does it matter where your electric panel box is?

47 Replies

I'm updating a 1950s 2/1 900SF home in South Carolina. The electrician suggests upgrading to a 200 electrical service entry with through the roof mast and relocate existing circuits into a single EXTERIOR 40-space 200-amp panel box with a main disconnect. The panel box is currently in a corner of the kitchen and the refrigerator is pulled away from the wall to allow access to it. In the future I may put a counter there or something. Guess you could put a small shelf under it for now to make use of the space.

I don't see the problem with it, but the person who is moving into the home (a friend of mine) is freaking out over the panel box being relocated to the outside. I live in Wyoming and mine is outside so it didn't seem like a big deal to me and would give more options in an already very tiny kitchen.

What are your thoughts on location of the panel box? Thanks.

It is not unusual to see them outside. I have at least one rental house where the panel is in a bedroom closet - when it comes time to replace it, we will flip the panel to the outside as well (it is located along an outside wall already, just inside the closet).  If you are renting to your friend, you might check to see if there are any rental registration requirements in the city, and if so, will leaving the panel in the kitchen be an issue for getting your certificate of occupancy in any way.


@Tina S. can you give some more info as to why she is freaking out over this? The panel box is on the exterior of the majority of my properties in South Carolina. Why is that an issue to her?

@Will Gaston Probably because it's different everywhere. Here in Ohio it is standard practice for them to be located inside. IMO it would be unsettling to have it outside knowing all someone had to do was flip the main shut off out there and I have no power inside. I have always thought it was super weird to have them outside but apparently some places down south do it that way. I'm sure someone more knowledgeable than me about this will come on and explain why it's different everywhere lol.

@Matt P. Yep I hear you on that, seems like it's different in many other parts of the county. 

Couldn't this issue be solved with a padlock on the panel box?

Exterior panels tend to have latches that take a padlock.

@Tina S.  I've gotta back up my friend @Matt P. here. In western Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and Rhode Island, the three places that I've lived in the USA, I've never seen a breaker box outside.

All of my older homes have panel boxes on the outside. I have done upgrades and left them there. There is no issue with it.

A lot of warmer areas typically have the main panel outside. In the northeast, it’s very rare, since who wants to dig their way through 3’ snow to turn on/off a breaker?

As long as it’s allowed in your area, it shouldn’t be an issue for anyone. The electrician should know what’s allowed.

The current location is probably not allowed (as an upgrade) based on current codes and clearance requirements.

@Will Gaston , @Matt P. She has anxiety and it is a matter of fearing someone will have access to it and shut it off. I told her it will be locked. I think I will have to talk to her some more to get her to realize it's not a big deal.

@Andy Webb Another electrician wanted to move it into the small bedroom closet but my understanding is that that's not up to code. 

@Tina S. the national electric code requires free and clear access 3 and 1/2 feet in front of the panel, the width of the panel, from floor to ceiling. Having to move the fridge to access or having to reach over a counter, is a clear violation of the code. Upgrading to 200 amp may or may not e necessary, but is an added value. Also note in future code changes, the shift to have a disconnect at the meter for safety of firefighters will be trending. If you can swing it financially, do it. For my business in NH you would be looking at 3-5K depending on what other work is required.

Hope this helps.


Man, Im always learning something new about other markets. Ive never even conceived of the breakers being outside. Thats completely foreign to me.

@Russell Brazil in just moved from Pa. to Florida and there are things here that you just dont think much about until you stop to think about them. We have outside electric panel, our water heater is outside, and it is very common to have the washer and dryer outside as well, under a covered porch.

Electric panels are almost always outside here.

From memory 

In a handful of houses Here in TX outside. In IL handful of houses inside. 

I know someone recently tried to Relocate one to a mobile home closet and inspector said panel not supposed to be in a closet for what that’s worth. 

@Tina S. I would too if I wasn't familiar with it lol. My brother in law bought a house in Houston a few years ago, first I had heard of them being on the outside. My first thought then was, I sure wouldn't want to go out there in a rain storm to flip a breaker back on that popped!

@Russell Brazil It’s not the norm, however still a common enough occurrence. On a home, it provides safer access for First Responders. Ripping out an electric meter while there is a load on it can cause more harm than good. It’s a lot safer for emergency personnel to open the panel door and switch off the main breaker. They make special products for exterior use in the electric industry, they are noticeable by the little roof on them(the top hangs over slightly to prevent water/dirt intrusion). They are also most commonly given the NEMA 3R designation.

P.S. - I’m a big fan on your posts, Russell, they are always extremely thought out and informative. Definitely a must read on BP. Thank you for your contributions.

@Tina S. Exterior main panels are very common here in CO, with sub panels in garages sometimes basements or next to hot tubs. If the main panel is inside there is usually a disconnect outside for firefighters and you’re not supposed to lock those or exterior panels. New construction always has a main disconnect next to the meter or often as part of the meter if it’s a meter/panel combo which is also very common. As mentioned before you shouldn’t have to move the fridge to access the panel as NEC code requires unobstructed clearance in front and sides of the panel and it can’t be in a closet or crawl space or cased in by shelving etc. that restricts working clearance. I’d go with what the electrician is recommending and explain to the tenant that in any home there is an easy way to shut power off from the outside by design so first responders can make the scene safe in the event of an emergency. Even if there is no main breaker outside there is often a large knife blade type disconnect or if not it’s easy to just pull off the meter can itself anyway so if someone wants to kill power they have options from outside the home whether the main is outside or not.

Although it's not done in my part of the country, I have to admit that realistically, in this day and age, if security concerns are an issue, what you do is put in a SimpliSafe system for $300 and and a $300 DVR system with one of the cameras on the exterior box and God help the fool who tries to get away with breaking in.

@Tina S.

I’m personally not a fan of the outside boxes because it requires a padlock for security and makes it inconvenient for the tenant (or me) to access the box in inclement weather, which is often when a breaker flips. In most of my rentals, the box is in the garage on an exterior wall. Weather protected and secure without additional keys/ locks to mess with.

@Steve K.   and everyone's great info, I think the code requirements make it a no-brainer in this case. Outside it must be.

@Jim K. so right. If there's a will there's a way.

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