I was planning to get our box upgraded from a old 100 amp Zinsco box to a newer possibly 200 amp box. I have been talking to a couple of companies and they have been wanting a arm and a leg, and also some other certified electricians (and some friends certified) that are independent and are more reasonable. We live in Houston Tx and our house was build back in 1964.

I have a couple of questions regarding that...

• Is a permit absolutely required for replacement and upgrade?

• Can you get inspected after replacement without a permit and without issues with insurance or what does insurance look at for compliance I guess?

• A couple of electricians (certified) said that they can upgrade to a 200 amp breaker without needing to upgrade the meter box and the service line since the house is “older and uses copper” and it’s supposedly sufficient enough?

  • Does that sound normal and sounds like something that wouldn’t work?

Main thing is I don’t want any issues with insurance or the city after the replacement, if a permit is not used. I keep reading mixed things and not sure what is right vs wrong. Of course a permit would be ideal but if I could save 500 if it’s not required and I can still get a inspection done properly, I don’t see why I need it.

enter image description here

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    Do you feel comfortable taking/posting pictures of the inside of the main panel? How many square feet is your house, and how many breakers control kitchen receptacles? (aside from the fridge or receptacles in cabinets for disposals, dishwashers, and such) Are your hot water, central heating, dryer, and range gas or electric? Sep 22, 2020 at 23:11
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    Upgrading this box is a Very Good Idea. Not only is it Zinsco, which are known fire-starters, but it's also stuffed full to capacity! Yikes!
    – Nate S.
    Sep 23, 2020 at 0:21
  • Also, I'm not sure your wiring is all copper -- the three thicker wires going into the neutral bus sure look like aluminum
    – Nate S.
    Sep 23, 2020 at 0:23
  • I would ask your certified independent friends first, and follow with one to the county inspector. As an upgrade to an existing service there should a much cheaper install permit wise if required. Why would a permit (inspection be needed) your panel looks good but things like 2 neutrals under 1 screw is a no no. 3 Grounds are ok if listed for multiple some are listed I don’t remember Zinsco. If your jurisdiction requires all current code updates then that can mean a lot and might be why some estimates are so high. Some states allow a straight replacement to a new panel in a case like yours ask
    – Ed Beal
    Sep 23, 2020 at 0:29
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    @SteveSether the lights flickering is almost certainly due to the fact that it's a Zinsco panel -- there's a known issue of arcing between the breaker clips and the bus bars. It has indeed been known to start fires; hence my earlier comment. See here for more info & pictures of burned-out Zinscos: inspectapedia.com/electric/…
    – Nate S.
    Sep 23, 2020 at 18:58

4 Answers 4


More than likely, you'll need a permit. The power company will have to disconnect the power for the panel change out and in most cases won't reconnect when the job's done unless they get an OK from the local AHJ. I've known local electricians that have pulled the meters without power company notice and have done the work. The problem is with the smart meters, the power company knows the meter was pulled and will notify the AHJ. Then it gets inspected, the owner or electrician has to get the permit and penalties are added and the owner might now have to get the meter can and riser upgraded. Check with the local guys first... this can really get hairy if you try for the shortcut.

  • Much of what you say is true but if the op wants to upgrade his service the can and service feed wiring may all have to be replaced in any case.
    – Ed Beal
    Sep 23, 2020 at 0:36
  • @EdBeal You're right, but the OP stated he had electricians who could do it without can and riser replacement. That's an "iffy" call to make. I had one case where the inspector stated the meter can was OK. After the panel was replaced he came back to inspect it and looked inside the meter can because the meter was still out and saw a stamp that said 100 amp.... then decided it had to be changed out too..
    – JACK
    Sep 23, 2020 at 1:01
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    Actually the utility controls the can the inspector could say it’s fine and the utility can say good luck with that. I know a brand that my utility will not connect to but inspectors are fine with. It is possible if a large enough conduit was used it could fly (and by can we are talking meter correct) most of the ones I see are kva and short circuit rated so they don’t put two small of a can on a multi tapped xformer , I have to use a 320 for a 150 amp service inspectors don’t check transformers but my utility dose.
    – Ed Beal
    Sep 23, 2020 at 1:40
  • We, FPL, had the same problem with meter cans. We used to provide them free of charge except meter centers.... we totally got out of the meter can business and now it's the customer's problem to buy them and maintain them. And yes we're talking meter can... field talk..lol
    – JACK
    Sep 23, 2020 at 1:45
  • It varies. I've done a few panel replacements for friends. I can't be paid for it because I'm not a licensed electrician so we just say that the home owner did the work. Partially true, because I make them help! I've always pulled permits for the work. The local power company was OK with disconnecting power, us do the panel replacement and reconnecting power before inspection. The POCO took a quick look at the panel and saw that it was done well. They figured the inspectors would eventually get there and call out anything wrong. Never had a problem. But it varies in diff locals. Sep 23, 2020 at 3:56

Start by changing the electric meter from a "plain meter" to a "Meter-Main". The meter-main combines both a meter and a main breaker, and provides an outside disconnect. This is required by the upcoming NEC 2020 anyway. The real gain of a meter-main is you can de-energize your entire service panel for maintenance without having to deal with the power company.

Also, a consideration in Houston is having the electrical continue to function in a flood. Put the service drop, meter, and main panel on the 2nd floor, and all the circuits down to the first floor are GFCI. They trip, and the rest of the house is OK.


Contact your 'authority having jurisdiction' (AHJ) and ask these questions. Chances are you need a permit, but some jurisdictions can vary.


The following indicated conductors definitely appear to be aluminum and not copper.

enter image description here

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    ...which is not a problem for conductors of that size, terminated properly. And this does not answer the question at all. As already pointed out, the 3 neutrals under one screw (& there's more than one such) next to them ARE a problem.
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 23, 2020 at 12:15

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