Service Entrance

30 ft of AL 4/0 wire from meter to panel box running 3-6 inches off ground. Local electrician states this is acceptable. I disagree. Your thoughts?

Asked and answered.


Your two questions are similar but there is a significant difference between them. In the question in the other thread, you mentioned the installation being “up to code” but in this one, you are asking whether we agree with the electrician who said that it is “acceptable”.

I can give you an opinion of whether or not I agree with an installation being acceptable to me but I have great reluctance to answer code questions. The short answer to the code part of your question is “that depends”. It is close to impossible to answer the code question in any meaningful way with the information we have so far.

I’m not being facetious, trying to be contentious or split hairs. I’m also not uncomfortable talking about electrical codes. I have been training electricians and teaching National Electrical Code and other electrical codes and standards (NFPA-79, JIC, ICC, FIBS-PUB94, IEEE, etc.) for more than 30 years. My advice to everyone is basically the same. Learn the hows and whys of electricity and electrical systems before you take on the codes.

The local inspector (aka the AHJ or Authority Having Jurisdiction) decides whether or not the installation meets code requirements. There are usually procedures for challenging an inspector’s interpretation. If you are interested, I have written many articles about electrical codes and the challenges we would face if we were to try to make judgement calls on code requirements. But for now, let’s go back to the service entrance cable.

I have investigated many electrical fires involving service entrance cable that had been installed correctly with respect to local and national codes. Some of the worst electrical installations I have seen were defended by the installers as being up to code and they were often right, but; they were still bad installations.

I am in Michigan, close to the Ohio-Michigan border. I did my apprenticeship in Ohio and my electrical contracting company was based in Ohio. Most of my fire investigations, however, have been in Michigan. With some things, I prefer the way we do things in Michigan and with some things, I prefer the way they are usually done in Ohio.

I am very much opposed to the way service entrance cables are installed throughout much of Michigan. They are installed just as you described. We also have many more fires that start at a service entrance cable in Michigan than there are in Ohio. That’s one of those things that makes me go Hhhmmmm …

Even within a state, there can be a wide range of local customs. Sometimes, it can be a real stretch to see how the inspector approved something. Then, there are times when it is hard to understand why an inspector would not approve something.

As a young electrician and later a general electrical contractor working in Toledo, Ohio, I was influenced by Toledo’s long time chief electrical inspector. He had a strong personality and even stronger opinions. I’m pretty sure he had his own code floating around in his head. His requirements consistently exceeded both the NEC and the Ohio building codes. He wasn’t shy about telling an electrician or contractor that he didn’t care what the codes said. If he said it wasn’t safe, he stood behind his opinions. You could challenge him or not. Hardly anyone ever challenged him because he was always had a good reason for anything he required. He was very generous with his time. He didn’t just slap a red tag on a job and take off. He took the time to explain why he thought something was important.

The installation you described is very common across much of Michigan. I have seen it in nearly every large community in the LP (I don’t work in the UP). I’ve also seen lots of problems associated with the installations. In Ohio, on the other hand, usual practice has long been to have any service entrance cables below approximately six feet above grade in conduit.

I also travel a lot in my work. My experience in other states is much more limited but I always pay careful attention to electrical installation details. If I were to throw out a guess, I’d say three out of four installations within six feet of grade are in some type of conduit. Regardless of what the codes say, I am always going to advise keeping service entrance cable out of harm’s way.

So, as Larry said in his response to your other question, I’d be more concerned about the neighborhood kids playing with ice picks than the electrical codes. I disagree with the electrician who thinks it is an acceptable installation. Service entrance cable is tough but not tough enough to stand up to the things a 12 year old boy might subject it to.

If the electrician said it was acceptable to him, I respond by saying “it may be acceptable to you but it isn’t acceptable to me”.