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I recently newly moved into an apartment in the west Bay Area, in California. Because I have an electric car & want to use L1 (120V 12A) charging, I took a look at the breaker panel to see what circuits were present. Here's what I saw:

2x 30A breakers

Westinghouse electrical meter

I'm no electrician, but my understanding was that 30A breakers aren't allowed on 15/20A receptacles (my apartment has 15A receptacles). Is that correct, why are these breakers 30A, and will this pose any dangers especially if I use it for heavy loads like EV charging?

The apartment was constructed in the 1950s to the best of my knowledge.

Edit: Yeah, the apartment is definitely underpowered by modern standards. It was built all-gas (gas stove, gas oven, gas heating) but did get a normal window AC retrofitted at some later date.

Edit 2: Ok, you all asked for it. Here's a photo of the whole electrical box. As you can tell, it's a fourplex with a separate attached room for washer/dryer hookups.

the exterior line

the whole box

I have not been able to find another panel beyond this one - I've looked in all interior rooms.

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    It looks like these breakers are (a) in use as a disconnect for the entire service, (b) way undersized for most service (typically at least 60A and this is just 30A) (c) normally should be a double-breaker not two single breakers. And that is all in addition to your need for 15A or 20A breakers to protect your apartment circuits. Look for another panel somewhere with more breakers. It might even be an old fuse box rather than breakers. But based on this limited information, I'd be seriously concerned about whether you have the capacity to add any EV charging. Aug 18, 2022 at 1:55
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact YEAH AGREED , look for another panel someplace. Something is off here. Aug 18, 2022 at 1:57
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    The meter appears to be rated for 15A if I'm reading correctly. Yikes.
    – Ecnerwal
    Aug 18, 2022 at 2:32
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    @ThreePhaseEel, I think the question is "what's the box below the meter?". It appears that the meter is below the box in the first pic (looking at the 2 ground wires & the remnant of paper stapled to the wood that are common to both pics), but there is another box below the meter in the 2nd pic.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 18, 2022 at 12:19
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    You should not attempt to open the long bottom metal box. That is the utility's junction box, the wires inside are totally unfused and always live (unless the utility disconnects the building's feed from the local transformer). It should open after loosening the screws (and maybe some force to break the rust free) but you absolutely should not touch it.
    – nobody
    Aug 19, 2022 at 1:58

1 Answer 1

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This apartment building needs some serious professional help

Because this is an apartment, what you can touch on your own is very limited, and certainly doesn't extend to what appears to be issues with improperly retrofitted/overfused service equipment, nor to the Fire Protection Eliminated "house panel" serving the shared circuits. (Certainly, 15A receptacles on a 30A circuit would be a Code violation when the building was built!)

You'll need to have the landlord get an electrician in to sort everything out, which may very well involve having to cut power to the entire building, given that the incoming cable from the utility appears to be entering the utility's trough from an unknown point inside the building, not a proper service mast or stub-up.

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    The OP should bear in mind that if the landlord is the cheapskate he appears to be, his hand could be forced by calling in the local building inspector. However, that has consequences, including the possibilities of raised rent or lease termination.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 19, 2022 at 11:28
  • Were buildings not required to have a main disconnect back then? Or do you imagine it's located somewhere else? Aug 19, 2022 at 15:53
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    @RobertChapin -- this is a Rule of Six setup with separate service disconnect enclosures, so that part is fine (even with the Rule of 6 changes in the 2020 NEC) Aug 20, 2022 at 7:27

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