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I'm working in a 250-year-old house and the basement has a sump pump that is located right below the electrical service panel.

To install the sump pump, they just cut a hole in the concrete slab and threw a pump in a shallow dirt hole. I tried to dig to install a basin, but there's a huge granite rock right there, so there's no way to dig further.

So to access the service panel one must stand in water! I don't know if this complies with code or not, but it certainly feels wrong.

I don't want to move the electrical panel, as just too many electrical issues are grandfathered in, so moving the panel and the subsequent inspections will trigger a bunch of updates I'm not ready for. There's no slack in the wires, and there's no shut-off (other than the main breakers at the panel itself), so moving the panel would require calling the utility. These are all things I'll have to eventually do, but I'm trying to solve one issue at a time. The sump pump is really in the best location, as the whole basement slab has an incline so that it drains in that corner.

I could move the sump pump, and I own a concrete saw and an electric cement mixer, but I'd really like to avoid 3 days of cutting, digging, and carrying cement bags. Thus the idea of building a small 5' x 5' deck with pressure treated wood as a "lid" on the pump, that will also work as a dry surface to stand on while accessing the service panel.

Question: can I remedy the situation with building a wood platform over the sump pump hole? Would this comply with applicable electrical code?

All opinions appreciated.


  • I own this house, but don't live in it yet. House is empty, not rented out or leased out. I am preparing to move into it soon.
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    It might be in code if the code writers ever figured someone would be that stupid, but it is darwin award of hold my beer. Wood does not like moisture either so can't just slap down a piece of OSB/MDF.
    – crip659
    Sep 9, 2023 at 10:37
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    @SolarMike Because I'm a carpenter and not an electrician, so I'm trying to solve this with my skills. Eventually I will upgrade the panel and ask an electrician to place the new panel in a better spot. But for now, I want to know if my solution of a platform will do.
    – Cheery
    Sep 9, 2023 at 11:14
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    Do you own and live in this house as your primary residence, or are you working in it for some other owner? Sep 9, 2023 at 11:23
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    It's grandfathered. You touch it and then it's not. So what's the question? You building a platform would be awesome, otherwise that's step one for me and I charge by the hour. - Three feet square (and less than 8" tall); no one can complain. 18" by 24, one foot high? gee, thanks; I can bring my own milk crate to fall off of, thank you very much.
    – Mazura
    Sep 9, 2023 at 20:12
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    Since you're not living in it, maybe this is the time and opportunity to bring all the wiring up to standard? The existing wiring can't be 250 years old, so that was a retrofit already.
    – Criggie
    Sep 10, 2023 at 19:33

4 Answers 4

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You definitely should not be standing in water to work on the electrical panel. Good sense of safety in questioning that!

There are two concepts that I've come across in reading DIY.SE which may help you regarding "code": Grandfathering and intent.

If a setup was built before code was imposed, then the setup is usually "grandfathered in", meaning it may wrong, yes, but the inspector is not going to charge you with violating the newer code. Depending on your local government they may issue a "certificate of occupancy" or some other such ruling paper that says "Whatever is here as of this date is good enough for us or was too old for us to fuss about regarding code." If you got some such permission certificate when you bought the house, and the electrical panel & sump pit placement pre-date the certificate, then the existing setup is considered grandfathered for code purposes. As long as you don't make heavy modifications (not sure if expanding the pit would be a heavy enough modification) then the setup can stay.

Regarding intent, I have read that though some kinds of electrical cable are not allowed to be in conduit, one can use a piece of conduit on the wall etc as a covering device to protect the cable in that area from possible damage. Since the conduit is a "protective sheath" not "conduit", code lets this happen. So if you don't build an "electrical panel access platform", but you instead build a "sump pit cover" that happens to also serve as a platform for someone working on the electrical panel when they stand on it, that may be be OK to the code folks.

A piece of plexiglass (maybe 1/4" thick or more?) on the top of the wooden platform would serve for electrical insulation when the wood soaks up moisture, and some anti-slip strips one sticks to stair treads or bathtub bottoms would serve to avoid slipping on the plexiglass.

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    These are all great points, thanks. Before starting this project, I spoke with the building commissioner to get a building permit with intention of later applying for a CO, and he said to instead get a permit for repairs and just keep the current CO, as is had not been revoked.
    – Cheery
    Sep 9, 2023 at 11:38
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    Good. If the panel and pit placement are older than the existing CO then you should be good. Sep 9, 2023 at 11:39
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I would build the 5'x5' deck. PT for the base and composite decking for the top surface. It makes sense, even if the electrical box were not there.

Simply put, I don't think anyone would "ding" you for making the situation safer.

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  • Composite decking sounds like a great idea. Thanks.
    – Cheery
    Sep 9, 2023 at 13:05
  • Composite decking sounds good to me, too. Better than plexiglass. Sep 9, 2023 at 13:10
  • No one can ding you for putting the now required 3' working space when you didn't have to. But if you don't I'ma pass on that job maybe, or do the bid-so-high-I-don't-really-want-to-do-this-job bid. +1
    – Mazura
    Sep 9, 2023 at 20:19
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Since it's already there, one can assume it has passed some sort of code previously. That doesn't make it safe now, and you are very sensible considering rectifying the situation.

Ultimately that means moving the panel, with all its problems, so for the interim, I'd consider (as a woodworker) building a platform, as low as is feasible/practical, and cladding it in fibreglass. Wood is very good at absorbing moisture, so without the cladding, will be just as bad as you have now, before too long. At least with fibreglass cladding, it will stay dry, and safe. In the meantime wearing rubber boots seems like a good idea...

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I believe they make plastic sump basin covers.

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    The OP stated he couldn't dig deep enough to get the pump deep enough to put a flat cover on top. Thus the need for a platform.
    – RMDman
    Sep 9, 2023 at 21:01

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