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Electrical Work V: Replacing the Breaker Box

February 15, 2010

~January 22, 2010~

Now that I had purchased all most a lot of my electrical supplies, it was time to get started.  And the first thing to do was replace the breaker box.

This was an exciting step, because I fully expected to get more electricity working in the house just by doing this.  At this point only half of the current breaker box would supply electricity to its circuits.  The way that breaker boxes work all of the odd rows of breaker positions in the box are supplied by one of the two hot lines from the power company, while all the even rows of positions are supplied by the other hot line.  Since the existing breaker box had 8 positions in it, only 4 were working.  And since the dryer runs off a double pole breaker that requires two positions one right above the other it wouldn’t work.  That left 3 operable circuits in the house, and I suspected that the old main breaker was faulty and causing the problem.

When I first started learning about electrical work I figured that I would have to have an electrician come and replace the breaker box because there is no way to shut off the electricity to it and there is no way I was going to play with live wires.  However, when the power company had to come and replace their meter this summer, the electrician who came out to do it looked at my cute little 8 breaker box…

Such a tiny little thing to be causing so many problems.

and noted that I had a lot of electrical work to be done here then combined that with the (at the time completely torn apart) kitchen and asked if I was going to be doing it myself.  When I said I was, he told me he’d leave the lock off the electrical meter, and showed me how to take it out so that I could cut electricity before the breaker box so I could work safely on it.  He even said that I could get alligator clamps and hook up to the exposed meter socket to get power for a light while I was working.  So, yay!  No electrician necessary.

The first step was to open up the existing breaker box…

The (at this point) exceedingly well labeled old breaker box.

…remove the electrical meter…

You just remove the little collar (which has a hole for a lock)...

...and yank it right out.

…and then take all the breakers and wires out of the breaker box.  I was then able to detach the breaker box from the wall and unthread it from the 3 massive lines that feed it.

The new breaker box was MUCH larger and would have to go lower on the wall (because of where its knockouts were) so I had already extended the mounting area with another piece of plywood.

Then, I threaded the 3 lines into the new breaker box and attached it to the mounting area.

It's so big and pretty.

After that was up on the wall, I opened up knockouts for the existing circuits, fed their wires in and reinstalled the breakers.

All hooked up...

All hooked up...

Then it was just time to close everything up and try it out.

...and ready to go.

So when I flipped the main breaker, the lights I had left on in the basement turned on.  Then I went over to the dryer and turned it on, and it worked.  And it started heating the air, too (our dryer will appear to work if only the correct half of the double pole breaker is working but won’t heat up).  So I shut it off, went upstairs and turned on some lights so I could see.  And the whole house went dark for a second or two, then came back on for a couple of seconds then went dark.  So, absolutely crushed, I returned to the basement.  I checked the voltage in the breaker box, and just like the old one, it was now reading that only half of it was receiving power.  So, I moved everything to even rows of breaker positions, and once more had a non-working dryer. 😦

Thus, bummed out, I called Lori’s dad (a retired electrician who had already given me some electrical advice) to see if he could recommend anything else.  He suggested that I check the monstrous lines that run from the electrical meter to the breaker box for continuity, then contact the power company.  He warned that the problem was most likely after where the line split off the power company’s line and ran down the outside of my house, into the basement and the meter box (where I would have to get an electrician to fix it).

So I did contact them, and one of their electricians came out.  Now my voltage tester just has one light that lights up if there is 120V and another if there is 240V, but his had an actual readout.  He was getting only 44V on each line coming in, and having real problems with the neutral line.  So he climbed up the back of the house and found that the neutral line connection was almost completely corroded and that both the hot lines looked like they had been overheated and may have been damaged.  So he replaced all the connections and everything tested out perfectly.  I was super excited, and moved all the breakers back up to both even and odd rows and the dryer worked again!  Of course I held back on my victory dance this time.  But I still have all my electricity and have dried several loads of laundry, so I think that problem is officially solved, and the new breaker box is operating properly.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2010 3:29 pm

    Yay! This story gets better every time you tell it.

    Maybe you could add dates to the historical documents in the future. That way the Thermians will know how long everything took.

    • Craig Douglas permalink*
      February 15, 2010 4:17 pm

      That’s a good idea with the dating. I’ll have to see if I can figure that out by dates on the photo files and go back to edit the posts.

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