Electrical panel low headroom

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Posted by: from Burlington
1/20/2017 at 12:08:17 AM

We bought our home in Burlington last summer and we did in fact have a home inspector go through it. We are not looking at having some electrical work done such as adding lights in rooms with only switched plugs and also some potlights installed.

The electrical contractor who came to give an estimate said tow things and I would like a second opionion from you pros here please.

1. he said that he could not just add a light to each room from the existing switch because something about the circuits will likely be maxed out for devices? Something about 12 things on a circuit and adding a light to it will be 13 which is against code so he has to install an entire new circuit. Is this correct?

2. he mentioned that our panel, which is new breaker siemens type located under our crawl space has not enough headroom to meet code and that the inspector may or may not ask that it be moved. Can the inspector enforce this on us? The crawl space headroom max is 5 feet so we do have to crouch over to access the panel. The thing is that this panel was there when we bought it and the home inspector mentioned nothing about it. We called the ESA to see if a permit was issued for the new panel and they said that they could only go back two years to see if a permit was issued.

Please advise and thank you.

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Date/Time1/20/2017 at 1:16:59 AM

1. You can only have 12 devices on 15AMP breaker.

2. He's also right about headroom, it's very important for new installations, 99% inspector will not ask to move it since it's existing.

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Date/Time1/20/2017 at 10:15:04 AM

Hi I'm a general contractor not an electrician. However I've been in the business 30 years and I do know that the electrician is correct when saying 12 plugs lights or switches to one circuit. Concerning your new panel location I know there's a code for basements of 7 foot 1 for height. I recommend you call your local municipality and ask them about their requirements for the location of that panel in the crawl space. In some areas it will be fine because it was existing. Sounds like your electrician knows what he's talking about.

Jeff Shea from All In Renovations

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Date/Time1/20/2017 at 11:49:22 AM

Your electrician gave you solid advice.

I've have told you pretty much the same thing.

Kevin Payne, Alberta Master Electrician

Owner, Payneless Electric Ltd

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Robert from ElecTriLight Ltd. in Oakville
Date/Time1/20/2017 at 4:28:30 PM

Hello Joan,

If the electrical contractor is registered with the ESA and has provided you with his business card and his ESA number attached with that, you can be assured he is a licensed contractor and should know his rules to provide you with a good sense of honest estimate of the work you require. I have recently renovated a home where the homeowner built a wall (completely painted and trimmed with crown molding) 30" in front of the electrical panel with no opening except for a crawlspace entry and walking sideways through this narrow opening he considered "panel access". I laughed and told him "had it been 39" it would have been legal" BUT where there was no clear access and considered a crawl space he would have to at least add doors in front of the electrical panel to allow access. The CEC stipulates that electrical panels are not allowed in crawl spaces which is what your case is so 100% certain if you have a new panel installed it was not done by a licensed electrical contractor and should be repaired asap, your home inspector is not an electrician and would not know that unless he has been exposed to that question before. So, the ESA can be called in to assess the installation and advise you the best way to repair it. Legally YOU are responsible for the safety of any one who has to work in your home and electrical panels require 39" clear access directly in front and sure footing while standing in front of it. So if a 6' man cannot do so, he could not work safely. The best thing would be to relocate the panel to a safe environment where you or anyone else wont be in harms way using the panel. Id be more concerned about the handyman who installed the panel and if it is done safely, someone could get a serious shock if not.

For the loading of your lighting, he could physically count everything on the circuit and yes code stipulates 12 outlets (a light or receptacle) a switch is not in that count as it does not add a LOAD to the circuit. He could surely find a local supply that would allow an extra light or two. If the original wiring had a switched plug, normally there would be fewer than 12 items on that fuse to allow for a 200 watt lamp to be plugged in, in saying that, normally we must allow 300 watts for a ceiling fixture, so that could cause trouble. If you have aluminum wiring in the home, then DO NOT add any new items to that circuit, run new wires.

Call ESA and ask one of the inspectors to come in and talk to you.

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Joan in Burlington
Date/Time1/20/2017 at 4:56:46 PM

Hello Robert,

Thank you for this lengthy and detailed reply. How can the ESA enforce such a thing. The original panel was installed in this place and was likely upgraded to breakers (siemans brand) probably 5-10 years ago. How can the ESA who is inspecting other new work say "you have to move the panel"? This does not seem right.

In regards to calling ESA to have someone take a look... they want me to pay $150 just to have them come to my house.

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Robert from ElecTriLight Ltd. in Oakville
Date/Time1/20/2017 at 5:25:47 PM

I can pretty well guarantee you that the person who upgraded the panel did so illegally and without a permit and likely not to code.

The ESA cannot "force" you to fix it (unless it is a hazard to you or the building then they can get the hydro disconnected if you don't comply), but they can advise you to make it safe for various reasons. The ESA are not trying to cause people grief, they are there for the safety of electrical systems, the buildings and the occupants. The $150 is for admin fee and his call-out time. Well worth the investment if you plan on living in the home or renting it, (if you rent and someone else gets hurt, you're held accountable). Soo many house fires and electrocutions that happen daily, and most can be prevented. $150 is pretty cheap investment for a $500,000-$1M home. And honestly, resale is the next issue, had you got an ESA inspection prior to the purchase, you would have been well informed about these issues, so the same could happen next time, except you will be the seller with a home that is failing an electrically safe standard, so I think I would rather live in it, or own it, knowing it is to code and safe than worrying for the next years ahead.

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Date/Time1/20/2017 at 6:05:53 PM

Hello Joan,

Here is a couple of direct quotes from the rules to substantiate what others have said.

8-304 Maximum number of outlets per circuit

(1) There shall be not more than 12 outlets on any 2-wire branch circuit, except as permitted by other Rules of this Code.

(2) Such outlets shall be considered to be rated at not less than 1 A per outlet, except as permitted by Subrule (3).

(3) Where the connected load is known, the number of outlets shall be permitted to exceed 12, provided that the load current does not exceed 80% of the rating of the overcurrent device protecting the circuit.

(4) Where fixed multi-outlet assemblies are used, each 1.5 m or fraction thereof of each separate and continuous length shall be counted as one outlet, but in locations where a number of electrical appliances are likely to be used simultaneously, each 300 mm or fraction thereof shall be counted as one outlet.

So in general the rule is called the '12-device rule' and unless you know what the exact load is this limits you to adding more devices; in your case an additional light. The opposite is also true, if you know that the addition will be more than 1 amp, then you cannot add it to the circuit and must run a new circuit to it.

6-206 Consumer's service equipment location (see Appendices B and G)

(1) Service boxes or other consumer's service equipment shall be

(a) installed in a location that complies with the requirements of the supply authority;

(b) readily accessible or have the means of operation readily accessible; and

(c) except as provided by Subrule (3), placed within the building being served as close as practicable to the point where the consumer's service conductors enter the building and not be located in

(i) coal bins, clothes closets, bathrooms, and stairways;

(ii) rooms where the ambient temperature exceeds 30 'C under normal conditions;

(iii) dangerous or hazardous locations;

(iv) locations where the headroom clearance is less than 2 m; or

(v) in any similar undesirable places.

Items 2 and 3 omitted.

In this case it states that there must be 2m (~6.5') of headroom for a consumer service. Having said that, the electrical code does not reach backward and force compliance like many other codes. These types of installations are referred to as 'existing, non-conforming'. There are two times (generally) when the inspector would enforce a 'new code' on an old installation, that being where there is a risk of shock or fire or when the installation is being replaced. In your case, unless there was a shock or fire risk, replacing a panel with a space with little headroom is not a concern to them.


John Kuehnl-Cadwell

Master Electrician

Datawise Solutions Inc

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Luc from T&T Renovations in Embrun
Date/Time1/21/2017 at 8:27:06 AM

Good morning,

Your first question, the contractor was right when he said you cannot have more than 12 outlets per cicuit. You can cancel one or both of your switched plugs and install a light in center of room instead. Your plug should have a triple wire, one going to your swith, remove that power and replace the plug with a new plug without tab broken off.

As for your panel, as per code you can no longer install a panel in a restricted area. The top of the panel needs to be at least 65 " from the floor.

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Joan in Burlington
Date/Time1/21/2017 at 8:32:13 AM

Good morning Luc,

I asked the electrician if he could just eliminate the plug because I do not use it and he said no, a certain amount of plugs per wall space is needed. He cannot just eliminate the plug and install a box for the light.

Is the electrician correct or does this switch plug count as 2 items?

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Robert from ElecTriLight Ltd. in Oakville
Date/Time1/21/2017 at 10:09:41 AM

It counts as one "duplex" outlet, which is required every 10-12 linear feet of wall space. Just because you don't want it, doesn't allow us to remove it. The home could belong to someone else someday and the minimum code requires it. Older codes required fewer outlets, but it must stay installed.

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