Do you need to install a sub panel in your basement to handle the new circuits you will be adding to the house? Well that’s a loaded question…and it all depends! Depends on what Mr. Ed you ask? Well…whether or not your existing panel box (load center) has the capacity to handle the additional electric the new finished basement area will need. In other words… is there enough available breaker space inside your existing panel box to accommodate the additional breakers you are going to need to add for the project?
Sub panel needed for my Basement?
Most newer homes have the breaker box capacity to handle the new finished basements electric needs. Newer homes have a 200 Amp service and modern larger Panel box with extra breaker space inside.
The following are the breakers you will need to finish a average basement project
- 2 regular outlet circuit (20 amp breaker)
- 2 GFI protected circuits (20 breaker(s)
- 2 lighting circuits (15 amp breakers)
- 1 Optional electric heat circuit (“double” 20 amp breaker takes up 2 spaces in panel)
That’s a total of 7 breaker spaces on average that you will need available inside your panel box to handle the new basements electric needs. So all you need to do is open up your panel box and count the unused breaker spaces inside. If you got 7 or more your golden, if not…it could mean SUB PANEL TIME!
Now let’s say you only have 4 unused breaker spaces left, what you could do is use what’s called “space saver” breakers. These are a beautiful thing because they act as two breakers but only require the “space” of one regular breaker! Which means you can sort-ofcheat your panel box a little.
These Space saver breakers only need the place of regular 15 amp or 20 amp breaker, So they will only work for your outlet and lighting circuits. I make it a rule not to use more that 2 space saver breakers on my jobs and that
means just 1 space saver 15 amp breaker and 1 space saver 20 amp breaker. This is the same as having two 15 amp and two 20 amp regular breakers. This gives me 2 fully functional individual 15 or 20 amp breakers in the space of 1 regular breaker. It’s a pretty cool 2 for 1 “rabbit out of the hat” trick! Hopefully you don’t even need to use these space saver breakers. But it’s nice to know that you do have some limited options if your panel box is a little cramped, but keep this down to just 2 space saver breakers total in your panel box.
Now if you only have say 2 spaces available or zero spaces available (a totally full box) your going to most likely need a sub panel boxinstalled for your basement project. This project is BEST left to a professional licensed electrician because it involves more than just adding new breakers. This is a complete new “service” panel box for the basement and the electric techniques you need to pull this job-off are a little to advanced for the average homeowner.
What is a Sub-panel box anyways?
A sub-panel in simple terms is just an “extension” of your homes existing main panel box. The sub-panel simply is another box that receives all it’s power fro the main panel box, and it gives you additional breakers to use for your home…period. Generally there is space for between 6 to 12 additional breaker for your home inside the sub-panel box. Most sub-panels have no “Main Breaker” inside them because the breaker that shut’s the sub-panel off is normally installed inside your existing panel box. It is controlled usually by a 100 amp “Breaker” that is added inside your homes existing panel box during the sub-panel project. So…you can turn off the power to the basement sub-panel anytime by simply turning the 100 amp breaker “off” inside the main panel box. This make it convenient to work inside your sub-panel box after it is installed without the risk of getting shocked!
What will it cost to install a sub-panel?
I spend between on average $400.00 to $550.00 to get this job completed. That includes the labor and all of the materials to install 1 complete sub-panel in the basement, work completed by an outside electric subcontractor.
Where should my sub-panel be located?
Normal placement of your new sub-panel will be down in the basement directly beside the existing electric panel. This just makes sense because you connecting the sub-panel directly into the existing panel. And, the shorter distance between the two panel means a cheaper installation!
What if my panel box in not located in my basement?
If your panel box is not in the basement and let’s say it is in your garage(typical in some homes) the new sub panel will still be installed in the basement. The electrician will just have to run the “Main” electric line from the garage down into the basement to the new sub panel location. This costs a little more because the materials cost more and there is a few more hours of labor to get-er-done. This add about $150 to $200.00 to the sub-panel project. But this way your new sub-panel is downstairs. This makes it easier for you to run all of your new “home-run” wires for outlets, lighting, heating, etc to the new panel box, instead of having to run them all the way out to the garage! This is less expensive and faster for you to get your end of the electric finished.
Since I’m recommending you do not install your own sub-panel this is all you really need to know about this subject.
The # 1 thing you need to remember when working with the sub-panel is: Turn it off at the main panel box BEFORE you begin connecting your new outlet, lighting, etc. home-run wires to the new breakers.
Let your electrician know roughly what all you intend to install electric wise in the basement (# of outlets, # of light fixtures, electric heat, kitchen appliances, etc.). This way he knows what size sub-panel should installed and what breakers he needs to have pre-installed inside the sub-panel for you.
I hope this answers the majority of any sub-panel question that might be keeping you a wake at night! Good luck with this project if you need to the sub-panel.
Good luck with your sub-panel project if you need to install one. I’m always here if you have any questions about your basement project!