Choosing the Right Panelboard for Your Project Location

I've installed and worked on more circuit breaker panelboards that I can
 remember. After 30+ years of work, it's got to be at least … one bunch!<br><br>Maybe more.<br><br>But
 most of the panelboards I've had the pleasure of meeting were fairly 
simple, straightforward circuit panels. Single phase and three phase 
panels, from 120/208 to 277/480… you get the idea, right? Emerson

Steve Maurer, IME

I've installed and worked on more circuit breaker panelboards that I can remember. After 30+ years of work, it's got to be at least … one bunch!

Maybe more.

But most of the panelboards I've had the pleasure of meeting were fairly simple, straightforward circuit panels. Single phase and three phase panels, from 120/208 to 277/480… you get the idea, right?

Some I've worked on have been nightmares.

Veritable rats nests of conductors… what a pain in the neck! Of course, if I installed one, I made sure the wiring was neat and tidy. Didn't make the current flow better, of course. But it sure made troubleshooting easier down the road!

And yes, there will be troubleshooting.

Of course panelboards aren't limited to circuit breakers. Anything that controls or regulates the distribution of electrical power could be housed in some type of panelboard.

You might need a central location for switching lighting, heat trace, small motors or other equipment. That central location can be housed in a panelboard.

Panelboards for hazardous locations
Now most of my work has been confined to relatively benign locations. Breathable air, not noxious fumes or gasses, and fairly dust free (not enough buildup to be ignitable).

But in some locations, the NEC® classifications for hazardous environment come into play. When that happens, there's a significant change in the type of panelboards you can use.

Make sure you're using a properly constructed panelboard to meet those hazardous conditions. Some panelboards have a factory sealed circuit breaker section. The breakers are prewired and run to a wiring compartment, often with a terminal board installed.

You never need to open the panel to get to the breakers. And because the arcs caused by turning circuit breakers on and off are isolated, these are safe to use in hazardous locations. Some models are explosion proof, dust-ignition proof, and watertight to NEMA 4X specs. This meets both NEC and CEC Class I standards.

Of course, you still need to turn breakers on and off, right? On a sealed panelboard, this can be accomplished with external actuators, sealed from the internal components.

These panelboards are suitable for both indoor and outdoor locations. For example, chemical and petrochemical plants and refineries might require panelboards in close proximity to the equipment or lighting controlled by the panelboard.

A sealed panelboard helps protect people and property from explosions possible where flammable gases or vapors are present either continuously or intermittently, or under abnormal conditions such as ruptures or leaks.

Industrial panelboards for hazardous locations are definitely a different breed of animal for power distribution and control.

Make sure you spec out the proper enclosure for your project.


Photo courtesy of Emerson

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