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My A/C went out this week. The problem was a broken tab on a bus bar with cut power to one phase of the 220v circuit.

My HVAC guy was able to get me going again by swapping the A/C unit to the dryers breaker.

I spoke with a local company on the phone, they were advising that they'd likely have to replace the panel. My HVAC recommended an electrician but he was booked for weeks and/or didn't want the job.

What options should be on the table to repair this problem? Can just the bus bar be replaced? Replace enough breakers with tandem breakers (AKA cheaters) to free up the slots needed? Could I replace the disconnect for the A/C with a fused disconnect instead of replacing my main panel? Could I have a subpanel added?

Something that will further complicate this issue is that my home has AL wiring. Code may require AFCI breakers to be installed if they have to replace the panel.

The current panel is completely full. I need to find room for a double pole breaker. I have one good slot open and one broken open slot. I could free up two slots by adding a single cheater breaker. Put the cheater in the single good slot and free up two slots for a double pole.

The objective answer I'm looking for here is one that will enumerate my options and suggest what may be a showstopper or strong advantage to each option.

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    A sub panel might be an option. – Tester101 Jul 18 '13 at 20:34
  • @Tester101 - Always a pleasure to see you chime in sir. Edited the question to include this option. What would justify or negate this as an option? Wall space? Slots? Some sort of load calculation? – Freiheit Jul 18 '13 at 21:04
  • The slack in some of the existing cables might be a factor, unless you have room in the existing panel for the double pole breaker that the sub panel will require. – Tester101 Jul 18 '13 at 21:24
  • The current panel is completely full. I need to find room for a double pole breaker. I have one good slot open. So if the cables are long enough or can be rerun, I could do this with a single cheater breaker. Put the cheater in the single good slot and free up two slots for a double pole. – Freiheit Jul 18 '13 at 21:43
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    I've had two electricians suggest that replacing the panel is the correct course of action because if one tab on one bus bar had broken off then its likely that others are also likely to go soon. A cheater and some shuffling would work but may only delay the work. – Freiheit Jul 18 '13 at 22:52
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I got an answer from my electrician. Here are the options in order of preference with pros and cons

  1. Replace the panel - Pro: all new box and breakers; Con: Somewhat expensive
  2. Replace with "cheaters" to make space - Pro: Cheaper; Con: Still expensive (labor) and the wires may not be long enough to reach where they need to reach.
  3. Replace the 220v A/C disconnect with a fusible disconnect - Pro: Cheap; Con: Not entirely to code, have to replace fuses, in my case the outside box would have to be replaced too.

I went with replacing the panel. It cost $1600 and took about 6 hours. Expensive but its the right solution and I have a few free breakers to add some circuits if I ever need them. The old box had a few other tabs that looked fishy, it was a good idea to let it go.

  • 1
    Keep in mind, that not all panels are compatible with tandem breakers ("cheaters"). – Tester101 Oct 22 '13 at 14:32
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I try local high volume electrical contractors to see if they save the old panels that they demo out. Changing out bussing is always the easiest way to go, if you spend a couple of days finding someone who saves old gear.

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I just replaced my busbar for $75. The bid to replace my panel was $2,400. In my case there were two 5/32 bolts and two brackets (that slid in slots) that held the busbar in place. Turn off you main breaker, and your solar roof collector if you have one. The busbar is now dead. Unbolt the busbar from the bottom of your main 200 amp breaker. Remove all circuit breakers. Unscrew two 5/32 bolts from side of busbar, push up on busbar to clear slots, and pull it out. Every busbar is different.

This is how my 200 amp 20 slot Cutler-Hammer worked. I bought a near new busbar. It took me about 1.5 hours to complete job. You will see how new busbar screws in when you buy it. I did use electric tape to screw a 5/32 open end wrench on a paint stick to reach one of the 5/32 screws that was very near the hot lead from the street. I did have to get into the hot street side of the box. Be very careful here. Use rubber gloves and one hand. You do not want street juice shooting across your chest in case you slip.

  • "Be very careful here. Use rubber gloves and one hand. You do not want street juice shooting across your chest in case you slip." This is terrible advice. 'Be careful or you'll die'. This is DIY.SE not SOCOM.SE. – Freiheit Jul 7 '17 at 15:19

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