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#82946 - 12/23/02 05:33 PM Were 3 wire subpanels ever acceptable??
sparky Offline

Registered: 10/18/00
Posts: 5545
I come across quite a few subpanels fed via SEU 3 wire here.
I had assumed (key word?) that many older installations that included 2-wire nm followed suit with such a sub-panel feeder.
(in my defense,i was not around...)

The issue comes up from time to time, as to these older subpanels being kosher, my generic answer so far is that if it met the codes at the time , yes.

A little digging here has me wondering about this.....

2523(1956 nec)......

art 250 , "Location of Grounding Connections"

Secondary alternating curent circuits which are grounded shall have a connection to a groundingelectrode at each individual service, except as provided in section 2521.

The connection shall be made on the supply sideof the service disconnecting means.

Each secondary distribution system which is grounded shall have at least one additional connection to a grounding electrode at the transformer or elsewhere.

No connection to a grounding electrode shall be made to a grounded circuit conductor on the load side of the service disconnecting means, except as provided for in section 2524.

~note 2524 appears to be our modern 250.32

what do U think??

2014 / 2011 NEC & Related Books and Study Guides
#82947 - 12/27/02 02:48 PM Re: Were 3 wire subpanels ever acceptable??
HotLine1 Offline


Registered: 04/03/02
Posts: 6792
Loc: Brick, NJ USA
Looks like no one wants to touch this topic.
There are "quite a few" 3 wire sub-panels floating around here in NJ, and we are a stste that has had inspections for a long time.

I can't find any documentation to either support or refute the situation.

In 21 years I know that any sub-panel that we installed was 4 wire for single phase, and five wire for 3 phase/4 wire. It was always "hot/hot/neutral/ground" or"h/h/h/n/g"

Another "old-timer" favorite used to be the "bare" neutral for the service. Never was fond of that either. Kind of goes with the "undersized neutral" school of thought. I have a tough time trying to figure the economics of having 3-500 MCM feeders, and a 250 MCM neutral. Yes, it's great if the majority of the connected load is 3 phase stuff, but why in an office bldg., or a resi complex?? Seems to me that it's more of a pain in the axx to have two sizes of wire.
But, that's my personal humble opinion.

Hey, if you read this soon...Happy New Year, and be safe.

#82948 - 12/28/02 06:26 AM Re: Were 3 wire subpanels ever acceptable??
Tom Offline

Registered: 01/01/01
Posts: 1069
Loc: Shinnston, WV USA
I've seen a bunch of these installations. Most of the time, there aren't any branch circuits with an equipment ground involved being fed from thee panels. These installations are usually 40 or 50 years old & involve branch circuits that are wired in NM cable with no equipment ground.

There is a potential hazard if someone installs a branch circuit that does use an equipment ground, but only if the neutral that feeds this panel gets loose or opens up completely.

I usually recommend that the feeder and/or panel be brought into compliance.
Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.

#82949 - 12/28/02 07:07 AM Re: Were 3 wire subpanels ever acceptable??
triple Offline

Registered: 04/01/02
Posts: 182
Loc: Wisconsin
Three wiring a subpanel to a separate building is code compliant. The separate building can not have any metalic connection to the first building (phone, TV, water, etc.). Also, this second building panel needs its own set of ground rods, along with all equipment grounds, bonded to the neutal. There would be no parallel path since the fourth wire wasn't run. A recommended method of wiring this subpanel is to use a fourth wire, add ground rods, and leave the neutral-to-ground bond unattached. Here again, there would be no parallel path and future changes (that would add metalic paths) are not going to make the electrical installation illegal.

If the subpanel is in the same building then there is no choice. You must use a four wire system and leave out the bond. Additional ground rods are not needed at a subpanel if it is in the same building as the main.

Allot of electricians seem to have a hard time grasping the concept of creating a parallel path. Its actually extremely simple. Think of it more as creating a loop than separate paths. This loop is made up of neutrals (grounded), grounds (grounding), and bonds (grounded to grounding connection). If you can find a complete loop between two points (the main and subpanel in this case) then you have a "parallel path".

#82950 - 12/28/02 09:44 AM Re: Were 3 wire subpanels ever acceptable??
sparky Offline

Registered: 10/18/00
Posts: 5545
yes i (we) realize the provisions of 250.32

John, Tom (et all),
i am trying to trace the time frame here, without much luck.
people always ask if "it's safe", quite realative i know....

perhaps to view similar situations as 'existing' without any 'grounding' conductors , as opposed to the introducion of them would constitute a defining line here?

#82951 - 12/28/02 10:59 AM Re: Were 3 wire subpanels ever acceptable??
Roger Offline

Registered: 05/18/02
Posts: 1779
Loc: N.C.
Sparky, I'm not sure if this was right either.

I don't have the 56 but the 47 seems to say this was not kosher. Take a look at 2557 thru 2561.

2524 seems to be pretty close to 250.32 and the livestock concerns were recongnized even then.


#82952 - 12/28/02 03:50 PM Re: Were 3 wire subpanels ever acceptable??
sparky Offline

Registered: 10/18/00
Posts: 5545
one would think that before 3-conductor building wire that 'gronding' and 'grounded' would not have existed , at least in today's terminology......?

However, my '56 has these two terms in art 100 definitions, very much as present day wordage !

Does your '47 follow suit??

#82953 - 12/28/02 06:27 PM Re: Were 3 wire subpanels ever acceptable??
Roger Offline

Registered: 05/18/02
Posts: 1779
Loc: N.C.
Sparky, the 47 version I have is the hand book by Abbott. The definitions in this book do not cover this, however the 2500 articles are pretty much in line with our modern day 02 version.

Along with the grounding, there are many areas that are pretty much the same.

I'm sure there are many old timers saying to themselves, "what did the young whippersnapper think", we knew the theory before he was a sparkle in his fathers eye.


[This message has been edited by Roger (edited 12-28-2002).]


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