Water inside breaker box?

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louder

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I recently noticed some rust in the bottom of my breaker box in the basement. I cleaned it up, and figured it was due to age or dampness.
The other day I noticed some rust tracking on the main breaker. I removed the front panel, wiped everything down, but couldn't tell where its coming from.
Yesterday it poured for about an hour, so i went down there to see if I could spot any leaks, but didn't see a thing. This morning, long after the rain stopped, the box is wet, and its dripping steady from the inside of the gray service cable.
I pulled the meter, removed the wet breakers, blow dried everything real well and gave a good look at where the water is coming from.
The cable going in the top is sealed, both with a gland nut and a ton of putty. The bottom of the meter box is also wet and rusty.
There's no seal around the meter itself and nothing around the side of the cover. It sits out in the open on the wall. I see no way for water that gets in around the meter to get out the bottom other than filtering through the wire casing or when it fills up and runs out around the meter. When I pulled the cover, there was a half cup or so of water sitting in the bottom of the box.
I asked if I could put some foam around the meter and they said no, There's a good 3" of casing intact on the wire at the bottom, for it to run into the cable it would need to be at least that high in the box before submerging the open end of the cable. My guess is rain is getting in around the meter and following the cable into my box inside.
Any ideas?
 

Sparky617

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Does your entrance cable come in from overhead lines? Typically, cables are run with a "drip loop" on them to cause the water that follows the line to drop off before following it into the box. Can you provide some pictures of your set up? Pictures can really help answer some of our questions and solutions.
 

Eddie_T

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I think I would add a drain to the box until the utility gets interested in addressing the problem.
 

louder

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There are three wires that come across from the pole across the street, to a gray service cable that runs down the side of my house to the meter box, then another length of the same cable runs from the bottom of the meter box into the house a few feet below and down into my breaker panel in the basement. There's a drop loop up top but that wire doesn't connect directly to the lower wire, it terminates at the meter lugs. Water gets in both around the meter, which has no gasket and around the edges of the door which also have no gasket. The house was built in the 70's and the set up is likely original.
I can see that the water is running out of the cable itself, not around it. Its getting into the insulation and following the wires into the main panel. When it rains, the box fills up to the bottom of the meter, it collects more water than it can drain out around the front panel and cable clamp at the bottom.

Common sense would say there should be a seal or gasket around the meter panel itself where it meets the glass meter but there's nothing, just an 1/8" or so gap.
Two things will stop it, first is seal off the ring around the meter, and second, seal up the cable end inside the meter so water can't get in. They won't allow me to do either.

They tell me the meter and box are mine, they own up the lines from the pole and the security tag on the meter.

When I called the electric company they told me I need a new meter box, and that it was my responsibility not theirs. They said I have to have an electrician do the work after calling for a disconnect. I asked how long after its changed will they come back and reconnect it, I was told 14 to 28 days after its inspected. I was told once its done, the inspector has 5 business days to do the inspection.
I called a few electricians and was told $5k to change the meter box, not counting materials and permit fees and to figure on $6500 to $8k to replace the wires in and out of the box as well. They
quoted me $235 for the meter box, and $300 to $390 for the wire, plug two new ground rods and ground wire for $110. plus $300 - $350 for other hardware, like the cap on the cable, the fittings on the box, and AntiOx grease for the wires.
When I priced the parts I got about $200 total in parts and that was buying them at the local big box store. I called to see if I could buy the parts myself and was told they only install what they sell.
After a few estimates like that I decided the only way to do it and not get ripped off is to just do it myself.
 

Sparky617

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You may not be able to do the work yourself. In my town I can do electrical work with a permit and get inspections. In nearby Durham I can't without taking a test, not sure what the test entails though. Messing with a meter and the mast for the power company to run a new drop isn't quite like running a new outlet. Nor is running the entrance cable between your meter base and your panel.

I trained to be an electrician and feel pretty comfortable in a panel box, and just in the past month I've run two new circuits a 50 amp car charger and 100 amp basement sub panel on my house. Both passed inspection. I had to work around hot bus bars on my main panel under my meter, I took precautions to make sure nothing was going to come in contact with them as I was bringing in the service cables. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone that isn't knowledgeable and very handy. The chance of getting seriously hurt is pretty high.
 

kok328

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I recently noticed some rust in the bottom of my breaker box in the basement. I cleaned it up, and figured it was due to age or dampness.
The other day I noticed some rust tracking on the main breaker. I removed the front panel, wiped everything down, but couldn't tell where its coming from.
Yesterday it poured for about an hour, so i went down there to see if I could spot any leaks, but didn't see a thing. This morning, long after the rain stopped, the box is wet, and its dripping steady from the inside of the gray service cable.
I pulled the meter, removed the wet breakers, blow dried everything real well and gave a good look at where the water is coming from.
The cable going in the top is sealed, both with a gland nut and a ton of putty. The bottom of the meter box is also wet and rusty.
There's no seal around the meter itself and nothing around the side of the cover. It sits out in the open on the wall. I see no way for water that gets in around the meter to get out the bottom other than filtering through the wire casing or when it fills up and runs out around the meter. When I pulled the cover, there was a half cup or so of water sitting in the bottom of the box.
I asked if I could put some foam around the meter and they said no, There's a good 3" of casing intact on the wire at the bottom, for it to run into the cable it would need to be at least that high in the box before submerging the open end of the cable. My guess is rain is getting in around the meter and following the cable into my box inside.
Any ideas?
I would install the missing gasket to prevent water entering the cable and drill a drain hole in the bottom of the meter box.
 

Eddie_T

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You can do it yourself if you're careful. It's only 3 connections to break/make. When my electrician installed a new panel hot he wore gloves, removed the three wires one at a time, marked and taped them. After that everything was safe until time to reconnect. His most critical action was to route the wires one at a time, remove tape and carefully insert into panel main breaker and neutral lugs. After that he just left the main breaker open as he wired and installed individual breakers.
 
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louder

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They told me the cable, meter and box are all mine, they only own the wires overhead, until they go bad, then its my responsibility.
My problem is that a new meter box isn't any more sealed than the one I've got.
There is no gasket ring around the meter hole, just metal. I wanted to add a ring of foam rubber around he opening when the guy from the electric company had it off but he said I can't do that. I suggested a bead of caulk but no way. He said the box had to go.
(I have a good used meter pan from a neighbor who replaced his.) I trial fit the old meter into a new panel and its got about the same amount of clearance between the meter and the front panel.
Maybe the insulating plastic behind the meter shrunk? Or are the newer meters shallower?

I have no problem replacing the meter box, and/or the cable but not if its not going to be any better than what I've got.
 

Eddie_T

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Can you put a rain deflector above it but not touching the box? Mine is well under the eave of the roof.

I'm guessing that NJ is a union state (did I mention that I have a severe distaste for unions?)
 

ekrig

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Well, if the meter box is yours, one would think that you can (should?) take care of it in whatever way necessary to keep the service going without problems, such as sealing for the rain.

Anyway, adding a cover to the box could a solution, something like a flap that someone can lift to get complete access to the meter when necessary. The only concern I can think of with doing anything around the meter is whether that might increase the risk of fire, so keep that in mind.
 

BuzzLOL

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I think I would simply put a strip of electrical tape across the top gap in the box... refresh it when needed... it would stop the water and can be easily/quickly pulled off if anyone needs to get into the meter box... maybe the 2" wide tape if the usual 3/4" wide tape is too narrow...
 

louder

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Can you put a rain deflector above it but not touching the box? Mine is well under the eave of the roof.

I'm guessing that NJ is a union state (did I mention that I have a severe distaste for unions?)
I had put a rubber flap just above the box and the meter reader reported it, a service guy came out, and opened the box, he told me that the meter reader reported it as 'tampering'. He cut the zip tie off the flap and told me "nothing can be attached to the service wire or meter' I suggested putting a small dog box around the meter and was told that nothing can be above the meter or shrouding it.
He made it clear that the meter must be mounted on the end wall, with no overhang above.
Not a fan of unions either.
The gap around the meter is large enough to wiggle the meter around a bit, maybe 3/16" or so.
I've tried to find a new meter box but they've been unavailable for months for some reason. I picked up a used one at the flea market for a couple bucks, its a bit larger than what I have now, and the meter in that panel is 'loose' too. There doesn't appear to have ever been any sort of seal around the meter on that box either. The
I even tried just putting a loop of string with a tag end to help trail water down off the glass meter before it ran into the gap below the meter. That worked about 80% but they pulled that off too. HD had a few underground and all in one type boxes there and none of them had a seal around the meter either. Just bare steel around the hole for the meter.

I was told that any box or awning over the meter would be against code because the service cable would then be considered enclosed which cannot be. The service cable or conduit apparently has to be completely exposed on the side of the house. They want clear view of the wire going from the overhead drop from the pole to the meter. Any shroud, cover, or box is considered an obstruction.
I think the rules are likely to prevent someone from hiding a meter by pass or any tap into the line above the meter.
 

ekrig

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Ah... the joys of living in NJ...
Seriously, sorry to hear about that. Some folks can be pretty a??? about stuff like that, as if somehow someone is touching their food.

Anyway, maybe just use the tape approach...
 

Eddie_T

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I guess their problem is mostly an "I'm in charge" complex. Here's how they do it in Atlantic City when there's an overhang but it's done when the house is built and uses conduit from the weatherhead.

Screenshot 2021-10-19 6.32.27 PM.png
With a smart meter they probably would seldom visit your property unless they are just harassing you.
 

Blue Jay

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So just drill a couple of holes in the bottom to let it drain and forget about it.
 

louder

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All of the meters here are on the left side end wall nearest the street. No overhang above.
A number of years ago I tried to have it moved to the other end of the house, I wanted to put the breaker panel in the closet but they would not let me move the location of the meter or service wires.

If I ran a steel conduit above the meter, in order to get to the required 15 to 17ft height, I'd have 10ft of unsupported conduit above the roof line. Not to mention the fact that every time the wires get hit by a tall truck or the city spreading salt with the dump body up, it would likely rip the corner off my house rather than just breaking the ceramic insulator on the wall.
I inquired about running pvc conduit up to the roofline and across to the triplex from the street higher on the roofline but they told me I couldn't have any horizontal conduit runs in the main service before the meter. So leaves standard SE cable the only option on a single story home.

There's enough of a gap at the bottom of the cover and around the sides to let water out, but I think the water is dripping off the bottom of the meter on the inside right down into the open end of the cable at the bottom of the box.

When the guy was here from the electric company to 'check' the meter after the meter reader reported the string hanging from the meter, he opened the meter, tested the meter, checked the wires and knocked on the door to let me know that "Attaching anything to the meter or adjacent wiring is illegal".
 

Eddie_T

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Why do they still have meter readers, smart meters transmit the data? Did the union preserve meter readers positions?
 

louder

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No idea. They actually went back to an older style meter about 8 years ago, they had meters with a digital readout in the middle, then after the big Derecho we had in 2012 they switched back to the older analog type meters. Most of the wires were ripped off the poles and a good many poles were downed. First they fixed the poles, then put up new single run triples wires vs. the old three bare wire runs we had before, and finally, about 6 months later they replaced all the meters. We got letter with a monthly bill saying to expect a momentary power outage as the meter was 'upgraded'.
A worker for the power company told me that the reason was that the old meters were without power for so long, (over 2 weeks here), that they lost stored data.
We were without power for 17 days here that one month, and my electric bill that month was $412. When i called to find out why it didn't reflect the days of lost service, I was told that they were 'authorized' to charge and estimated amount for the days without service based on the prior years usage. They said charging for the period when no power was used was a way to offset all the costs of the storm.

I found out too that if I turn off my main breaker, lock up the house and go to FL for a few months, my electric bill gets estimated regardless of the true reading even though there was no usage. I was told it was to offset the many costs and losses the electric company has incurred over the years. I was out of state for work for 6 months three years ago, knowing I was going to be gone for that long, I killed the power, shut off the water main, drained down the plumbing, and prepped the house for a long vacation.
My electric bills for that period, were almost identical to prior years for that month. Even though my security system picked up the meter being read every month. The meter is read by the electric company themselves here, the water meter is read/scanned by a private company monthly. My water bill also stayed the same, never dropping to the minimum even though my water main was turned off at the street. (I have my own water main wrench).

There's enough room to put a piece of rubber around the edge of the meter opening, it would fill the gap both in depth and diameter to the meter. (Think door edge molding on a car).

I know some houses have smart meters but none near me here.
How does a Smart meter report back?
With so many people dropping their landlines, I can't see it working off a phone line?

Our water meters got remote sensors about 15 years ago, there's a wire from a sensor they screwed to the top of the meter that goes to a 3" square black box on the outside of the house. All the meter reader needs to do is point a gun at it and it picks up the reading. But he still has to walk the neighborhood. The guy told me that he can read up to 20ft away, sometimes, but it works best within around 8ft or so.
The electric meter still has the five dials on the face. The digital meters they replaced had both, an LCD readout, and three dials across the top.
 

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