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When I purchased this house built in 1967, I was aware that some of the outlets weren't grounded. The previous owner had grounded some of the boxes, but an electrician had told him he needed to rewire the house if he wanted to ground everything.

In a separate issue, I've noticed this winter how inefficient the house is in terms of R-value, and I'm thinking about redoing the attic insulation. My thought was that I might as well begin the rewiring job at the same time since I could run a lot of the wire while the insulation is out.

This is what I saw when I opened the box (it appears to have a history--and looks pretty unsafe): Panel Box

Will I need to upgrade the main service entering the panel? It looks like only two hot wires coming in with a coil of what I guess is a neutral, but I'm not an electrician.

Thanks!

Update: Close up

Update 2: label

  • Do you have grounding rods and a ground conductor coming from them to your box? You say some of the outlets were grounded, but if there's no ground rods, nothing is grounded. Just a side note, doesn't answer the question. – JPhi1618 Feb 21 at 19:58
  • @JPhi1618 From what I know about it (little) it looks like there's only a neutral bar and no ground bar in the panel box. And it appears both neutral and ground wires are connected to the same bar. Therefore, I expect--to your point--that nothing is grounded, but some workaround was done at the individual receptacles. – M.McC Feb 21 at 20:06
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    @jphi1618 That is not accurate, most homes built in that era were grounded using the metal water pipe and that grounding method is still legal. Today with current code a supplemental ground rod is required unless the resistance to ground is 25ohms or less , if there are 2 grounding electrodes no measurement is required. But code has never required existing wiring to be updated and to add the new grounds code states the ground has to originate from the same panel as it is supplied from. Nothing about requiring the grounding electrode to be modified. – Ed Beal Feb 21 at 21:43
  • @EdBeal, thanks for that. If it was grounded to a pipe, wouldn't you still have a large ground wire entering the panel? Can branch circuits just run their own wire to the nearest pipe? – JPhi1618 Feb 21 at 21:45
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    One more comment (and this could be a "yikes" comment). are the black and red wires (center right, top of panel) going to the same tandem breaker? Are they part of a MWBC? If so, we know what that means...a potentially badly overloaded neutral. At a minimum, no way to attach handle ties appropriately. OP: Can you verify where those red/black wires land on the right side of the box? – George Anderson Feb 21 at 22:41
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You can update that panel much cheaper than a new one and this is allowed in code. If this is your main panel as it should be with both grounds and neutrals on the same bus you can pull new grounds from the panel (you may need a new grounding bus and add it to the open area and tie the new bus to the old bus. Then take copper to your locations that needs grounds. You can tap those grounds that are already in the panel out at the devices and then run a shorter ground from that grounded device to the ungrounded device and all is good so you can do it, and the great news this is one of those things my jurisdiction doesn’t require any permits.

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  • That's great news! Basically, instead of rewiring the house, I can run a new ground wire that services the devices and receptacles (and probably clean up this current set up on the panel). – M.McC Feb 21 at 20:53
  • Yes, but... this is a 50+ year old wiring job and even from the photo there is a lot left to be desired. If you're looking to actually live here, you may want to go ahead and have the panel and the wiring redone to modern standards. In 1967 the average electrical load in a home was just a fraction of what is common today. Once you get into the walls you may find some surprises as a LOT of things can happen in the course of 50 years. – jwh20 Feb 21 at 20:59
  • @jwh20 you make a great point, here. There's a difference between minimally meeting needs, and preparing for a longer time horizon with quality and comfort. – M.McC Feb 21 at 21:23
  • Well I kind of agree , with jwh20. My jurisdiction allows me to update a panel without bringing everything up to current code (AFCI and GFCI) is one example that many jurisdictions require , it looks like you have 16 circuits, most in 1/2 size tandem breakers. A new panel 42 positions minimum ~ 100.00 AFCI & GFCI breakers to meet current code ~500.00. Plus a permit , if you are in a location that requires Electrician’s for service upgrades add a couple thousand more. I don’t do upgrades that often it’s a young man’s job. But looking at the cost of some copper wire a spool of thhn 500’ 75$ ?? – Ed Beal Feb 21 at 21:36
  • @EdBeal Thanks for your input here and above. It's a pretty major cost difference even without considering professional labor for installation. But it sounds like it might be the more responsible move to update the panel instead of simply adding a ground. – M.McC Feb 21 at 22:13
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OK first, the panel has a lot of "double-stuff" breakers (2 breakers in one space or 4 breakers in 2 spaces).

The breaker in 3/4 (right side, top 2 spaces/4 breakers)

Take a careful note of the double-stuff(s) in spaces 3 and 4. Treat those 2 breakers like one quad breaker, keep them together or better, tape them together. Move them together as a unit. Note the red wire. That red wire has a partner black, and that partner must be above the red wire on that same "quad breaker". This will put them on opposite poles, which is essential to not overloading the neutral.

Further, that quad/double-double cannot be there. Look at the drawing on the panel sticker; it's a fair bit confusing, but your panel has 12 spaces in 6 rows, and each row has a black dot on the sticker drawing. The bottom 4 dots have the thing where it splits into 2 breakers (e.g. 19 and 20) but breakers 3 and 4 do not have that. That is telling you double-stuff breakers are not allowed in the top 2 of 6 rows - exactly where breaker 3/4 is.

So you need to take the bottom 2 right-side breakers out (the normal ones), and depending on available wire length either move the quadplex/double-double that we've been discussing to those 2 spaces, or move the whole column of breakers down. Then, refit the pulled normal breakers in positions 3/4. That will take care of the "double-stuffs in illegal locations" problem.

NEC 1965 legislated "CTL" rules that breakers and panels must have keying/locking to make that mistake impossible. But it typically takes 2-3 years for NEC revisions to get approved by state, so it probably slipped in under the wire. Or they used non-CTL breakers which were prevalant at the time. GE used CTL to totally redesign how they do double-stuff breakers; so you will not be able to source a replacement for these double-stuffs. DO NOT use a BR, HOM or Siemens here!!!

Time to think new panel.

But you don't need to replace the whole panel. You can fork out to a subpanel, keeping the original main breaker and using this existing panel as a hub feeding the subpanels. That lets you DIY the subpanel work without having to deal with the fact that the wire before the main breaker is always-hot.

Not least, this panel is laughably small for any home; I like to see homes have 40 spaces. If you are adding a subpanel, I like to see around 48 total spaces, so a 40-space or two 18s would be a good addition. If you have any aspirations to a generator or a modern on-power-failure power system, Siemens is a particularly good choice due to cheap generator interlocks. There's no point staying in GE since few of your breakers will fit a modern GE panel.

Another strategy is to put a bigger subpanel positioned (with consultation with your power company) so they could easily put a larger service drop on the new location. In case you ever want to upgrade electric service.

There is no limit on subpanel size; you can use a 225A subpanel with 100A main service. The subpanel must be >= the breaker feeding it.

So that is what I would do with this panel; slowly convert it to simply a feeder to subpanel(s). You'll need something to fill the empty holes as you move branch circuits out; just use the old breakers for that.

All subpanels connect 4 wires: two hots, neutral and separate ground from the main to the subpanel. Grounds and neutrals are separated in the subpanel.

Grounding

First, your panel needs a ground bar of its own. YOu might try contacting an electrical supply house that is a GE dealer and see if they have a ground bar that will bolt up to this panel in existing holes. All grounds should go to the ground bar, including the main Grounding Electrode, and then there should be a heavy wire (heaviest that will fit in the holes, copper) connecting the neutral bar to the ground bar. It's a nice bonus if you can get a clamp meter around that wire; it's very useful for diagnosis.

Now, your panel will need a grounding electrode system. That should be a typically bare wire from the grounding bar to a water pipe, ground rods, or an UFER ground buried in the concrete. Water pipes are fallen out of favor because of the water company's penchant for replacing them with smart meters made out of plastic. Now two ground rods are required (unless you pay for a test that costs more than a second ground rod). The UFER ground is still the best option, but it must be planned before the foundation pour.

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  • This is such a great response. You've actually answered a question that I left out of my original post by suggesting a subpanel. I was inclined toward a sub because I thought that may be the best way to do some of the rewiring while still living in the house (e.g. one breaker has a chandelier and the fridge outlet). You've really broken down the issues with this panel and I like the idea of converting it to a feeder. I still need to follow the advice throughout the responses here to fix the grounding issue, but I feel confident that a subpanel will make life easier. Truly thanks so much! – M.McC Feb 22 at 4:32

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