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I’m planning on making a couple of changes to this panel. Primarily, I’d like to replace one of the breakers with a GFCI breaker. However, this panel doesn’t appear to have a main shutoff. Do I need to have the power company pull the meter? Will that trigger an inspection in order to restore power? If I do have the meter pulled, might I be better off just installing a main shutoff at the same time?enter image description here

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    At first, all those brightly colored breaker handles made me think this might be a Zinsco panel which equals "run before it burns!!!". However, zooming in seems to show that the majority of the breakers are labeled "Bryant". There are a couple that look like they've got a different name on them. Including a clearly focused pic of any/all labeling on the inside of the panel front and any inside the box (be very careful poking around in there looking for them) would be most helpful.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 9, 2023 at 23:00
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    @FreeMan -- old Bryant breakers had color-coded handles too. the "different" ones look to be Challenger units. good news is that anything that is wrong with them can be fixed easily by installing current production BR Aug 10, 2023 at 2:09
  • Yeah, @ThreePhaseEel, I got the feeling that this panel was OK when I saw Bryant, but it did have me worried for a bit. Thanks for the confirmation.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 10, 2023 at 11:43

2 Answers 2

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This looks like a Rule of Six panel. The top six double-breakers control all the power. If I am correct, the yellow breaker controls all the lower breakers. Try it and see. If that's the case then you can use that to turn off all the lower breakers and safely work in the bottom of the panel. Replacing any of the top 6 breakers (including the yellow breaker) is a bit trickier as you are working on a live panel with no disconnect. If the yellow breaker does not turn off all the lower circuits then something else is going on and we'd need to trace out the wires to figure it out.

Keep in mind that GFCI is not available in half-size breakers, and you have several of those already. Depending on why you want to add a GFCI breaker, there may be alternatives.

Your panel is also very possibly oversubscribed. A Rule of Six panel usually means a relatively old panel, which means old service, which may be less than the typical new 200A service. The only way to know for sure is with a Load Calculation. Because you don't have a main breaker, it is possible to overload your service feed and cause problems, including fire, without tripping any breakers.

There may also be issues as to what type of breakers can be added. You can't just put in any breaker that fits, it must be designed and certified/listed for that particular panel and your panel must allow the specific type - not all panels allow half-size breakers and some put a limit on the number of half-size breakers.

Because of the full panel, you may want to consider replacement with a much larger panel, which would include a main breaker. If you get a new, but much larger, panel that can use the same breakers then that can save you a significant amount. Note however that a panel replacement may trigger new requirements, depending on the jurisdiction, including an outside disconnect, GFCI/AFCI requirements, new ground rods, etc. A lot will vary by jurisdiction, and it is constantly changing. In most places you won't need to do circuit-level upgrades (e.g., GFCI and AFCI) and the changes will be mostly from the panel to the meter to the utility feed.

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    Rule of 6 panel is correct. The yellow is indeed my “main”. I am planning on replacing the panel down the road probably with a 40/40 panel and adding a transfer switch as well. The previous owner backfed generator power through the dryer outlet when power went out but I’m not a fan of that method. Thank you for the help!
    – Bob Seger
    Aug 10, 2023 at 1:34
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    Backfeed through the dryer has lots of problems. But aside from the usual problems, if the dryer is one of the other 5 top-section breakers then it is extremely dangerous for the people working on the lines because there is no practical way to prevent backfeeding to the utility. With a new panel you (a) will have a main breaker to 100% disconnect from the utility and (b) should (i.e., code requirement) have an interlock to force you to turn off that main breaker when using the generator inlet. Aug 10, 2023 at 14:24
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In my area, yes, the utility requires notification of an approved inspection from the AHJ before they'll (re-)install a meter. You'll have to ask your own utility about their policy.

An inspection isn't a horrible thing. You'll have to pay some fee for a building permit, describe the work (replace one breaker), and have the inspector over to see your new work.

I'd probably just swap the breaker with the bus live -- even in a panel that does have a main disconnect I'd seldom turn that off. Of course I can't recommend someone else to do something so unsafe.

If you have appetite for installing a new meter base/main panel with a proper disconnect it does have a lot of upside. It provides the groundwork for future PV solar, electric car charging, and room for new circuits. Not a bad idea at all if you can tolerate the cost of doing the work.

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  • If I dropped the main every time I did work, I wouldn't have any. And now that people don't even go to work anymore, it's out of the question.
    – Mazura
    Aug 11, 2023 at 1:17

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