What's wrong with the way this circuit breaker panel is wired???

By
Home Inspector with Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants

I came across this yesterday. I'm going to  put it out there for a while so we can have some fun. What's wrong with this?

 1

This photo was taken in a multiple dwelling. A 21 story, 200+ apartment type building. I don't know how many of the units are wired this way, but, the impression  got was that it was "more than a few."

Another problem I find in this type of building is fire wall/penetration faults.

2

In the picture above, you can see that during the conversion of a commercial to residential 16 story building, holes that were never repaired, were chopped to run water, waste, gas and electric. These holes start inthe basement and run to the roof. Now multiply that by how many bathrooms/kitchens each apartment has, then multiply that by how many apts. are on each floor. In this build, above the Sheetrock ceiling, there were no /inadequate fire walls. You could crawl from one unit to another, right across the entire floor.

Essentially, if there was a problem in the basement, it could spread frighteningly fast.

andA big difference in an inspection in this type of building is the effect things have on individual residents. Faults in one unit can effect a unit on the other side of the building. Good reason for a home inspection.

Comments (19)

Carl Winters
Canyon Lake, TX

Overwhelming!  How long did it take you to write the report?

Feb 15, 2008 11:48 AM
Steven Turetsky
Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants - Staten Island, NY
Building Moisture Analyst

Actually, there was no report. In addition to inspecting, I am a project superintendent for a mid sized construction company in NYC. I find myself involved in many different types of projects. Residential, commercial, institutional, etc. Besides my own projects, I troubleshoot problems for the entire company. They haven't stumped me yet. When I build something, I do it through the eyes of an inspector.

I see a lot wrong with this wiring. I'mholding off to give folks a chance to check it out and comment.

Feb 15, 2008 11:58 AM
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector
Steven, at the top right there is a black, red and white wire coming into the panel.  Where does the black wire go to?  The other two are double tapped where they shouldn't be---looks like a mess to me.
Feb 15, 2008 12:08 PM
Steven Turetsky
Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants - Staten Island, NY
Building Moisture Analyst

Yes Charles, there is a second leg. The black is feeding a different sub panel in the apartment below.

 

What else?

Feb 15, 2008 12:19 PM
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector
Well if that is the wire feeding the panel pictured, then I would say that there is only the same 120 amps to both lugs of the panel.  Hope they don't have a 240 range.smiley
Feb 15, 2008 12:51 PM
Steven Turetsky
Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants - Staten Island, NY
Building Moisture Analyst

Right on, Charles. 120 volts.

There is double lugging, but more important, each apartment has it's own main shut off, independant of each other. If one is off and the other is still on, the panel that is off still has lethal shock potential. There should be breaker ties.

Feb 15, 2008 07:07 PM
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

I freak everytime I see that old cloth covered wiring still in use.

Everytime I have run into that stuff , such as changing a luminaire it would crumble on me.

I notice a few of the neutral look rather long.

I take it the ground is through conduit.

Steve whats going on with the brass bolt on the main neutral?

Looks like you have a couple of different brand breakers too with the conductor on the left at the first Square D 20 amp seeming to come straight down and not be screwed in properly.

Feb 16, 2008 03:44 PM
Steven Turetsky
Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants - Staten Island, NY
Building Moisture Analyst

Hey Bob,

How's it going?

The panel is being fed from above, as you can see, there is a red, black, and white conductor coming in.

The red hot is feeding the first bus, double tapped and jumped to the second bus. They have taken a 240v volt panel and wired it 120v.

The white neutral is double tapped and continuing out to the panel that is servicing the apartment below.

The black hot is also passing through to the panel in the apartment below.

Yes the wiring is old, but it isn't in bad condition.

The biggest problem in this panel is that the multi wire circuit that is sharing the same neutral is not tied together at the main breakers. The potential danger is that if one circuit blows or is shut down, the second remains live and there is a potential shock hazzard.

Feb 16, 2008 04:00 PM
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Not the kind of sub panels I see .Yikes

Going well, went full time.

Also giving my first public talk on Home Inspector Pro of all things.

Feb 16, 2008 05:06 PM
Chad Fabry
StructureSmart, Inc. - Rochester, NY

"The biggest problem in this panel is that the multi wire circuit that is sharing the same neutral is not tied together at the main breakers. The potential danger is that if one circuit blows or is shut down, the second remains live and there is a potential shock hazzard."

 

That is an issue Steven, but a more onerous situation exists for the occupant by way of fire hazard.

Since the MWB circuit is being fed from one 120v leg the neutral serving the circuit is carrying the sum of the loads rather than the difference in the loads.

Properly wired, that is wired from two different legs, the MWB circuit would only carry the difference of the loads, so if one circuit was drawing 14 amps and the other was 13 amps, the neutral would carry only 1 amp. The most the neutral could carry is the full load from one circuit if the other circuit had no load, ie, the dishwasher is on an the disposer isn't.

 

The way this mwb circuit is wired, from one leg, means that if one circuit is drawing 14 amps and the other is drawing 13 amps, the neutral is carrying 27 amps.  I've found many mwb circuits running from the same leg because they were wired on space saver, or mini breakers. The neutrals serving these circuits are always the color of toast.

Feb 18, 2008 12:14 AM
Steven Turetsky
Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants - Staten Island, NY
Building Moisture Analyst

Chad,

I understand what you mean about the loads being additive, but is that the situation here?  You mention one hot  leg, but there are two. Each of a separate bus, one serving each circuit.

Feb 18, 2008 12:01 PM
Chad Fabry
StructureSmart, Inc. - Rochester, NY
The problem is both bus are being fed from  the same leg.  In reality it's the same as having one bus.
Feb 18, 2008 08:51 PM
Anonymous
Anonymous
Pretty risky business! They've been fortunate to not have had problems already.  Nice post Steven!
Feb 18, 2008 11:41 PM
#13
Steven Turetsky
Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants - Staten Island, NY
Building Moisture Analyst

Hey Chad,

Ok, Now I know what you are talking about. I agree it's like having one big Bus, feeding off one leg that is feeding off one Bus in the main. The other leg is feeding off a different Bus in the main. If both legs were feeding off the same lug/bus in the main, then the load on the neutral would be additive. Yes? NO? Maybe?

 

 

Feb 19, 2008 08:13 AM
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Regardless of the the bus bar attachment at the main panel, it would be dangerous to have two hots that are sharing a neutral going to different locations (panels). The neutral is still caring the difference in load and would energize metal components in the other panel----of course if the two lines do share the same bus bar back at the main panel, that would be even more dangerous.  Hopefully the neutral isn't also bonded to the remote panels----to compound the issue.

Feb 19, 2008 08:28 AM
Steven Turetsky
Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants - Staten Island, NY
Building Moisture Analyst

That is what I meant about the circuit breakers not being tied together. The neutrals are not bonded to the panels, it is a sub panel.

Feb 19, 2008 08:40 AM
Anonymous
Joe

Yikes, I know I am not an expert at wiring circuit breaker panels, but there is definitely a problem there. Check all of your wire connection.

http://www.google-my-brain.com

Sep 29, 2008 08:39 AM
#17
Anonymous
bernie

had a outage in apt refrig/micro/air conditoner/phone etc two light on in apt. also upstaris same line in apt building'

found out they are on Federal stab lock in my apt . turned out it was the main swtich in the basement

can you pl let me know who is responsible for changing this cirvuit box in apt since at the main

they had me linked to anohter apt

they electrican came and change something in my box and went down to the main and said they were labeled all wroong

can you offer me your expertise on this issue?

tks

Jun 29, 2011 01:53 AM
#18
Steven Turetsky
Comprehensive Building Inspections & Consultants - Staten Island, NY
Building Moisture Analyst

Is your apartment a rental or a condominum?

Jun 29, 2011 07:49 AM