Electrical Panel Located in a 10x12 Bathroom. Does it Need to be Moved?

Updated December 11, 2020
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Question by Guest_94253132: electrical panel located in a 10x12 bathroom. Does it need to be moved? Main electrical panel has been located in this spot for 60 years but the room was recently converted to a bathroom Toliet is at least 3 feet below panel.

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Answered by LCD: If the bathroom had been there indefinitely, probably would not have to move (under grandfathering rules) unless the panel was being redone - either the bulk of the wiring or the panel itself being replaced or upgraded. One would have to find when it was built and then check the code from that timeframe - but I do remember panels in bathrooms being pretty standard in the 60's/70's and into the early 80's. Not bright due to the vapor situation and possibly standing on or touching wet surfaces when tripping the breakers, but was legal and common, as it generally still is in commercial/industrial construction. However, in most areas installing new equipment or circuits into that panel would be illegal - though generally just swapping out a defective or blown breaker or fuse is not considered "replacement" or new installation - that is just a repair.

However, since (from a few blogs I checked for effective year) about 1993, breaker panels, disconnects, fuse boxes cannot be in bathrooms per the National Electric Code (NEC, aka NFPA Volume 70):

NEC 230.70 (A)(2) prohibits service disconnects (breakers and fuses and disconnect switches) in residential or hotel/motel bathrooms (but is legal in commercial ones for some odd reason - guess workers and customers are not considered so valuable), and

NEC 240.24(E) prohibits overcurrent devices in bathrooms (which fuses and breaker both are). Outlet type GFCI's, though technically a type of protective automatic service disconnect, is NOT considered a breaker or service disconnect for this purpose and are allowed in bathrooms but probbly will not be in the next code revision due to the number of moisture incidents with them tripping out from bathroom moisture/condensation.

In your case, NEC 110.26 - Working Space - is undoubtedly violated because on standard 220/240V max residential service you need a minimum 30" wide by 3 foot (2 feet before 1978) "deep" clear space in front of the panel (panel or conduit can now intrude up to 6 inches into that space on the panel side ofthe workspace), extending at leat 6-1/2 feet (6 in some older code versions) high but not less than to the top of the panel - so the toilet violates that rule by intruding on the clear working space.

Since you say the bathroom is a recent conversion, undoubtedly did violate code when built (presuming your area more or less abides by the NEC provisions (referenced/integrated in the IRC) - so most likely yes, it is probably a violation and needs removal. If this is resulting from a pre-purchase inspection, you would want to require that it be brought up to code by a licensed electrician (with proof of that), and I would also mandate that your independent electrician perform an inspection for code compliance too as part of the contingency, because this sort of job commonly goes to low bidder and becomes a fire hazard in itself. Or walk away.

Couple of common solutions in this type of case - one is converting the panel to a mass junction box for those circuits which cannot be redirected and pulled directly to the new panel location conveniently, with the incoming wires being joined to new ones leading to the new panel. There are conversion kits for some breaker boxes to swap out the buses for junction clamp nibs (connection points to link wires together) but can be a mess on a large box, because the ground and neutral cannot run to a common bus like they do now - they have to retain their integrity to the new breaker panel, so normally a goodly number of circuits need to be routed differently because you cannot reasonably join 30-40 circuits at 3 wires each (maybe 2 in your case) in an original fuse or breaker box - or put in a MUCH larger junction box or a second junction box put next ot it to provide room. Gets to be a real hassle because you have very little to no spare wire to play with at the panel. Should probably have a NEMA 3 cover plate though whether a junction box in this case would have to be NEMA 3 would likely be up to inspector discretion - probably not specifically required by code, because bathroom outlet receptacles and lights (other than lights directly over showers/baths) do not have to be NEMA 3. I would certainly use an edge gasket seal or gasketed cover on the panel to keep damp bathroom air and wall drips mostly out if left as a junction box. Unfortunately, does have to have a metal cover on it, but no law I know of against overlaying that with a plastic access panel plate like plumbers use to cover up access holes - for appearance and also so you do not have a metal plate connected to a junction box exposed in the bathroom - though it would have to be removeable like any other junction box cover plate, and has to be left accessible - not drywalled over.

Another common solution - remove and reverse the panel, so it faces the backing room, if not on an outside wall, which unfortunately it commonly is. Generally, that panel would then not be considered to be in a bathroom - just in a bathroom wall, and would meet code - though I would certainly make sure that new backing wall behind it was covered with a vapor-retardant paint or primer. (One would think vapor barrier behind the panel, but panels cannot legally be put in direct contact with vapor barrier under most codes). A backing piece of adequately secured concrete backer board between the vapor barrier and the panel would probably do the job of protecting against moisture coming through and penetrating or rusting the back of the panel, but would generallyo (unless wall is deep) make the panel stick out, which is not legal with some panels and can make the wiring a hassle because the holes and clamps would be tight up against the drywall. (And no it is not legal to paint the back with rustoleum - panel / breaker box paint has to be non-flame-spreading rated.

Cost - depends on where/how you handle this, but probably $500-1000 if you can flip the panel around to face the backing room, more like $1000-2500 probably for a relocation to a nearby area outside the bathroom, and possibly more if that would be considered a major electrical renovation in your code area, requiring EVERYTHING related to the distribution/breaker box be brought up to current code. Normally would not be on a safety-related job like this without new services/circuits being brought to it, but a nasty inspector could get "even" for the illegal bathroom wrapped around the panel and say it has to be required.

And no - taking the toilet away might solve the workspace violastion but would not affect the other two, if they are considered 'in effect" because of the recent bathroom construction - I would have ruled that way when I was serving as a contract city engineer -leaving the option of moving the panel or eliminating the bathroom.

Here is another similar question with answer and $ ballpark FYI too -


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