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I want to bring power in to an undeveloped lot, where the first thing I want to build is a shed/shop. This will be the main base of operations while I begin constructing the main house. Since I will need power in the shed long before the house goes up, should I:

  1. Put the "main" breaker in the shed, and later run a 200-amp subpanel into the house? OR
  2. Run power to both the shed and the house directly from the street?

The shed and house will be ~50 feet apart, and both are ~100 from the street.

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    Who is your electric utility? Oct 20, 2023 at 2:07
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    Food for thought: if you have it in your budget, creating an solar/PV offgrid power solution for your shed might be very beneficial during and AFTER you build your main home. You can start with a small (but expandable) system that meets the power needs of the shed at first, then optionally upgrade to meet the needs of your entire home. Oct 21, 2023 at 7:35
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    I would have thought that most electricity suppliers in most parts of the world were totally familiar with and comfortable with installing temporary electric service to a pole on a vacant lot. Local laws and regulations may have some impact on the process. Oct 21, 2023 at 22:14
  • Does this property also require a well? You might benefit from a small, dedicated shed to house both services permanently (your option 1)
    – Criggie
    Oct 22, 2023 at 19:23

3 Answers 3

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Talk to Your Electric Utility

They will ultimately tell you what you can/can't do.

But the trend, as included in the latest NEC, is to have an outside disconnect near the meter. The logical extension of that is to use a meter main. That is basically a big box that contains the meter in one side, typically sealed for utility company access only, and a large yet small main panel on the other side.

What do I mean by large yet small? It is large because it handles your entire 200A feed. It is small because it has only a small number of breakers. Typically a 200A main breaker plus a few spaces for additional breakers. Actually, some of these have 20 or more spaces. But more practical, and ideal for your setup, is something with ~ 8 spaces. Each subpanel feed takes 2 spaces. 8 spaces gives you enough for:

  • Double-breaker for your shed
  • A convenience circuit so that you can have 120V for power even before you build the shed.
  • An additional double-breaker (or 2) for other buildings or specific uses.

So the pole goes in first with the meter main on it. Then you build the shed, and possibly move the meter main to it, particularly if you are able to have the pole (service feed) put right next to where you are going to build the shed, which would be a good idea.

The shed then gets a subpanel, but you will actually use a "main" panel for it. Why a main panel? Because each building needs its own disconnect switch, and a main breaker works perfectly for that. So you might put in a 20 space, 100A panel. Or even something larger. The pricing is such that it won't cost much more than a tiny 8 space 60A subpanel, and this way you never have to worry about running out of breaker spaces in the shed. This is fed by an appropriate size breaker (typically 60A but could be larger) in the meter main.

Then you build the house. The house gets a big panel - e.g., 200A, 40 spaces. This should also be a "main" panel. The feed for this is the lugs on the meter main, so the house can get the full 200A of power and relies on the 200A main breaker of the meter main.

The key is that a main panel and a subpanel have only 3 differences:

  • Main breaker - but you need that in your subpanels anyway because each one is in a different building
  • Neutral-ground bond - if it comes preinstalled in a main breaker it is trivial to remove it for use as a subpanel
  • Ground bar - if a main panel doesn't come with one (because in the main panel ground wires can go on the neutral bar) you can easily add one

All subpanels get a 4-wire feed - hot/hot/neutral/ground.

The main panel needs a ground rod, and each separate building does as well. The usual methods these days (used to be different with copper water pipes) is either two ground rods several feet apart or a single ufer ground. Since you are building new buildings, assuming you are using a concrete slab or foundation you should use (may be required to use) an ufer ground. I think, but you need to make sure, that if you put the meter main on the side of your shed that the ground attached to the meter main will suffice for the shed subpanel as well.

But before you do anything, check with your electric utility. They likely have specific procedures to follow. They may also have a list of specific meter mains that they approve - it is often not simply "any UL/ETL meter main".

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    Many thanks for the in-depth description. Lots for me to chew on, and reaching out to the local utility sooner than later for go/no-go on options is a great call. Thanks again
    – nscheens
    Oct 20, 2023 at 21:38
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Key word here is Before thus temporary.

If you buy a 5kW or 10kW power generator nobody cares and you are free to do what you want. It comes with circuit breakers and plugs.

And you will have it for years to come, and it can be useful during power outages.

No poles, no meters, no permits no complicate circuits and circuit breakers, no Policies of local utility

Later when you are ready run a proper cable from main panel to the shed.

All you have to do is to sum the total consumption to decide on size of the power generator. For example a 2kW heater that runs all day + power tools, while keeping in mind you will not use all of those at same time.

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    I hadn't considered this route. Many thanks for the suggestion!
    – nscheens
    Oct 20, 2023 at 21:34
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    @nscheens the cost of following manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact will be waste after you completed your home with main panel and use that to power the shed.
    – Traveler
    Oct 21, 2023 at 0:00
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    @asinine Maybe. Maybe not. If the power company is OK with siting a meter main on a pole next to the site of the shed and then moving it to the shed (i.e., just a few feet plus adding a proper weatherhead) then the extra cost will be relatively little. A lot depends on utility policies. Oct 21, 2023 at 23:53
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Policies of local utility will likely have a big influence.

Most utilities will only feed single family with a single meter so option #2 would require meter at street, that's not practical.

Option one means no power during construction of shed.

Your best option could be $300 of 100A temporary direct buried feeder to a temporary service, or if overhead is available the utility may supply the overhead wires making your cost even less.

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