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Unread 10-05-2019, 03:29 PM   #1
Shady at Best
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$6800 bid to change out electrical service panel

Hey guys.
I was at a customer's house yesterday and they asked me what I knew about changing out electrical service panels. Maybe that's not what they are called. It's the thing with all the breakers and the meter in it. They have a 60 year old house, it's got 20 breakers in it. 2 of those breakers are running to a sub panel.
The job appears to be pretty straight forward. Nothing super tricky or weird. They got an estimate for $6800 to replace that panel and I think to run a 2nd 20 amp circuit to the bathroom that I am remodeling.
Does this sound ridiculously high? I would think that no more than $1k in materials, and that's high. And a few grand labor. This is in northern California.

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Unread 10-05-2019, 05:18 PM   #2
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Seems pretty high to me. It's not a quick and easy job, but certainly not $6,800 worth either.

I'd check here. There's bound to be someone there that can help you.
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Unread 10-05-2019, 05:51 PM   #3
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Sounds astronomical. I the last one I did took about 2 hours , start to finish. It was a simple 100 amp box There was no power to the house (we had the line dropped to remove some trees) pretty sure I was well well under $1000.00 in materials
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Unread 10-05-2019, 07:00 PM   #4
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Thanks for the responses. I had forgot that I had worked with another electrician on one of my last jobs and gave him a call. But I told him that the estimate was for $4500 and he said that was still pretty high. He's going to go look at it and give a bid. He thinks, without seeing it, that it would be $3500 or less with permits etc.

It makes me wonder why the other person bid it so high. Of course the first thing that comes to mind is them being crooks. But I know that's not fair.

Here's a question related to this and is what prompted the customer to think about a panel change.
A week or so ago we had a good sized thunder storm roll through. Thunder storms are unusual here in the fall. The customer said they heard a loud boom and their power went out. I guess the whole block went out. Sounds like a pole pig exploded. An hour later there was a crew in the neighborhood making repairs.
Since that happened the man of the house has been getting lightly shocked at certain recepticals in the house. Keep in mind that he is a major stoner and the wife thought maybe he was nuts because she wasn't getting shocked. I went by there yesterday to look at the bathroom and that's when she asked me about the other problem. She said that she had an electrician out earlier in the week and had just gotten the bid.
I did basic test on the receptical and found that it isn't grounded. It's old school metal box and the box isn't connected to ground nor is there a wire flopping around in there.
I told her that was probably the problem and said that it may have never been grounded. Who knows. That's where the stoner comes in to play. Maybe he has always gotten shocked but is just now noticing it??

I think possibly that a power surge could have been just enough to take out what was left of the ground circuit to that outlet? Other outlets in the house appeared to be grounded.

Any thoughts why this one outlet decided to lose its ground?

And finally. Should I tackle this job and put a couple grand in my pocket for a days work? I am thinking no. But it's tempting.
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Unread 10-05-2019, 08:52 PM   #5
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If they're already having problems, I wouldn't mess with it anymore, at least not on that big of a scale. If there are other problems and they appear after you finish, they could blame those on you.

And God forbid there's an electrical fire. You could really be in a mess then.

I'm also wondering if the electric company would even drop the line for anyone other than a licensed electrician.
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Unread 10-05-2019, 10:56 PM   #6
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A ballpark estimate for a service upgrade from 60 to 200 amps around these parts is in the mid 2 grand range.

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Unread 10-06-2019, 10:54 AM   #7
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being a tile guy on a tile forum I would say 52K
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Unread 10-07-2019, 02:47 PM   #8
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I would say a straight up panel change and new breakers to be like 2 grand.

If you need outlets tested throughout the home and troubleshooting missing grounds, and very old wiring, you are looking at MUCH MUCH more. Possible re-wiring the entire home cheaper than fixing a problem.
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Unread 10-07-2019, 03:12 PM   #9
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I did one for myself years ago --- 100 amp upped to 200 amp. I had a helper. Took us one morning to complete the switch. Had the electric company come and take out the meter, did the work and had them back out to inspect and reinstall the meter, all before lunch.

I would never do electrical work for pay. You need a license, and you need a bond and insurance.
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Unread 10-07-2019, 05:45 PM   #10
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Many older houses did not run a ground to the outlets. Some used BX, but over the years, that metal pathway that might have made an okay ground typically corrodes and it's useless. A ground should never have any current on it except in a fault condition.

If the job got involved in updating all of the wiring, $6500 is probably low, but seems quite high for just a panel.

Any new work will require grounds, probably AFCI, and GFCI. I would also closely look at the service ground connection, which is what helps when there's a nearby lightning strike. I would also seriously consider adding a whole house surge suppressor into the panel. There are some new ones that are in the breaker, but maybe cheaper (they're not particularly expensive) will require two open slots in the panel for two dedicated breakers that you then connect the surge suppressor to. Lots of companies make them, but Mersen, a big industrial company not particularly a common name to consumer stuff, makes some that work quite well for a reasonable price. GE, Lutron, and others make them, but it seems Mersen may have more bang for the buck. On a new panel, it can also be wired in ahead of the main breaker. Electronic devices don't always fail with the first spike, but consider their junctions like a tree...the first chop with an ax doesn't fell the tree, but the cumulative effect can be fatal...protect everything by having one in the panel (individual ones on expensive stuff is still also probably a good idea).

A good retrofit for an older home is GFCI protection. That could be done with GFCI breakers, or to find the first location in the chain of receptacles, and replace that one with a GFCI that has a load side (ie., the ability to protect things downstream). That would also allow you to replace all of the then protected receptacles with 3-pin, grounded ones as long as they are labeled "GFCI Protected - No Equipment Ground".

If people are getting a shock, that lightning may have compromised some item(s) in the house that is providing a leak path. It could be dangerous. If you did go the route of replacing all of the circuits with GFCI protected ones, you may find some circuit(s) won't power up. At least you'd have then isolated it.

On older homes, they may have relied on the water supply pipes as ground. While they should be bonded to ground, that is not the same thing as being the ground.

Be especially careful if you cut a water pipe...if a wire is making a connection to it, opening the potentially low-resistance path could energize the remaining pipe. This can also be an issue if they've replaced any of the old metal pipe with something like pex or cpvc piping...the old ground then won't work.
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Unread 10-08-2019, 08:30 AM   #11
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Around me you can use the BX metal jacket as the ground. If it is older than BX, rip it out, it is time to update. I don't see a problem using BX sheath as the ground if it ohms out as grounded. If the home is real old and they used conduit or water pipe as the ground, I would pay the extra 100 bucks or so it would cost to ram grounding spikes in and ground the box to that instead.
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Unread 10-08-2019, 09:49 PM   #12
jadnashua
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The newer BX stuff has an internal bonding wire for grounding...the older stuff relied on the outer casing, which usually fails to be a good ground after awhile.
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