Asked on Jan 12, 2012

Breaker panel with no main breaker

by Michael
Not really a question, mainly reporting something I've never seen before. We purchased this house built in 1970, has a fairly late model looking Siemens 200 amp breaker panel, without a main breaker. Has the knockouts for the main, but when you remove the cover, there's no breaker. I've never seen such in my life. The service cable has been moved at some time from an overhead service, to an underground service. But still wired straight to the buss bars. I know I'll have to have a licensed electrician replace the panel cause the meter is going to have to be pulled. Anyone ever seen this situation before?
  14 answers
  • Ron G Ron G on Jan 12, 2012
    that's not safe- an overload that would trip the main will fry your home without it.
  • Ron G Ron G on Jan 12, 2012
    and yes I have seen this one person told me he did it to avoid the 65.00 for a new one.
  • Paul M Paul M on Jan 12, 2012
    I've seen that once. I thought it was strange then but you can work around it safely if you aren't a klutz. The only way you can overload the whole panel would be to turn everything on in your home at the same time, not very likely. Other than that your individual breakers will keep the box safe. The biggest issue you have is working in there, with no cut off it stays live all the time.
  • Are you sure you do not have a main? There are older split buss panels that use service disconnects to shut off the lighting section which is typically the bottom breakers in panel then has a few other mains to turn off perhaps a stove or another larger electrical device. While its more convenient to have a single main its not uncommon to find these split main panels. The power comes into the panel and powers up the upper half of the panel. The buss bars that are powered up then have breakers fastened to them. One of them then feeds the lower half of the box which is typically found to be the lighting and outlets in the home. The other breakers that serve larger loads are also part of the upper panel. Although convenient to have a single main, these panels are quite common on older homes. A better understanding of perhaps what you have can be found here.
  • Stephen Stephen on Jan 12, 2012
    If you have a meter with a main disconnect / breaker mounted on the exterior of the house then the main panel inside does not require a breaker. Most 200 amp breaker panels which do not have a meter mount can be wired with or without a main breaker.
  • Michael Michael on Jan 12, 2012
    Thanks for all the replies. Very informative article link from Wodbridge Environmental, Thanks. I haven't found a dis-connect anywhere in the entrance from the meter, got one of those new fancy computer controlled meters too. The split buss panel is basically what I have, except mine, the smaller 15 and 20 amp circuits, are closest to the entrance. They are supplying power to the 220 circuits. Hopefully my electrician can figure it out, and just add a main breaker without having to replace the entire panel. It's a nice panel.
  • A main disconnect can be added. Its a matter of just installing it next to the panel that you currently have and run the feed wires from the meter into it then to the existing panel where they are currently connected. This will run you around $400 all said and done. Assuming you have room to fit this main disconnect box into place.
  • LandlightS LandlightS on Jan 13, 2012
    It is best to wire the new disconnect next to or below the meter so the fire department can disconnect the powe to the hose case of a fire....instead of having to go into a house on fire. I even think the code either reflects this or will in the near future. Here's a link from that tells/shows you how to do it Good luck
  • LandlightS LandlightS on Jan 13, 2012
    PS: what you currently have is a "convertible" panel. Can be used with or without a main.
  • There are additional code rules when adding a disconnect between the meter and a panel. Best to hire an electrician who knows these rules. If this is a convertible panel then a main breaker can be added without additional issues. The meter will need to be pulled so, again, hire a licensed electrician if not just for your own safety. On a split buss panel the rule is that there can be no more than 6 switching motions to turn off everything, If that is your case then it is a good installation and nothing needs to be done. If one breaker shuts down 8 breakers on another part of the panel, that counts as one of the switching motions. So, that plus 5 more breaker switching motions would be the maximum allowed by code. If there are twin breakers in the main section they would count as 2 even if you CAN turn them off in one motion.
  • Michael Michael on Jan 17, 2012
    Thanks to everyone again. It might be a bit of overkill, but I'm going to have a new panel with main, and an outside disconnect installed. Electric company is seeing if they can put the outside disconnect on it for no charge. I'm not holding my breath, but that would be neighborly if they would.
  • LandlightS LandlightS on Jan 17, 2012
    Assuming you are with an EMC, there is a good chance they will upgrade the outdoor service at NC.... Good luck
  • Michael Michael on Jan 19, 2012
    Yep, gotta love your local EMC.
  • Jay Jay on Jun 20, 2013
    I have a 1978 Square D 200-amp panel with a "Lighting Main" breaker at the top of the left vertical row of breakers. Then there are separate 220 breakers for the range, furnace and water heater. There's no outside main shut off. I'm installing a new 20-amp breaker for a re-located refrigerator. How can I shut off power to the panel? I ran a new circuit a couple years ago for my OTR microwave and just shut off all breakers and thought that would shut off all the power. Fortunately didn't have any problem.