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I am renovating, basement especially, and I am considering having electrical work done but I want to first understand costs and requirements involved. House is small 1960s single level ranch, with unfinished basement, very simple layout and easy to work on. It has original 100-Amp service, and a 50-Amp sub panel that was done 30 years ago.

  • I'm keeping the existing 100 amp service if an electrician is used and a permit pulled just to do new panels to make it look nicer on a refinished concrete wall will it be required to use new breakers the GFCI or AFCI type? What specifically? How does that work today?
  • If AFCI breakers (or other) are "required" I see prices for AFCI are around ~$60+ each retail. What price should be used to estimate the cost of the work I'm looking to have done to estimate replacing N 15-A breakers? As a nobody do I get $60+ pricing where a licensed electrician gets then at $10 each wholesale? I was cool with the standard trip $5 breaker but it seems those days are gone.
  • What type of load center is preferred with respect to cost and simplicity? Siemens, Homeline, SquareD, Leviton, GE, other? What ones do you stay away from for residential use?
  • Regarding the breakers once the type (standard trip, GFCI, AFCI, etc) is given what brand/make is most common and preferred and which to stay away from (Siemens, Homeline, SquareD, Leviton, GE, other?) ?
  • given what I've described please add anything else that would be relevant that I don't currently recognize. Much of this is keeping in mind selling of house eventually, and having things done (not just to code) but properly I don't want to hear someone (inspector) say they used this and that's garbage or they shouldn't have done it that way where it becomes an arguing point. I also want to have a good understand of what can be done rather than say I have no idea that's what Sparky the electrician did.
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  • Homeline is also SquareD, but incompatible with QO (which generally costs more.) If you step away from Homely Despot there are other brands that perform as well for less money, evidently (I have QO myself, not gotten via the Despot, but that was then...) On the third hand, what do you have for breakers/panels NOW - you might be able to re-use those if they are not a scary-burn-your-house-down brand/model (Federal Pacific, Zinsco, etc.) Additional thought - if not a scary brand, perhaps you need a painter, not al electrician - would cost a lot less for "appearances sake" to freshen up.
    – Ecnerwal
    May 9, 2023 at 13:51
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    For sale appeal, if the cost doesn't put you off, the full-boat "take it to 2020 or 2023 code level" might help - depending on buyer's tastes - but not sure it would help enough to be financially rewarding (pay back) overall. On that basis the painter looks really good, if nothing is actually wrong with the install as it is, other than looks. Can you edit to include pictures of the panels and their labelling, please?
    – Ecnerwal
    May 9, 2023 at 14:04
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    Who do you have for an electric utility? May 10, 2023 at 1:42
  • This is far too many questions in one post. Please see How to Ask and take the tour, then revise to simplify. Post multiple questions separately if you like.
    – isherwood
    May 10, 2023 at 19:26
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    Also, you have 9 questions dating back many years, and none have been resolved. Please revisit them to do that after you've take the tour.
    – isherwood
    May 10, 2023 at 19:28

2 Answers 2

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Some of this may vary by jurisdiction. But generally speaking, based on plenty of posts I have read plus recent (2022) personal experience and plenty of conversations with my electrician (who has been doing panel replacements for decades) is that:

  • Meter pull - Unless you already have a separate disconnect (unlikely for an old house with an old panel), you will need the utility to pull the meter. That's a 10 minute process but you are out of power until they put the meter back in. Jurisdiction and utility dependent, they will likely allow a licensed electrician to put the meter back in, and then they show up later to do additional work if needed.
  • Heavy up - Jurisdiction and utility dependent, if you are doing a panel replacement and a meter pull, you may be required to upgrade to the utility's current standard service, typically 200A. That is, even if you are not planning on adding any additional loads you are still doing, technically, a service upgrade ("heavy up"). In most places that will mean that (a) you will need to replace the wires/cable going from the panel to the meter, (b) you may need to replace the wires/cable from the meter to the utility connection (weatherhead or underground connection, depending on your particular situation) and (c) the utility may need to replace the cable from the utility connection to the street (pole or underground). In my particular case, the panel/meter and meter/weatherhead were done by my electrician and the utility replaced their cable as well. In reality, I am 99.99% certain that the utility's cable was perfectly fine for 200A service because the utility had replaced every outside cable in the neighborhood (really!) several years ago as my neighborhood was overly affected by storms, but it was probably easier for them to simply "do it" than to have to double-check whether it was really necessary or not. (Welcome to bureacracy.)
  • Panel Type - As noted, you will likely end up with a 200A feed replacing the old 100A feed. If you do, fine, get a new panel with a 200A main breaker. If you don't, get a 200A capable panel either with a 100A breaker (if you can find one) or with a 200A breaker and replace it with a 100A breaker (and save the 200A for a future heavy up.) There are several panel types currently available (Square D x2, Eaton x2, GE, Siemens, Leviton, maybe some others) and all are perfectly fine. Some are more expensive (panels and breakers) than others, and many electricians (or serious amateurs) have preferences (e.g., my electrician has been using Eaton CH for decades, though he can work on anything if someone has an existing panel.) Get a big panel. Minimum 30 spaces, 40 or 42 (depends on the product line) is better. AFCI and GFCI breakers are a big reason to get a big panel, as 1/2 size (tandem/double-stuff) breakers are not available for AFCI and GFCI.
  • AFCI and GFCI - Generally speaking, a straight panel replacement will not trigger any new (since previous panel was installed) code requirements. That normally means you don't need to put in AFCI or GFCI breakers even if that would be required for new circuits. IMHO that's a very good thing as requiring that could easily add several hundred $ to a panel replacement project, discouraging people from doing so when the panel replacement would provide real safety benefits even without the AFCI and GFCI. That is certainly the case with Zinsco and other "problem" panels, and for a situation such as mine (2 old fuse boxes + 1 small breaker panel all replaced with a CH 42). Certain rules will apply, for example any receptacles replaced as part of the panel replacement (in my case there were two that were in the way of putting in the new panel) will likely need GFCI (breaker or receptacle), tamper resistant, etc. That being said, if you have not already put in GFCI (breaker or receptacle) on your kitchen countertop and bathroom receptacle circuits, I highly recommend doing so for safety's sake.
  • Grounding - Part of a panel replacement is proper grounding. If your existing grounding (rods and/or water pipe) meets current code then you can just reconnect it to the new panel. If, as is often the case after decades of neglect, it is not in good shape, or possibly missing altogether, then that will need to be taken care of to pass inspection. Depending on jurisdiction (and sometimes inspector...) that could included one or two ground rods and/or a copper water pipe connection.
  • Outside Disconnect - Jurisdiction and/or utility may require a NEC 2020 outside disconnect. If your jurisdiction is on NEC 2017 or earlier than this will almost certainly not be a requirement. If it is on NEC 2020 and there are no official exceptions then this may be a requirement. I say may because depending on a number of factors you may not have to do this. But you need to find out before work begins to make sure you have the right parts, which are not always easy to find (my electrician can tell you all about that...).
  • Panel Working Space - You must have a clear working space 30" wide (which must include the panel but does not have to be centered around the panel) and 36" deep. In my case, that was only possible by putting the new panel to the left of the old panels (which was a good idea anyway because it made moving circuits possible, see next item). If you have stuff stored in front of the panel, you can just move the stuff. But if you have anything permanent (e.g., a laundry sink or HVAC equipment) then that could be a complication.
  • All At Once vs. One At A Time - If your existing panel is relatively orderly (e.g., you are replacing it to get more breaker spaces or to replace an obsolete or dangerous panel type) then an "all at once" plan can work OK as you can get it mostly done over the course of a few hours. On the other hand, if your existing panels are a mess (like mine were) then "one at a time" may work better: mount the new panel next to the old panel, run a large feed from the old panel to the main breaker of the new panel (e.g., 40A or 50A), then move circuits one at a time to the new panel. If you do that, then the main power will only need to be out to connect the new panel to the meter (which can be anywhere from one hour to several hours of work, depending on whether a new feed cable is needed, new disconnect, etc.).
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just to do new panels to make it look nicer on a refinished concrete wall will it be required to use new breakers the GFCI or AFCI type? What specifically? How does that work today?

The mere replacement of a breaker panel does force you to bring the entire system up to the latest NEC. This is considered an in-kind replacement or simply a "repair". You can replace the breakers with the equivalent whatever was there. (Technically: what was required contemporarily when the permit was pulled for that work. This can be a gotcha with past illegal work.)

There's a very good reason for that: two panel types out there, Zinsco and Federal Pacific, are known fire-starters and authorities want you replacing them ASAP with minimal friction and scope creep. So take a look at your old panel. If the letters say "Murray", that's a Dutch spelling that's actually pronounced "Zynnnn-skoooh" :) In a phonetic mystery, Gould is pronounced the same.

However, unless you go with a SPAN panel, a new panel isn't going to look any prettier than an old one. If it's very rusty I would replace it, but most panel covers just need some paint prep and rattle-can paint of your choosing. Leave the interior surface paint alone, as it's fire resistant.

Note that most older panels take one modern breaker or another. So a Gould, Murray, Westinghouse, even the very scary Challenger panels have legit modern breakers you can directly use. In fact this is the cure for Challenger - nothing wrong with the bus design, Eaton BR uses it today.

Another option to avoid a panel replacement, especially if you want a heavy-up... is to install a "Ranch Panel" at the meter. This is a combination of (optional meter pan), main breaker, 4-12 breaker spaces, and "thru lugs" onward to an interior "main" panel. This allows you to retain the original main panel (feed it from a 100A breaker) while attaching other loads and subpanels.

As a nobody do I get $60+ pricing where a licensed electrician gets then at $10 each wholesale?

Aw shucks, you caught us :) Yeah, when I was at City Electric the guy was like "sign up for a purchase account" and I was like OK! Suddenly AFCI breakers were ten bucks. I was laughing at all the suckers paying $60.

No seriously, the things are costly by nature as there's a lot going on in there. And honestly, manufacturers like Eaton bend over backwards to help people - we see many cases where the person claims a "nuisance trip" when actually the breaker is detecting a real problem and doing its job... yet Eaton will replace multiples of them under warranty with a smile, and the warranty is long and often lifetime.

Older buildings are the ones which need these fancy breakers the most! The point for GFCI is to protect users from shock eg from ungrounded circuits, and for AFCI to prevent fires due to old wires and splices arcing.

What type of load center is preferred with respect to cost and simplicity? Siemens, Homeline, SquareD, Leviton, GE, other? What ones do you stay away from for residential use?

You realize every panel on the market goes back to the 50s. Eaton BR is just Westinghouse. Eaton CH is Cutler Hammer (which Eaton bought in 1968). ITE bought Gould, Murray bought ITE. Siemens QP is just Murray MP. All the new panels look just like the old panels so I don't know what you're expecting to get. Aesthetics? Take the deadfront off, clean off all the old labels with acetone, sandpaper and rattle can paint.

If you're that into aesthetics I can only recommend SPAN, which is like if Apple and Tesla had a baby. And priced like that too lol. Actually, now that I mention it, the entire point of SPAN is to make service upgrades unnecessary, via this 13:12. But that may not be your cuppa tea.

Other than that, all the panels are fine, and it just really get into subtle differences. Leviton is an unproven. Siemens is very good at inepensive generator interlocks. Eaton BR is front of the pack for for smart panel tech that doesn't break the bank. Square D HOMeline is #2 but HOM is cheap. Eaton CH and Square D QO panels are true industrial-tier panels that wouldn't be out-of-place in a Ford assembly plant. QO is the only consumer panel that can handle DC power. CH, QO and Siemens make all copper buses for anti-aluminum bigots. Little stuff like that. It's not a major life decision.

Oh, wait. Do you mean breakers??? ok you know the thing where you buy a Ford and they say "use only Ford motor oil in your Ford?" And you scoff and go "horsepuckey". Indeed that is horsepuckey, and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act says so. So you're thinking "same for breakers, all breakers swap like motor oil" - no. For stupid reasons, the bus stab designs differ too much. When a company takes their breaker to UL to get UL listed, UL asks "which panel types do you want it rated for?" Square D says "ours". Eaton says "everyone’s" and UL says no. Eaton had to come up with a special breaker design, the CL type, for competitor panels. I believe it uses osmium or other soft metal to mold to any stab.

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  • are you serious about the $10 vs $60 statement?
    – ron
    May 10, 2023 at 17:36
  • i realize wholesale price for licensed jobbers will be less than what price I see at depot/lowes. I'm ok with that. I remember when they first came out they were very problematic and very expensive. Has their cost come down? How do I protect myself from being overcharged for panel/breaker replacement, when they will just use the retail afci breaker price? what is current afci breaker price [wholesale] ?
    – ron
    May 10, 2023 at 17:50
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    No, Harper was not serious about that - see the next paragraph. Everything will be less at a supply house than a retail big box store, roughly (but not always) proportionately. But some items may be cheaper at big box stores simply due to volume. May 10, 2023 at 19:45
  • @ron well I for one find the folks at electrical supply houses to be real friendly, and they are often happy to ring me up on the generic account so I can get trade account pricing. Of course you seem super eager to share your pre-conceived notions about the business; I don't do that (except to say I'm sick of overpaying at the box store lol). I walk my talk and buy 90% of my gear at electrical supplies, I don't just run in there for *that one odd bit the box stores can't bother to stock" like most people. May 11, 2023 at 3:18
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    You seem to have missed what my answer said, but if I wanted to install AFCI breakers, I would just run EMT conduit to a junction box just past the panel, and stick an AFCI receptacle or deadfront in that. They're half the price. By the way not everything is cheaper at the electrical supply; the box store "lowballs" prices on anything they think you'll price-check. Lots of people price-check 12/2 Romex, nobody price-checks 120mm boxes. May 11, 2023 at 3:26

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