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This question comes from my comment on this answer regarding a full panel replacement.

As someone who works in IT, and has a general distrust of "soft" safety features and many "smart" devices, I'm not keen on the idea of relying on a remote shutoff for work that will involve handling the thing that is remotely controlled. So I would gladly pay to have the company roll a truck to physically shut off my service for a panel swap.

What I'm wondering is, are two trips really necessary? I'm sure that a full panel swap is going to take more time than the company would be willing to have someone waiting around. But what if all of the prep work was done beforehand? Disconnecting all circuits, pulling them out of the panel, removing breakers, etc. Everything up to the main shutoff in the panel can be done without turning off the service right? So all that's left is to remove the main breaker/feed wires, unmount the old panel, mount the new, and wire up the service.

Assuming a licensed and skilled electrician, and installing the new panel in the same location as the old (perhaps it's just bigger, but no additional work is needed to prep for it), would it be reasonable to have the utility worker wait for the minimal swap to be completed? What kind of time would you be looking at for that?

Edit: When I say bigger I just mean more slots. Not a service size upgrade.

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    Usually a panel change also requires an inspection that a Lineman isn't trained or qualified to do, so you would need to tack on that labor cost. Just FYI my experience getting an inspector out just exactly when I needed him has been more difficult that getting the power company out to restore power. Jun 3, 2022 at 15:35
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    If the electrician is known and knows the power company they can probably pull the meter, then the power company comes by in their sweet time to replace the lock(one easy trip). Plans usually never go as plan so having power company sit around is usually not done(the workers are expensive to have sitting around). You really want the electrician to rush the the job that needs inspection?
    – crip659
    Jun 3, 2022 at 15:36
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    I used to pull meters all the time even had replacement seals but those days are long gone in many areas. I can certify a service to be energized and the inspector comes out later this is common for a supervising electrician in my jurisdiction, in fact when winter storms hit we are requested by the AHJ to do the inspections for the power company to energize the line so it may be possible, on the same size service but upsize takes longer and the utility charges for that. Scheduling a 2 hour outage is about as fast as it can be safely done for an upsize in my area. This also takes prep work $.
    – Ed Beal
    Jun 3, 2022 at 15:59
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    A couple of thoughts: Depending upon policies of your local POCO, they might let you cut the seal and pull the meter to shut off power. Hopefully the main lugs in the new panel can be connected using the existing feed from the meter base. If not, you'll need to run new mains from the MB to the panel...dicey bc you are working next to highly energized lugs, you'll have to be very careful (are you planning on doing this work yourself?) if you have to run new wires from the MB, go copper, it's very short run, so expense isn't a consideration and 4/0 AL is a PITA to work with. Jun 3, 2022 at 16:24
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    ...ran out of space. While a panel replacement with more breaker space is best, unless it's a "bad panel", as in Zinsco, Federal Pacific, etc. , you might consider a sub-panel next to the main one for additional circuits. It's a bit of a hack, but it works. ...just a thought. Jun 3, 2022 at 16:26

3 Answers 3

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OK, so you're trying to min-max for minimum downtime?

As far as worrying about the soft control, right after they remotely shut off your meter, just break the seal and physically pull the meter. When done, reinstall it and tell them you pulled the meter. Next time they're in the neighborhood they'll slap a new seal on it.

Meter-mains change everything

A huge factor in this question is the NEC 2020 requirement now requiring disconnects outside (for fire department use). Economics dictates that this happens as a "Meter-Main", or combo device containing both a meter and main breaker. The AHJ might force you to do this for a panel swap.

So. The best course of action for someone seeking to maintain internal control on a panel swap, is to change out to a "meter-main" first. That is a very simple operation.

  • (prep) Obtain an accessory ground bar for the Old Main Panel (soon to be Master Panel)
  • (prep) Install a bonding jumper between neutral bar and accessory ground bar.
  • (prep) Move all grounds to the accessory ground bar.
  • (prep) Run a 4th ground wire from Old Main to meter location.
  • (LIVE) Have the electrician swap the meter pan for the meter-main, coordinating with the utility.
  • (LIVE) Remove bonding jumper from Old Main, now master subpanel.

You now have local control over meter shut-off. Turn off the main breaker at the meter, and the "Old Main" is now fully de-energized and you can do anything you want with it, anytime you want. I strongly believe this is very worth it for DIYers who want to work on their own terms.

You are also in compliance with NEC 2020.

Knock-on effect: Panel Placement. Prior to meter-mains, the run from meter pan to Main Panel was energized at all times and entirely unfused. If you drove a nail through it, BOOM. As such, this wire was required to be as short as possible, forcing you to place the main panel in a specific location relating to the meter. With meter-mains, this requirement is gone. The panel can now be anywhere - you have freedom of location. Speaking of that.

A new panel must be properly located

Service panels and subpanels require a working space the width of the equipment (but at least 30"), 36" deep, 78" tall, not on stairs or awkward surfaces. This space must be kept clear at all times. It cannot be in the swing of a door and the panel doors must be able to open 90 degrees. I recommend a place that's likely to happen naturally, such as a hallway or threshold. In fact some AHJs require that!

So just because your old panel was there before, does not mean your new panel can go there.

Speaking of location, consider a subpanel, or an inverse subpanel.

Since you say your #1 interest is getting more breaker spaces, the simple answer is "subpanel in a location of your choosing". Run some 2-2-2-4 between them, 90A wire, easy peasy.

Now if you want to integrate that into a meter-main upgrade, you can actually "flip it". Install a subpanel and interconnecting feeder like normal, except, run new main wires from the subpanel to the (new?) meter location. So when you do the cutover, you are making the new panel the main panel (or master subpanel), and the original panel becomes a subpanel of the new. That saves you having to rewire the old panel, and if its location is faulty, it's still grandfathered.

New meter, mast and weatherhead

Another way to do this swap, depending on what you're trying to do, is to build out a new meter pan, mast, weatherhead and main service/feeder wires to the panel location of your choosing. They could be right next to each other or clear across the house (since meter-mains allow indefinite main feeder length).

Then, on cutover day they are simply moving their service drop from the old weatherhead to the new one. It's a single operation for them. Meanwhile you cut over the service entrance/main feeder wires from the old to new.

This could continue to feed the original panel, or feed a new panel with any of the concepts above.

You now have a dead old service entrance wire, weatherhead, mast and meter pan. Demolish at your leisure.

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You haven't said where you're located in the world and who is your power company -- and that matters.

But I can answer this from the perspective of a non-electrician who replaced his own Stab-Lok panel a few months ago with a new, larger panel.

Are two trips necessary? No, for a certain definition of "trip".

In my case, the electrical utility guys just sat around in their truck between the time they cut the wires at the pole and the time I gave them the thumbs up to reconnect. It took a couple of hours.

Every power company is going to be different. After they cut the power, I asked them if it mattered how long I took to replace the panel and the conductors, and they said it didn't really matter because "they got paid either way".

And indeed, the power company charges $860 CAD for a disconnect/reconnect. Even though the guys sat in a truck for a couple of hours (I'd never done a panel replacement before), at $860 they could have sat there for another couple of hours and the power company still would have made money.

Is that two trips for another utility? Probably. They could send the truck, the power gets cut, they go off and do another job and come back. Or maybe they go off and another, different truck comes to reconnect the power later.

A good utility will ask you how long it will take and judge appropriately. Again, it depends on where you live and your utility company. They will charge you for the reconnect and they will be sure to make it profitable for them. Whether that's one trip or two trips, it's the final dollar amount that matters to them.

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    They probably weren't just sitting there, they were probably "on call for emergencies in that area". The power company doesn't say "wait at Main & Elm for a call", the company says "wait somewhere in your district". Jun 3, 2022 at 18:15
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    @Harper-ReinstateUkraine I live on an island; one needs to take a ferry to get here. I don’t think the utility subcontractor had much else to do on the island. They charge money for the disconnect and reconnect. I’m guessing the OP doesn’t like the negotiated cost? You can’t escape it…. They aren’t going to send a work crew of two for free, where they might be waiting around for five hours. Jun 3, 2022 at 21:08
  • I'm saying their assignment for the day might have been to be already on the island for quick response to outage calls. Jun 5, 2022 at 0:58
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Depends on the meaning of "panel swap"

First of all we should clarify what is meant by "panel swap." The electric service should comprise:

  1. an overhead or underground line from the utility wired directly to their meter
  2. the meter mounted on some kind of meter base
  3. a main disconnect (often realized as a high-amp circuit breaker) wired directly to the meter's load terminals
  4. one or more breaker panels supplying power to all your branch circuits

It gets a little murky because often those elements are combined into a multifunction device. The most common is a "combination service entrance device" (CSED) which integrates the meter base, main disconnect circuit breaker, and space for say 8 to 40 branch circuits.

If "panel swap" means changing a subpanel downstream of the disconnect then simply turn off the disconnect before beginning work. No need to involve the utility.

If "panel swap" means "install a new CSED" then there's no choice but for the utility to come out and disconnect the overhead/underground service entrance cable at their supply end. They'll also remove the meter, and then you or your electrician would disconnect the service entrance conductors from the meter socket, remove the old meter base, and begin the work of installing the new equipment.

If you have (and will keep) a separate meter base so that "panel swap" means changing the disconnect and/or circuit breaker panel then yes simple meter removal or shutoff could be all that's needed - unless you'll be needing to replace or extend the conductors from the meter socket into the new disconnect.

So, one trip or two?

One would have to ask the utility about their (re-)connection requirements. Mine has a policy that they will not connect service until the lineman verifies inspection by the authority having jurisdiction. In my case that was accomplished by the city building department sending an inspection report directly to the utility. The city building inspector also applied an inspection sticker to the new meter-main/CSED.

Hopefully this helps illustrate what can be involved, who you need to talk with to get details for your particular locale.. and that frequently it's not feasible to disconnect and reconnect with a single visit from the utility.

That said, it seems most utilities will provide the disconnect and subsequent reconnect, even if it takes two visits, at no cost to the customer. One has to be well-prepared and work quickly, but it's entirely feasible to have the service reconnected on the same day.

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  • I’ve have never seen a house that has any breakers in the meter box. It has always been a standalone meter with a shutoff lever that feeds to a main breaker panel with a high amp main breaker. Is this CSED setup common in the US?
    – Logarr
    Jun 3, 2022 at 16:30
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    @The CSED setup is pretty common in Florida since the power company no longer supplies the meter can to the customer. They would do a disconnect in the AM and would wait for a connect order from the inspectors before reconnecting.
    – JACK
    Jun 3, 2022 at 17:13
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    @Logarr I would guess that for single-family residential (ie no group metering), in places where the customer is required to provide the meter base, that yes CSED would be a popular choice among electricians because it provides everything they need in a single factory-assembled package. CSED is quite standard in my region of the US.
    – Greg Hill
    Jun 3, 2022 at 18:47

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