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TLDR: I've got a chicken-or-egg situation where I can't fix the electric until I install a shut-off, and I can't install a shut-off until I fix the electric. What happens if I pull my meter on the down-low?

I bought a new house, and the wiring is a little sketchy. Not "burn down the house" sketchy but "would not pass an inspection" sketchy.

I would like to install an external electric shut-off, so I can safely de-energize the entire house as needed.

Power company says they will pull the meter for me, so I can insert an in-line shutoff. However, I will need an inspection before they will re-install the meter.

Local inspector already made it clear that if I install an in-line shutoff, he's going to inspect my whole system which would definitely fail an inspection. So, I would be without power until everything was fixed, which is going to be a loooooong project.

Basically, it's a chicken-or-egg situation. Can't fix electric without shut-off, can't install shut-off without fixing the electric.

So what are the repercussions if I say nuts to it all, and pull my own meter? I would then be able to safely install a shut-off, then fix everything, then get it approved after-the-fact. I can obtain proper PPE. I'm familiar with how to pull the meter. I just need to know, am I going to jail? Am I paying a hefty fine (It's Duke Energy, of Indiana)? Has anyone else had an experience in doing it?

It's a smart-meter.

Edit: the inspection's failure points are open-splices, multiple neutrals bonded in each Neutral Port, no GFCI/AFCI throughout the house, no grounds throughout the house, damaged cable jackets ... it's all clearly visible over-head from the basement.

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    Do not know Indiana regulations, one way around is to add a big sub panel fed off a big breaker(equal or less to main) in main panel. Transfer a fixed circuit over and when all circuit are fixed, ask duke to pull meter and transfer over to sub. Will keep you legal, will keep inspector happy and keep duke happy. Do everything before the change over.
    – crip659
    Aug 31, 2022 at 21:01
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    In my town, "ask forgiveness rather than permission" is answered with an orange notice on your door. You have to pull a permit to demolish all the recent work done without a permit, that all goes in the construction dumpster. This finishes with the house in pieces and uninhabitable, so to regain an occupancy permit you must pull another permit to do the repairs proper. So yeah, don't "do it and expect a wrist-slap". Aug 31, 2022 at 21:41
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    Do everything in a new sub is a good idea. Alternately do all the downstream repairs first. Everything after the main panel. Get it all in shape. Then have the meter pulled and hire a pro who can do a panel swap in one or two days.
    – jay613
    Aug 31, 2022 at 22:05
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    Have you tried talking to the inspection department about how they handle phased/staged inspections? That (one inspection of the meter main installation to make sure that the new work is good, and a second inspection once the balance of the work is done to sign off on the permit as a whole) seems to be the way out of the situation, at least from my viewpoint Sep 1, 2022 at 1:34
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    As noted in an answer, "you may have less trouble than you think. We can help with an assessment of the problems." Your best bet may be to address each of the situations you think is a big problem in its own question here. Let the variety of electricians here chime in on just how big an issue that one thing is and whether it was code legal at the time of installation. Let us help you determine what is truly dangerous, what must be fixed ASAP, what would be good to fix soon, and what would be nice to change eventually. That should make your life much easier overall.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 1, 2022 at 12:15

5 Answers 5

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Let's work one problem at a time.

Neutral bars are for neutrals. Ground bars are for grounds. The first disconnect past the electric meter is the system grounding point, and here ONLY, neutral is bonded to ground. Got it? OK. Since that is often the main panel, an "asterisk" is written into Code which allows grounds to be guests on the main panel's neutral bar. This is not required.

Overcrowded neutral bars

Right after people learn that each neutral must have its own screw on the neutral bar, we often hear the misconception: "the manufacturer didn't give me enough spots on the neutral bar".

That's not likely. UL would not have approved the panel in such a sorry state.

What they're missing is 2 things: a) that the "1 neutral per screw" rule doesn't apply to ground, and b) the panel labeling, which states whether 2 or 3 grounds can share a screw on the neutral bar. The first step in any "crunched for neutrals" situation is -- Wait. Belay that.

For anyone else the answer is "bunch up the grounds to the extent allowed".

But for you, the panel labeling lists several models of accessory ground bar which will fit the pre-tapped holes/sites intended for them. Buy the largest of those, 2-3 if necessary or convenient. Install them. Move ALL your grounds to those.

Again read the panel labeling, some panels allow 3 grounds on a neutral screw but only 2 on an accessory ground screw.

Why are we doing that? Because you want an outside main disconnect. That will turn this panel into a subpanel, with the main disconnect being the main panel. All subpanels must have neutrals and grounds separated.

For now, while the panel is still the main panel, make sure the neutral-ground bond remains present. If you want, you can replace the strap or screw with an actual bond wire of #6 copper. You can put a clamp ammeter around that, which is diagnostically useful sometimes.

Pulling the meter without a permit

Generally the power company wants to work with you, but they're not going to help homeowners do stupid or dangerous things. I've successfully gotten meter pulls without a permit, but I was doing a repair. Don't need a permit for that.

The power company is entirely correct that they need an inspector sign-off to turn your power back on after work of a nature that requires pulling a permit.

Getting through the permit process

There are many people who can navigate government requirement efficiently. And then, there are other people who are doing the exact same thing yet get hopelessly stuck in red tape and catch-22's. A careful comparison of the two reveals that the second type is actually creating problems for themselves by imagining or inadvertently causing roadblocks the others simply do not encounter.

This isn't Psychology StackExchange, so I'll make no guesses or judgments lol.

The local inspector is just a regular person like you or me, who is charged with a responsibility that is NOT "making your life miserable". But they must deal with an endless string of Sovereign Citizen type DIYers who don't understand that, and have a HUGE chip on their shoulder about government regulation, and spew that in their face constantly. It's not a fun job.

And also DIY applicants who are scary. They need to be discouraged strongly, and/or inspected very carefully. Some of them can be difficult to talk to! So the inspector is listening carefully to what the DIYer says, and anything they say that is 'not even wrong' is a red flag. Combine that with someone with strongly held opinions, it can really leave a wrong impression.

I would like to install an external electric shut-off, so I can safely de-energize the entire house as needed.

And why would you want that? I mean external disconnects are great and I recommend them for the same reason NEC 2020 mandates them. But the inspector will be like "why not just have the power company cut the power, since I'm sure you'll have permit in hand for any permit-required work you do... right?" See how that looks?

I bought a new house, and the wiring is a little sketchy. Not "burn down the house" sketchy but "would not pass an inspection" sketchy.

Well, if it was legal at the time it was installed, it is grandfathered. Selling a house doesn't snap it up to 2020 code and require a bunch of retrofits.

If it was not legal at the time it was installed, then it is broken. Repairs don't require a permit. If a fault develops on a range cable, you don't need to pull a permit to fish a new cable.

So I would proceed forthwith and do any "repairs which are not basic changes" without any further conversation with the inspector.

If a meter pan has rusted out, you might need a permit to replace that only because the power company is involved. Of course nowadays you'd replace that with a meter-main which is what I recall you want, and that might require a permit.

Local inspector already made it clear that if I install an in-line shutoff, he's going to inspect my whole system which would definitely fail an inspection.

Well, that could be a product of "running your mouth", the person may have developed concerns about your competence. Or you offended in some way.

It would have been better to confine the project scope as much as possible, and limit it to a meter-main upgrade. Contrive a reason, such as "old meter pan is rusted out" (if you're on NEC 2020 the meter-main is mandatory) or "I want to be solar-ready".

So, I would be without power until everything was fixed, which is going to be a loooooong project.

No, that's not true! Unless you anger the person, the inspector knows perfectly well that you need somewhere to live, and simply wants any faults repaired efficiently and correctly.

Mark Twain says "the problem isn't what you don't know. It's what you know that just ain't so!" Given that, I am concerned that the severity of the matter may be overestimated. E.G.

  • calling things faults when they aren't really (this happens a lot)
  • things were legal at the time they were installed, and are grandfathered
  • corrections which need to be done, but qualify as repairs

and you may have less trouble than you think.

We can help with an assessment of the problems.

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    "you may have less trouble than you think. We can help with an assessment of the problems." Such an important statement! What the OP may see as an overwhelming pile of "must fix now before the house burns down" issues, may be, in reality, a bunch of "yeah, you're OK with that, but it would be better if..." improvements.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 1, 2022 at 12:17
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    @Freeman right, and you want the "burn your house down" problems dealt with ASAP, and not lost in the noise (and drowned in scope creep). Sep 2, 2022 at 0:35
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This sounds like an X-Y question - you're asking what happens if you pull the meter yourself, but you should be asking how to approach the problem without pulling the meter. By the way, do NOT pull the meter yourself, nothing good can come from this.

An external shutoff/disconnect is nice to have, but you only really need one to work on the panel itself. If you can manage to stay away from the inlet wiring an open panel should be fine to work on - people do this all the time. Outside disconnects are a pretty new thing in most of the US.

Certainly nothing is stopping you from turning off one circuit at a time, fixing your wiring issues with that circuit, and when you're ready to bring it into the panel turning off the panel breaker and re-wiring to the breakers. There is still live power in the panel with the main thrown, but if you aren't comfortable with that then maybe re-wiring your house is a bridge too far.

Once you get all that done, then a permit and adding an outside disconnect would be relatively straightforward if you still feel you need one.

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Probably not jail but since it's a smart meter, they'll know you pulled it and will more than likely call it in to the inspectors and check it out themselves. Then they'll probably disconnect you at the pole or transformer until the inspectors call them for a reconnect. The local inspectors are the ones that could really fine you big time.

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  • Or, sometimes they're just capricious. Tell you they're 2 months out for inspection appointments, etc. Don't fight the law. You'll lose.
    – user19565
    Sep 1, 2022 at 14:55
  • In some states you can legally pull the meter yourself, but you must first call the power company and asking permission. Most meters have a lock on the panel with a serial number that is used to tell if someone opened the panel. When you call the power company and tell them you are cutting the lock, they will likely want to know the serial number of the new lock you put on. In my experience the power company probably won't ask why you are removing the meter, but they do want to know.
    – user4574
    Sep 2, 2022 at 1:30
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    @user4574 Never heard that. There's hundreds of amps available at the meter and there's a lot of safety precautions the should be followed when removing and re installing a meter. Plus, there could be a lot of faulty work done that would never be inspected. I'd stay away from ant states allowing that.. :-)
    – JACK
    Sep 2, 2022 at 13:36
  • @JACK The meter itself (at least the ones I have seen) just have four contacts (2 inputs and 2 outputs) that plug into the box it sits in. To remove the meter, you literally just open the box, grab it and pull it out (no screws or anything). It's designed to be pretty safe so that an electrician (or anyone else) doesn't have to be using tools on any live wiring. Once it's out, you see four connections inside the box. Two go to the grid (so don't touch them) but the other two go to your house (and are safe to touch at that point).
    – user4574
    Sep 3, 2022 at 23:09
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    @user4574 You're describing a textbook procedure, not the real world. I've pulled hundreds and when dealing with 30 year old meter cans, you have blocks breaking off the back of the cans and going to ground, backs of meters breaking off and canopies shattering. Procedures usually call for gloves rated for 600 volts and darkened safety glasses or face shields and maybe a hard hat.
    – JACK
    Sep 4, 2022 at 12:32
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Hmmm...interesting. Since this is going to have to be inspected, I see nothing wrong with pulling a permit and getting started. That way you are legal as you get started on the work. I dk where you are, but permits usually last at least 6 months and in many places can be extended. As an aside, I helped a friend of a friend who was building a house, it was a VERY VERY SLOW build bc he wanted to do everything himself and do it with cash. I helped him with the electrical. The electrical permit was about 6 years old when he finally got it inspected (and approved). I warned him that the NEC changes every 3 years (of course that varies when the AHJ adopts the latest code) and he could be out of compliance and to check with the AHJ to see what code version he'd be inspected on. They responded by saying it was the year the permit was pulled. This is Oregon, FYI.

Getting down to more practical advice. I'd pull the permit and rather than try to upgrade the existing panel, put in a new main panel and feed it with a large feed from your existing panel, akin to crip659's suggestion...just treat it like a main panel, not a sub. Then you can work your way thru the upgrades as time permits, moving circuit by circuit to the new main panel. If physically possible, move cables to the new panel, if not, run cables from the old to the new and splice (wire nut) them in the old panel. Once all that is done and you have no circuits left in the old panel other than the feed to the new panel, it's inspection time. The inspector may not like it if he/she views the new main as a sub if the neutrals and grounds are bonded, so keep them separate for now, you can bond them later. That means landing the neutrals on the neutral bus bar and the grounds on a separate bus bar. Once the inspection is done, you can call the POCO to pull the meter, then run new mains from the meter to the new main panel, disconnect the feed from the old panel (obviously! DUH!) and "gut it" removing the main breaker, buss bars, everything and just use it as a junction box. Depending upon the inspector and POCO policies, it may require 2 inspections.

I have found inspectors to be reasonable if they perceive you as not trying to cut corners and bring everything up to code. I dk how much they can enforce on old wiring upgrades, most of that is grandfathered in. Again, it's the AHJ that decides and if they aren't complete AHs you should be OK. Work with the AHJ to be sure. Again, make sure they understand you are trying to do this right.

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If you want the supply de-energised you call the power company.

Pulling the meter without disconnecting the supply to the meter is indistinguishable from stealing electricity. What I mean is the seal on the meter is there to prove you're not stealing electricity, you break that seal and there's no proof you're honest any more. power Co. doesn't like that.

Also power company doesn't like exposed live conductors, there's probably some rule against having an empty meter socket with live contacts. this is why power company wants to shut down the supply before they pull the meter.

Don't go trying to half-ass the linesman's job, they don't like that.

As for linesman inspection, they check for short circuits and other loads before plugging the meter in. so remember to turn off the main breakers. So long as the work you do is tidy and compliant there shouldn't be any problems.

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