Estimating Repairs: Electrical Panels

Scott Costello All, Blog 19 Comments

Over the next few months I’m going to be putting out a series or posts on what to look for when walking a house to help estimate repairs.  The goal isn’t to make you an expert, but to help you know when something needs fixing.  As a wholesaler you just need to come up with an rough estimate (most likely conservative until you gain enough experience).  Being able to spot some roof problems, or know what to look for when examining an electrical box should help you out in knowing if you need to replace, repair or leave alone an item on your check list.

I am not experience at all in estimating repairs and have only seriously done it once.  That being the case I’m going out and asking the questions and doing the research to come up with a quick check list of items to look for.  Each week I will take a closer look at a part of the house and let you know what I find.  Hope this is helpfull and if you have something to add, please do so.

Electrical Panels

I like many other people are afraid of doing any kind of electrical work in a house.  Like many other things we are afraid of, the main reason is because we aren’t educated.  Even though we as wholesalers won’t be fixing electrical problems, we must be able to identify potential points that need repairing.  In part 3 of this series I am going to provide you with some helpful information that will give you a clue as to what to look for when looking at an Electrical Panel.
Electrical panels or breaker box is usually found in the basement of a house (at least in my area) that controls the electricity coming into the house.  It protects against power surges, short circuits and over use of electrical circuits that could cause a fire.  If you’ve ever ran the vacuum, microwave and a table saw all from one outlet it will surely blow your breaker.  So you’ll have to go back in and reset it.  That is why these are so important and many times are improperly installed or the boxes just are defective.  Hopefully the below items will help you determine if you have a problem on hand.
General Info
  • Minimum amperage for a modern house should be about 100amps
Repair Costs
  • New 200 amp panel & breakers: $1500 to $2000.  (Not sure if that is installed or for just the hardware)

Minimum Requirements for House Hold Items (gotten from http://www.applianceaid.com/electric.html)

  • Gas Range : 110-120 vols, 60 hertz and a properly grounded 15/20 amp circuit breaker of fuse
  • Microwave: 110 – 120 volt, 60 hertz and a properly grounded 15/20 amp circuit breaker of fuse
  • Dishwasher: 110 – 120 volt, 60 hertz, properly grounded circuit protected by a minimum 15 amp breaker or fuse ( d/w without temp boost ) to a maximum of 20 amp breaker or fuse ( d/w with temp boost )
  • Refrigerator:  110 – 120 volt, 60 hertz, properly grounded circuit protected by a 15 amp circuit breaker or fuse.
  • Gas Dryer: 110 – 120 volt, 60 hertz, properly grounded circuit protected by a 15 amp circuit breaker or fuse.
  • Electric Dryer:  220 – 240 volt, 60 hertz, properly grounded circuit with 30 amp breaker or fuse protection.
  • Electric Range:  220 – 240 volt, 60 hertz, properly grounded circuit with 40 amp breaker or fuse protection with #8 gauge wire. With a 50 amp breaker, # 6 gauge wire is required.

Handy Calculation Formula

  • Amp * Volts = Watts
  • A standard 120 volt circuit at 20 amps can handle 2400 watts. 120 * 20 = 2400.  A typical hair dryer uses about 600 watts for example
Panel Covers – Residential Electrical Panel Cover Inspection and Special Safety Hazards – Look before you touch!
  • Look (and test?) before touching, open door, look again (rust, burns, gaps, unsafe stance)
  • Block client from touching equipment
  • May be unsafe to remove upper cover of combination panels (service main at top)
  • Sheet metal screw shorts, shocks, fires
  • Swing-out covers can pinch wires
Circuit Wiring  – Electrical branch circuit wiring amps/fusing defects – Copper electrical wiring
Match wiring gauge to ampacity – the following describe copper wire sized or gauges and the matching circuit ampacity or overcurrent protection that is required to be provided by fuse or circuit breaker:
  • 14 gauge – 15Amps
  • 12 gauge – 20 Amps
  • 10 gauge – 30 Amps
  • 8 gauge – 40 Amps

Other notes regarding circuits and wiring..

  • Exceptions to these wire sizes and fusing occur for special circumstances such as air conditioners whose motors produce a brief current surge during startup.
  • Aluminum electrical branch circuit wiring size guide: for a circuit of the same amperage, an aluminum solid conductor branch circuit wire must be 1 size larger than copper. Currently (since the 1970’s) aluminum electrical wiring is used only in the form of multi-strand on single-use circuits like range /DHW/AC older solid conductor AL may be present in next gauge.
  • Solid conductor aluminum branch circuit wiring is unsafe, a fire hazard, and requires repair – see The Aluminum Wiring Website
Problem Brand Electrical Panels
Electrical Panel Location Defects
  • Mains: Not in: bathroom, clothes closet, kitchen cabinets, stairwells (same as service disconnect)
  • Should be at eye level, easily accessible, 3 ft. clearance
  • Subs: may be located almost anywhere (still some Sub panels are improper as above).
  • Finding hidden sub panels: Look for feeder-breaker/fuse or wires leaving main
Fuses vs Circuit Breakers
  • Fuses more reliable to “blow” – not mechanical BUT easier to over-fuse (reduce with S-type retro)
  • Breakers more convenient to reset can be tested without having to then replace the safety device – less likely to be over-fused (but over fusing still happens – compare wire gauge to breaker ampacity)
Other Electrical Panel Defects
  • Obsolete and/or fused neutrals
  • Damaged panel/components
  • Loose panel
  • Inappropriate support material
  • Unprotected panel openings/knockouts
  • Undersized panel – physical size/crowded
  • Overheating – look at mains, breakers, bus, neutrals, wires
  • Rust or water – look for rust, corrosion, overheating, subtle spots, suspect hidden damage to bus or breakers, look for water trace marks on entering SEC
  • circuits not labeled
  • panel overcrowded
  • poor access to panel
  • panel upside down or switches “on” in down position (obsolete)
  • Panel used-with and not suitable for AL wiring

The source for most of this information was found here http://www.inspectapedia.com/electric/ElecPanelInsp.htm

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Scott Costello

Scott is a part time wholesaler, but full time real estate investing addict! As his family grows and his free time shrinks,He has been slowing building his wholesaling business over the past 7 years in between life events.Drive, dedication and never giving up are his strengths.
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Comments 19

  1. Pingback: Wholesaling Tips: Identifying The Cost Of Repairs On Electrical Panels | Real Estate Investing News Watch Blog Aggregator

  2. Scott,
    $1500-$1800 should be the installed price. The purchase price for the hardware can be $500-$800 depending on the quality breakers you use.

    Two other items to note are ground protection. Many older homes have no ground. This can be remedied by grounding each room or using a mechanical ground at the breaker. The mechanical ground is a good way to go. It is much cheaper.

    Also, any home with an addition or finished basement may have two different metals (copper and aluminum) If improperly spliced together they can have cathodic corrosion. That corrosion can lead to separation at the joint. This will result in arcing and can cause a fire. This was the other half to the problem that nearly burnt my house down. This problem is more then just old wiring attached to new wiring, it can also be at each and every outlet. If someone installed copper outlets onto aluminum wire, the problem is the same.

    Luckily, it can be rather inexpensive to fix. Just don’t let an electrician fool you into thinking that the metals must be heat welded together.(extremely expensive) A simple electrical join gel can be used.

    Just some extra food for thought. Scott, your posts are very valuable for those looking to understand the unknowns. Looking forward to more.

      1. You can buy a tester at the hardware store. You simply plug it in, the light will indicate if it has a ground or not.(if there is already a faulty wire, the tester will pick that up as well) I have no idea the cost.

  3. I am definitely one of those people who refuses when it comes to electrical work. It is also true that the reason behind this is because I know little in this kind of field. I’m very thankful that I had run into your article.

  4. You face problems when you dont to solve your problems by own. so always read the manual whatever and whenever you are going to buy. keeping care of preventive maintenance saves you from major and also from ineffective repair man.

  5. I like what you mentioned, the things that we are afraid to repair are the things that we don’t understand. Its also hard for me to trust myself even when I feel like I know what I am doing. Your post has been really informational. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I like what you said about fear and lack of education. The main reason we fear things is because we don’t understand them. It will be really helpful to have less fear regarding electrical work. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks for tell me the cost of the replacement of the panel. I thought it was going to be more. The labor might make it more but it is a very important piece.

  8. Its so different from England, a new consumer unit for a standard home would be £400-£600 which is a lot cheaper than in the states which I can not understand what the big difference is? I know the sparks on the other side of the pond need electrician certificates to be able to do installations but it seems we are being hard done by in England

    1. Electrical contractors are people who perform an array of specialized services. These services are designed to make your home safe as well as your family members. Services such as hard-wring, running of electrical conduits, and the installation of junction boxes are just some of the things in which they do.

  9. Doing the research is always important, that’s a good strategy. Also, knowing what to look for can help ensure you make the right repair decision when needed, just as you shared.

  10. This was a really good breakdown of what to expect and how to prepare for replacement of an electrical panel. I love reading about more technical repair projects like this. Thanks for putting this together.

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