20A. You don't double both of them.

Your small loads are your enemy

US Mains power has two opposing 120V "hot" wires on either side of a neutral wire. All of them suffer voltage drop in proportion to amps actually flowed (which is what we measure). In a perfect world, you have two 120V loads almost equal. In that case power comes down hot1, passes through appliance 1 via neutral to appliance 2 and returns on hot2. You have voltage drop, but it occurs off of 240V, so it's not so bad.

However, if you only have 1 large load plugged in, you have a problem. Current comes from hot1, and returns on neutral, and the voltage drop hits you harder because it's a percentage of 120V instead of 240V. This necessitates stupid-large wires.

I thought of using a multi-wire branch circuit and quickly realized the above is going to be a deal-killer. Then I thought "A subpanel, then", but a subpanel doesn't fix it either. A transformer does. If a transformer is involved, it will only pull off the 240V supply, and thus will distribute any 120V load evenly for the lower voltage drop. Needless to say I prefer a transformer based solution especially since your power needs are right-sized for the 5KVA transformers often seen on Craigslist for $100ish. However, there is also a 2-transformer solution that will greatly cut your wire costs (or alternately, give you a solid expansion path on existing wire).

Multi-wire branch circuit

In this you run a single "super circuit" consisting of 2 hots, 1 neutral and 1 ground wire. You do not need a subpanel or ground rod by Code, but a ground rod is a good idea, as ground differentials could be dangerous.

You wire one set of receptacles to hot1 and neutral. You wire the other set of receptacles to hot2 and neutral.

Design for the load you expect to be normal, not the breaker rating, and spec voltage drop for that. At the very least you shouldn't plan to load a breaker beyond 80%, so 16A is the largest number you should use. Given the distance I'd be happy with 5-6% voltage drop. If it starts proposing #8 or larger copper wire, switch to aluminum and price both ways.

What do you put for voltage? Because of the problem mentioned above, you really need to specify 120V, and that's where you get murdered. 16A/120V/400'/6% = 4AWG Aluminum @ 4.88%. Jiminy Cricket!

Mind you, if you had two large loads going, that would halve the voltage drop to 2.44%, because the drop would be applying to 240V not 120V.

In a Multi-Wire Branch Circuit you are breakering that for 20A because 20A sockets require a 20A breaker. That's all you'll get out of that. Ouch.

Subpanel

With only one large load, all the problematic math above still exists. A subpanel is not a magic wand to fix that.

However, a subpanel will have you put a 20A breaker on each receptacle circuit. That complies with the breaker requirement. And that means the feeder breaker can be bumped to the wire capacity of 60A, because feeder breaker ampacity doesn't care about voltage drop. That means you can put more circuits in it. For instance again, assuming 4AWG Aluminum, if you add a 31A/240V kiln (using a 40A breaker), you'll get 4.72% drop. That with a 12A/120V load running will cause 5.7% drop to the kiln and 4.2% drop to the blower. I could live with that.

One Transformer

OK. Let's say you fit a transformer at the gazebo. Since you want two 20A@120V circuits, that being 4800W or 4.8 KVA, a 5KVA transformer will suffice. It takes a 240V-only feed (you only need 3 wires; the wire savings helps) and provides 240V/120V to the subpanel-- hold on, that'd be a MAIN panel since it's transformer-fed, so you tie neutral and ground.

Now, your worst-case 16A/120V load gets turned into an 8A/240V load, and #10Cu feeder (though it's about the same cost as #6Al, so why are we bothering?) would suffice for 2.8% drop. However if you are heavily loading both 20A circuits, it's a wash - 16A each = 5.6% drop with #10Cu, unless we bumped to 8Cu or 6Al, for 3.68% drop. And this won't leave you any headroom for anything else.

If you want to add a bigger 240V-only load later, don't feed it through the transformer. Have the house supply come to an additional 240V-only - well, it'll be a subpanel since it's directly wired from the house. That subpanel then serves your new big loads, and also the transformer that's right there. The transformer carries on making 120V power for the 120V loads.

TWO transformers

We use two 120/240-240/480 transformers of the 5KVA variety ($100ish each) with the primaries jumpered to 480, and back to back. All this should be fully enclosed and locked down so nobody can get to the primary side of the transformers. At the house, we jumper the transformer secondary for 240V, and feed it with a 240V/20A breaker. (4800W ~= limit of a 5000VA transformer). At the gazebo, we connect that transformer's secondary same as above, to a subpanel.

Now, a single 16A@120V load is transformed to 4A@480V. Heavy use of both circuits, 16A@120V*2, loads it to 8A@480V. Let's run that through the voltage drop calc: 400'/480V/8A/5% => 14AWG @ 3.57% or 2.31% @ 12 AWG. That makes for rather cheap wire!

Also, we only need 2 wires - the 480V run is isolated from both ends, so there's no need to run a ground wire.

Did you catch the part where we just used two #14 wires to carry 3840W 400'.

Now, let's think toward expansion. Let's say instead, we get two 15KVA transformers (pricey) and do the same thing, aiming to deliver 60A@240V to the gazebo. How will that punch down? 60A breaker means realistically 48A max load, so 48A@240V becomes 24A@480V. Voltage calc sez.... 4.20% @ 10AWG, or 2.76% @ 8Cu or 6Al.

ditto ditto 25 KVA transformer and 100A (practically 80A) - 40A@480V = 4.60%@ 8Cu/6Al, or 2.95%@ 6Cu/4Al.


So... 6-4 AWG Al is a solid choice that will last through almost anything you'd plan to do with it, and if you need to upgrade, you can just throw transformers at it instead of pulling wire.

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    Excellent answer. One small nitpick: 120V loads will drop the same voltage in the wire whether the current is returning through the neutral or through another 120V device to the other hot. Vdrop = I * Rwire always; the input voltage doesn't factor into it. The calculators only need to know that to tell you Vdrop as a percent of what – Nate Strickland May 3 at 19:42
  • @NateStrickland - imagine a 1-ohm wire and 10A loads. With a single load on a 120V supply, you loose 10V over each wire, so your load sees 100V. However if you have 2 balanced 10A loads on a MWBC, you're still only loosing 10V/wire. 240V - 20V means that now each load sees 110V instead and your neutral current is 0A. – brhans May 3 at 23:53
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If, in fact, you cannot connect the larger wire to the breaker, you connect a shorter wire of the maximum size the breaker will take to the breaker, and then join THAT to the larger wire appropriately (Split bolts may be needed, and then you have to wrap those in tape for insulation; choose good tape.)

Split bolt electricl connector *Image is from Grainger, no endorsement or affiliation, just an example of the type.

You get the low voltage drop over the long run of cable, and the short segments at the end are fine so long as they are adequate for the amperage, which they should be - they play very little role in the overall voltage drop, as they are a very small part of the overall run. The junctions/splices of course need to be in a junction box, and junction boxes need to be accessible.

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    The splice can be in the service panel additional junction boxes are not needed. – Ed Beal May 3 at 18:57
  • Yes, the service panel is a junction box. Sometimes it's more convenient to have it elsewhere, sometimes not. – Ecnerwal May 3 at 19:02
  • @Ed Beal Thanks for the great explanations! So basically I start at my house service panel with 240 at 40 amps, use 10kva transformers to step up and down to and from 600 v which permits less voltage loss and smaller wires. Is it only one #10 copper UF wire that you used for the 600v run? – Maureen May 4 at 5:02
  • @Harper Took me awhile to wade through your scenarios and I more or less grasp what you are saying. Though I figured I needed two 120v 20 amp circuits , an electrician suggested 40 amps going to the gazebo, hence my confusion. I don’t think the multi-wire branch circuit sounds like a good option. I didn’t understand the part : ‘’Because of the problem mentioned above, you really need to specify 120V’’. Could I not run 240 in that scenario? – Maureen May 4 at 5:07
  • @Harper I lose you totally in the subpanel scenario. Say I’m wiring out from the house with 40 amp, 120v ? That would power two circuits 20 amp @ 120v, no ? How could I add a 40 A breaker as well without upping the amperage from the house panel ? (and I don’t have extra capacity on that panel without changing it to a 200 amp service panel.) Maybe I missed something.. – Maureen May 4 at 5:08
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At this distance I'd consider a second meter and second drop form the service provider.

To run a sub panel at that distance you're going to need 4 wires (not three) and your going to need to bury the wires at 24" deep unless you use conduit and then it's 18" deep... That is 400 feet of trench with likely 1" conduit to get power to this remote location. You're looking at $3k+ in DIY materials and costs here.

Consult the local service provider on the cost of a secondary drop and meter base, the final costs will average out over the years and you aren't taxing the 100A service with the losses in the wiring to feed the gazebo.

  • I understand more or less the concept of stepping the current up and down and the sizing of the wire(s), but I'm confused on how one estimates how many wires I need. I'm also not sure which scenario you are suggesting that I need 4 wires. I like Harper's scenario that it gives me the flexibility of upgrading later without pulling more wires using a 4 al or 6 Al wire depending on whether I go to a 60 amp or 100 amp option. If I could figure out how many wires I need, I could have a better idea of how much it would cost. – Maureen May 8 at 1:18
  • I could get a backhoe for a good price, would have to lay fines and sand, then the conduit c/w wires and get an electrician to connect the wires and install the transformers and panels. $3K is pretty expensive, but I'm not sure I'm allowed to have a secondary drop from the service provider on my land (municipal bylaw) as secondary buildings were restricted in my zoning. Will check it out nevertheless. Thanks for the suggestion! – Maureen May 8 at 1:24
  • You can't run a sub panel with only 3 wires, you must have a completely separate neutral and ground that AREN'T BONDED in the panel or anywhere in the branched circuits fed from the sub panel. – Bob the builder May 12 at 0:47

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