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I opened up this subpanel for the first time because when I opened the walls for contractors to install floor drains, I found a circuit with four splices that were any/all of:

  1. not enclosed in junction boxes
  2. did not use wire nuts
  3. tapped into NM cable rather than cut and spliced
  4. no ground wire in sight; all 12/2 without ground cable

Fortunately, that particular work appears to be isolated to a single circuit so I decided to replace the cable from the subpanel breaker.

The subpanel, however, is ungrounded and all the neutral and ground wires are bonded to neutral. And other problems - I am particularly amused by the cable routed over the edge of the panel rather than through a knockout. It does not have a master cutoff although the panel is on its own breaker in the main panel.

Can this panel be brought up to code by adding a proper ground bar and ground conductor back to the main box, or am I looking at a subpanel replacement project here?

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  • Are you sure there's not a bare copper ground wire coming out of the black, red and white cable feeding the panel? – JACK Feb 15 '20 at 19:10
  • The cable going over the edge needs to be rerouted and the correct connector mounted in the panel. The two cables to the right also need the correct connectors to be mounted in the panel. – JACK Feb 15 '20 at 19:18
  • Last but not least, where are all those green ground wires coming from and are they in conduit? – JACK Feb 15 '20 at 19:22
  • Definitely no bare wire coming out of the feeder cable. I looked at the other end too and did not see a ground headed towards the main panel - a little harder to tell there because they spliced the cable into TWWN, but still...no green, no bare. – Michael K Feb 15 '20 at 19:25
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    After reading your comments, I was ready to type up an answer on what you needed to do to correct this but then Harper answered first and he's totally correct on replacing the panel. You'd spend twice the time correcting the old panel as you would just replacing it. – JACK Feb 15 '20 at 20:06
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New subpanel time

The reason is, there are several structural issues with how this panel is mounted, so it has to come out anyway. So you might as well put a proper panel in here. And believe me, it'll be a relief!

The structural issues are:

  • Sheath not extending far enough into panel for most Romex circuits.
  • The panel doesn't even have a ground bar, and it's a subpanel
  • insanely overfull neutral bar, even before the green grounds were added
  • cables entering without clamps at all
  • Box setback from wall surface; it's ok with switches but you're seriously not allowed to do that with service panels what were they thinking?

Separately from that, the panel is way too darn small, and I know this has been impacting your project, in ways that you've just been working around up til now. Like the insanity with the bathroom outlet feeding a lot of other stuff, I'm sure there's a lot of that going on. I mean the subpanel got put in in the first place because the main panel was full; and it's full too. Not good. You should always have loads of extra space.

You need to make the call on size, but we beat the drum hard for Big Big Big. I for one like to see around 48 spaces between both panels. Absent better information I would call for a 30-space. Space not circuit; a 20-space/40-circuit panel only counts as a 20.

A main-lug panel will suffice, and you can mount it inverted if the existing wires will not reach. Bus amperage doesn't matter. You can stay with Square D "QO" if you want to reuse your breakers and pay 60% above market for any new breakers. One advantage of QO and Eaton CH is the breakers are only 3/4" tall, so panels are shorter for the same number of breakers. Either get a panel with included ground bars, or add them.

Retrofit a ground wire between the main panel and subpanel. The old cable is fine unless you want to up-size it; if you do, go aluminum.

If you keep it

First, keep in mind that work is not necessarily grandfathered merely because it is old. It's only grandfathered if it was correct at the time it was installed. Many a dryer and range circuit is run with /2 w/gnd NM cable, which was never legal.

If you look at the list at the top, that's pretty much your punchlist. First and foremost the panel must be de-installed to move it outward so it 1/16" proud of the wall so the cover can bottom out on the panel body. If you want to have little hatches above and below it for access to the wires, that is fine. Then it either needs to be repositioned so the sheath of each cable can enter the box by at least 1/4", or you need to terminate those cable runs in a junction box above or below, then bring it on into the panel with a jumper. I prefer to connect the junction box with an EMT conduit nipple (short pipe) of about 2" and bring the wires into the panel proper via the EMT. You might even be able to do it with existing wire length.

Further, the neutral bar must be addressed. You can't finish the job with 2 wires in any slot. Some panel makers allow 3 on ground wires, but nobody allows double-lugging neutrals. I can't see how you can need more than 12 neutrals in a 12-breaker panel, though. All the grounds need to go, for that and separation reasons. Quite likely a common Square D ground bar will bolt up to this panel into existing holes, but your Square D dealer will know for sure.

A Square D dealer means a real electrical supply house. The big box stores don't even own the correct catalogs, let alone have any experience interpreting them.

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  • Yeah, having more spaces will be amazing when we someday get to the kitchen! This panel is in a closet, which I don't think is allowed these days. I'll have to check with my codes inspector Monday to see if they're ok with shoving a new one in there. If it's kosher, there's lots of wall space so I don't think I'm worried about vertical space. – Michael K Feb 15 '20 at 20:00
  • The main panel is a GE 20 space, 4 spaces left at this point. The 240 volt loads (dryer, oven, etc.) are there while it looks like all the outlets and lighting went to the subpanel. – Michael K Feb 15 '20 at 20:06
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    @MichaelK Yeah, a panel in a clothes closet is a problem, and in other closets too due to the need for open workspace to be maintained in front of the panel. You may have to repair it in place, but the thing of not being flush with the wall is absolutely critical. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 15 '20 at 20:10
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    After reading the comments, I was ready to type up an answer on what he needed to do to correct this but then you answered first and are totally correct on replacing the panel. he'd spend twice the time correcting the old panel as he would just replacing it.+ – JACK Feb 15 '20 at 20:23
  • As to the excess of neutral wires -- the OP has 14 circuits in a 12-space/12-circuit panel, blame the doublestuff breakers in the two bottom-most spaces... – ThreePhaseEel Feb 16 '20 at 4:34

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