What limits the electrical service ampacity & service voltage entering a building?
What are the Limiting Factors That Determine the Electrical Capacity or Size at a Building?
POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how to find the component that sets the limit on maximum electrical service amperage or capacity at a building
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What determines the actual limits of available amperage at a residential property? Residential Electrical Service Amps Limitations: This article explains the Limiting Factors that determine the electrical capacity (amps) or size at a building.
We describe five components to examine, the risks or shortcomings of relying on each of these individually to estimate the service amperage at a property, and how the service ampacity at a property is set by the lowest-capacity item among the five things we examine.
One of the most frequently asked questions at ASHI Education Seminars and Conferences is "How do I determine the service amperage?" This article series includes photographs and sketches that illustrate different ages and capacities of residential electrical panels, meter bases, and electric meters.
We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.
LIMITING FACTOR sets AMPS - Checking the Electrical Service amperage - what is the limiting factor?
The safe and proper service amperage available at a property is set by the smallest of: the service conductors, the main disconnect fuse
or switch, or the rated capacity of the electric panel itself. The inspector should consider all three of these and report any
inconsistencies among them.
The main fuse/ circuit breaker (CB) is the only component which actively limits amperage at a property by shutting off loads
drawing more than the main fuse rating. (Undersized conductors or service panels, if switched by a mismatched and oversized fuse
or breaker, will permit more current to flow than their design intended, and can then overheat causing a risk of fire.)
Readers should also be sure to see AMPACITY - the LIMITING FACTOR. This article series explains how to estimate the electrical service size, (or "electrical power" or "service amps") at a building by visual examination of the
service entry cables, electric meter and meter base, electrical service panel, main switch, and other details. One of the most frequently asked basic electrical questions is "How do I determine the service amperage?"
The main breakers or fuses are permitted to be smaller (have lower overcurrent protection) than the capability of the service equipment
(panel) and conductors (entrance cable). For example, a 2AWG copper service conductor (rated for 125 Amps, or in Canada for 120 Amps)
to a panel using a 100-Amp main (service disconnect) is not a defect.["Residential Electrical Inspection," Douglas
Hansen, ITA class material, Ver. 6.1 Oct. 1991, Los Altos, CA] You may want to point out to your client that such a service can be upgraded
to higher amperage simply by installing larger main fuses/breakers.
Note that the main disconnect may be a fuse, breaker, or switch which is physically separate from the distribution panel. This is more common
in older equipment installations and in very large commercial high-amperage installations.
Watch out: for a new higher amps-rated electrical panel connected to old, smaller-capacity service entry cables. A common defect found in upgrades of older equipment is the installation of a new 100-Amp panel and main breaker while failing to replace the
old 60-amp service entry cables. This is either incomplete work or work by an untrained person.
Keep in mind that by service entry cables
we're referring to the cables from the mast head (point of attachment of overhead wires to the building) down to the meter and from meter
into the main switch or panel. Overhead wires, being cooled by open air, may be of a smaller diameter determined to be safe by the utility
company for open air use.
Electrical Services providing less than 100 Amps are found in older properties but for a detached single-family dwelling these are considered obsolete
and are a financing issue with some US lenders.[NOTE: NEC-230-42(b,1) and some FHA, VA, and private Banks in some states.]
Electrical services of 60
Amp capacity are still allowed in at least some Canadian areas and in the US for loads such as individual apartments. Inspectors should
not write up 60-Amp services as a defect without first checking these points. In cabins or similar vacation structures in the U.S. and Canada,
and in buildings in some other countries such as Mexico, much smaller amperage services are often brought into the building.
Home Inspectors should make clear to all parties that generally, electrical defects are unsafe conditions, can be quite dangerous, and deserve
One exception: an undersized service, if it is properly fused, will be inconvenient but is not itself inherently unsafe. For
such systems the safety and fire risks come more often from the temptation of frustrated owners to subvert or bypass the safety devices the
classic "penny in the fuse base" problem.
AMPACITY - the LIMITING FACTOR - Summary: What is the limiting factor that determines the actual electrical service ampacity at a building?
Remember you're looking for the limiting factor in determining
ampacity. Finding the electrical component in this list which has the smallest capacity means that you have found the "weak link in the chain"
of components bringing electrical service to the building.
Particularly when inspecting older properties, where there is the chance that someone has
upgraded some but not all of the components in this list, there may be an inconsistency such as the installation of a larger electrical panel without
upgrading the main disconnect.
Electrical service entry cable or "SEC" size and amperage rating (we do not generally consider the overhead or service lateral wiring)
Electric meter (questionable but may assist, especially if the item's generation, age, and obsolescence can be determined)
Electric meter base (questionable but may assist, especially if the item's generation, age, and obsolescence can be determined)
Main electrical power switch fuse/circuit breaker ampacity
Electrical panel rated ampacity (and bus design may support only 120V)
Inspectors attempting to determine (or estimate) the ampacity of the electrical service at a building should report their
If conditions limit your inspection, such as in the photo at left, you can't identify the capacity of all the components described
in the text above. In that case you should report which determining components were or were not visible or identifiable.
We don't hesitate to tell our clients what the electrical service size (ampacity) appears to be from what we could see . But we make quite clear the difference between what we know and what we think.
The articles from which much of this online material originated
appeared first in the ASHI Technical Journal, Vol. 2. No. 1, January 1992, "Determining Service Ampacity," Dan Friedman and Alan Carson,
and the ASHI Technical Journal, Vol. 3. No. 1, Spring, 1993, "Determining Service Ampacity - Another Consideration," Robert L. Klewitz, P.E.,
with subsequent updates and additions to the original text ongoing to 2/19/2006. Reprints of the originals and reprints of the Journal are available from ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors www.ashi.com
Articles on Determination of Ampacity & Voltage at Building Electrical Services
The Original Authors: Alan Carson is an ASHI Member, national home inspection educator, author and building failures researcher in Toronto, Ontario.
Daniel Friedman, an original author of this article and the editor and producer of InspectAPedia where this article now appears is an ASHI Member, first ASHI Technical Committee chairman, editor and publisher of the ASHI Technical Journal, licensed home inspector, educator, and building failures researcher in Poughkeepsie, NY.
Robert Klewitz is a licensed professional engineer, a professional home inspector, an ASHI Member, and has served on the ASHI Technical Committee as well as in other ASHI activities. His practice is in Issaquah, WA.
ASHI Technical Journal, Vol. 2. No. 1, January 1992, "Determining Service Ampacity," Dan Friedman and Alan Carson,
ASHI Technical Journal, Vol. 3. No. 1, Spring, 1993, "Determining Service Ampacity - Another Consideration," Robert L. Klewitz, P.E.,
with subsequent updates and additions to the original text ongoing to 2/19/2006. Reprints of the originals and reprints of the Journal are available from ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors www.ashi.com.
Recommended books on electrical inspection, electrical wiring, electrical problem diagnosis, and electrical repair can be found in the Electrical Books section of the InspectAPedia Bookstore. (courtesy of Amazon.com)
"Electrical Systems," A Training Manual for Home Inspectors, Alfred L. Alk, American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), 1987, available from ASHI. [DF NOTE: I do NOT recommend this obsolete publication, though it was cited in the original Journal article as it contains unsafe inaccuracies]
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
TECHNICAL REFERENCE GUIDE to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment, useful for determining the age of heating boilers, furnaces, water heaters is provided by Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto - Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on these courses: Enter INSPECTAHITP in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
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