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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    Posts
    9

    Default Undersized Meter Base

    Hi all, new member here. I have a really dumb question.

    Bought a house and the inspection report says "Undersize Meter Base". It's an AS-IS purchase so I have to find a way to fix it.

    First I would like to know exactly what this means. I spoke to the inspector and also Googled this term and my understanding is let's say my electric service is 200A, then all the breakers in my panel cannot add up to more than 200A correct? I understand not all circuits may be used at one time, but conceivable you could have all the lights on, frige running, dishwasher running, AC running, water heater, washing machine, dryer, pool pump, sprinklers pump, fans etc etc etc all at the same time right?

    Or is it based on what's connected to each circuit and how much Amps are being used?

    What is the best way to decide "HOW MUCH" undersized it is?

    Now, assume that it is undersized what are my options? The inspector says I need to hire an electrician to fix this. I can do that.

    My concerns are, this seems like a fairly serious issue to correct, and for it to have happened, it must mean the previous owner had done some unpermitted work. Would this correction require just work by an electrician or also require permit to make this correction? Would this also require the electric company to increase the service level?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Location
    Houston, TX
    Posts
    235

    Default Re: Undersized Meter Base

    Quote Originally Posted by bubba View Post

    First I would like to know exactly what this means. I spoke to the inspector and also Googled this term and my understanding is let's say my electric service is 200A, then all the breakers in my panel cannot add up to more than 200A correct? I understand not all circuits may be used at one time, but conceivable you could have all the lights on, frige running, dishwasher running, AC running, water heater, washing machine, dryer, pool pump, sprinklers pump, fans etc etc etc all at the same time right?
    There are many dumb questions, yours is NOT one of them. The sum of the amps of your breakers can add up to more than 200a, don't think twice about it. Normal homeowners will likely not push that 200a limit, though there are always exceptions.

    As for the "undersized meter base" wait patiently for Maurice or one of the other pros to chime in, or just email the inspector and ask what he means.
    It's this old house, not this built after your dad was born house.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    SoCal
    Posts
    5,081

    Default Re: Undersized Meter Base

    "Meter base" refers to how many amps can flow through the meter, supplied by your local power company. Main Panel size is different.

    Example: if your meter base is 100A and your panel is 200A - you have an undersized meter base. Sometimes homeowners upgrade from 100A to 200A, but they don't replace the cables from the pole to the house - dangerous condition.

    In my city, a homeowner can't replace a main panel by himself. Only a licensed electrician can, for that particular reason and other reasons.

    In your case, I would guess that the previous owner did things on his own without the power company's knowledge. As you know, power supply and power usage are very regulated and monitored in this country, which is a very good thing. Go to other countries, and you see squatters tap onto electric poles, creating all kinds of hazards.

    Call a licensed electrician.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Northern Virginia
    Posts
    140

    Default Re: Undersized Meter Base

    Buying a house "as is" doesn't mean take it or leave it . . . it means seller won't do fixes, but the buyer can negotiate the price to reflect the needed fixes. If you determine your offer represents "average condition" and the report comes back "below average", you can negotiate a discount. Like a car, it is usually sold "as is" but the price reflects physical condition like dings, scratches and other damage.

    I don't know what meter base is, but it sounds from dj1's description the supply line may be undersized for the panel if the main breaker can pass more power than the supply line capacity.

    When I lived in Silicon Valley, my utility PG&E required customers to pay for upgrading the supply line . . . I thought it was $2,000 to changeout a 100a panel to 200a panel, but the electrician said PG&E said "their" supply cable needed to be upgraded to provide 200a service. How much ?? depends, if overhead it may be reasonable. But my house connection (1973) was underground cable so trenching was required. I said forget it, too much without asking. . . 3 years later, my neighbor trenched when he upgraded service (he had a mini-server room in his house) although I didn't know the final cost.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Tennessee
    Posts
    1,381

    Default Re: Undersized Meter Base

    Before you call an electrician, I would call the local power company. It may not be a problem. If it is a problem, then it could be a much larger problem than just the meter base.

    To get more power to a home, its not just the power distribution panel (circuit breaker panel) that has to be upgraded. The wires from the transformer to the meter base and the wires from the meter bast to the distribution panel also have to be sized for the new load. The transformer itself also may have to be replaced with a larger capacity transformer and that is where you may meet with some resistance from the power company.

    The meter base may be undersized compared to the distribution panel, but it may be properly sized for the load the house draws. It is possible that a 200 amp distribution panel was installed either because local codes required it or the previous owner or his/her electrician wanted to add more circuits and needed the extra slots for additional breakers. Just because you have more circuits and breakers, does not mean that you use more electricity.

    If your house has a gas heater, gas stove and a gas water heater, your load is much lower than average so your meter base may well be perfectly adequate, unless you are running an indoor pot farm. Electric water heaters and electric stoves are the really big electricity hogs for most houses, electric heat really loads the system.

    Your utility company can access the usage records for this house and determine if the meter base is actually undersized.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Columbiana, Alabama
    Posts
    623

    Default Re: Undersized Meter Base

    Quote Originally Posted by bubba View Post
    Hi all, new member here. I have a really dumb question.

    Bought a house and the inspection report says "Undersize Meter Base". It's an AS-IS purchase so I have to find a way to fix it.

    First I would like to know exactly what this means. I spoke to the inspector and also Googled this term and my understanding is let's say my electric service is 200A, then all the breakers in my panel cannot add up to more than 200A correct? I understand not all circuits may be used at one time, but conceivable you could have all the lights on, frige running, dishwasher running, AC running, water heater, washing machine, dryer, pool pump, sprinklers pump, fans etc etc etc all at the same time right?

    Or is it based on what's connected to each circuit and how much Amps are being used?

    What is the best way to decide "HOW MUCH" undersized it is?

    Now, assume that it is undersized what are my options? The inspector says I need to hire an electrician to fix this. I can do that.

    My concerns are, this seems like a fairly serious issue to correct, and for it to have happened, it must mean the previous owner had done some unpermitted work. Would this correction require just work by an electrician or also require permit to make this correction? Would this also require the electric company to increase the service level?
    Hi Bubba, nowdays a 200A meterbase is normal, 60A is usually too small, 100A may be fine if the loads are mostly gas or kero (and it's the smallest meter most utilities will provide), and 400A (320A continuous) is considered large, unless you have total electric and two heat pumps, a total house tankless water heater etc.

    The calculated load is the only way to determine if what you have is too small.
    Measure the outside dimensions of each level in your house, add them together and multiply the sum by 3. That will be the Calculated watts for lights and receptacles. Divide that number by 240 to get the amps.

    Next a rough guess would be to add the amps for the range (21A typ), heat pump (25A typ), emergency heat strips (if you have them 42A typ ), water heater (19A typ). This will get you in the ballpark because there are deductions.

    To get more precise numbers go around and read the nameplates. Only use the largest number (heat or air conditioning), unless you run both of them together

    Utilities say a typical home uses an average of 18A. Of course, if it's Thanksgiving and every things going it's a lot more than that.

    If your close to your service size you should get an electrician involved. A service upgrade will cost anywhere from $1500 to $4000 depending on how many panels need to be replaced, type of construction, geography, permit fees and local rules.
    Good Luck from Columbiana, Alabama
    Maurice Turgeon, Hidden Content

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    Posts
    9

    Default Re: Undersized Meter Base

    Thanks for the replies so far. Looks like there are several variables here.

    The actual service level I am getting; The panel; The load. I definitely will need an electrician to help resolve this, I just need some help here to determine if there is a problem. When I called the inspector to get an explanation, he basically told me the breakers add up to more than what's "allowed" and that's what he meant...when I asked for clarification he refers me back to the report which is again a one liner "undersized meter base needs to be corrected".

    Is there a way to tell if what I have is OK?

    Here is a picture of the meter on the outside. The line comes in from underground via a metal conduit probably 2.5" in diameter. The meter says "CL 200 240V 3W FM2S" if it means anything.




    On the inside, there is a narrow box in the middle where the line comes in, and two main panels, a left panel "A" and a right panel "B".



    If I remove the middle cover I can see the lines fed into the panels A and B.



    The left side panel "A". Three really thick cables comes in. The main breakers are a set of four breakers each labeled 200A.



    The same thing on the right side panel "B". Three cables to the right panel and 4 main breakers 200A each.



    Don't know if this help any?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    Posts
    9

    Default Re: Undersized Meter Base

    Strange...I posted a lengthy reply last night with some pictures to get additional clarification and I got a message that post had to be reviewed by a moderator. But now I posted a reply and it came straight through. Are posts with pictures require moderating? I am wondering if my followup post got lost or not.
    Last edited by bubba; 06-25-2013 at 10:53 AM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Columbiana, Alabama
    Posts
    623

    Default Re: Undersized Meter Base

    Quote Originally Posted by bubba View Post
    Strange...I posted a lengthy reply last night with some pictures to get additional clarification and I got a message that post had to be reviewed by a moderator. But now I posted a reply and it came straight through. Are posts with pictures require moderating? I am wondering if my followup post got lost or not.
    Yes a new member may not post pictures etc.

    Check what permissions you've been granted below. Sorry.
    Good Luck from Columbiana, Alabama
    Maurice Turgeon, Hidden Content

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Location
    Fayette County, Ohio
    Posts
    5,557

    Default Re: Undersized Meter Base

    It appears new members can now post pictures and links, they just need to be approved. I get to them as fast as I can.

    Jack
    Be sure you live your life, because you are a long time dead.-Scottish Proverb

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