Quantcast

Portable GFCI Spa Panel

HomeBrewTalk.com - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Community.

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

Black_Marsh_Brewer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2015
Messages
59
Reaction score
18
Location
St. John\'s
Alright, so I asked bunch of questions and got no answers on the forums, so I started digging into it on my own and have figured out what is needed to make a portable GFCI for an electric brewery, and a basic understanding of how a GFCI breaker works within an electric brewery. I have decided that I am going to write down what I did and what I learned so that people may somehow benefit.

First things first I AM NOT AN ELECTRICIAN NOR DO I CLAIM TO BE... At best I am an intelligent, cautious handyman with 10 years of experience. At worst, I am a crazy drunken goofball with tools and a death wish… So please, PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS ON YOUR OWN UNLESS YOU ARE QUALIFIED AND HAVE SOME CLUE ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE DOING. I am documenting my experience so that people undergoing similar issues may understand what I did. If in doubt, please seek professional help. I know I had to…

Okay, so the place that I am in has a 100amp sub panel in the garage that runs some heavy machinery. In the panel is a 30amp breaker that runs a dryer outlet that is used for a welder. I have permission from my landlord to brew in the garage and use the plugin, but not to upgrade the panel. The breakers in the panel are NOT GFI. So that means I need a GFI of some sort to put in line for brewing...

So the GFI had to be three things: 1) portable; I can't leave it in place all the time, as the landlord uses the garage for his work as well. Plus I would like to take equipment I paid for with me if I leave this house. 2) Adaptable. I eventually would like to go to a full on Kal style brew-panel, so anything I use I want it to be compatible for later on. 3) Cheap. Not like “cut corners accidental manslaughter cheap”, but end of the day I need a solution that isn’t going to leave me feeling financially molested.

So I went on the epic quest of trying to get answers about this stuff on the internet. I discovered four ways to do this. 1) Install new breaker, which is a hard no. 2) Have an professional electrician rig up a setup for me ($500.00 CAD friends and family rate), another hard no. 3) Buy an inline GFI connector, there are few companies that do this for 3-wire 240V 30amp setups, but it would be $350.00CAD shipped and it’s not really modular with future upgrades, gotta be a better way. 4) a DIY GFI system. I have found some pictures on other threads of people making these from Portable Spa Panels, this option potentially met all my criteria, so I started pursuing it.

So after seeing a few pictures of what other people had done, it seemed like it might work, so I decided I would try my hand at it. I did a bunch of digging and found some plans that had been laid out by a member of this board (P-J). Things kind of made sense so I kept on going and started to figure out the why’s what’s and how’s of this project.

So I started by asking a bunch of questions and I didn’t get any answers off the forums directly, only partial answers here and there. With the help of a few friends in the electrical business, the internets, and books I managed to cobble together an understanding and made it happen.


Because my brewing system is setup for 30amps, I wanted the spa panel, all the wiring and the plug-ins/outlets to be 30 amps. I wanted to make this as standard to 30 amps as possible so that I don't accidentally make a mistake with too big or small a wiring/plugs. I got on EBay and after a bit of patience I found a Square D QO 50amp GFCI plastic spa panel for 70.00USD shipped.

This panel was pretty much what I was looking for, it was rated UL and CSA, which means no worries for Canada safety standards. However, it was 50amp, and I needed a 30 amp. Problem was, it was a damn good deal and I wasn’t really seeing any 30 amp panels. So this led to my first question, would it be okay to use a 50amp spa panel?

So obviously the 50amp breaker would never trip because it is has too high of a current rating. But the 50amp breaker would connect and get power from a 30amp breaker in the sub-panel. So will the 30amp breaker trip if anything connected to it overloads? After some searching and professional consultation, the answer is yes, the 30amp breaker will trip. As a result, the 50amp GFCI is solely for ground fault protection and is useable, so I bought it.


Complete parts list:
1x Square D QO 50amp 240V GFI Spa Panel (75.00 USD = ~100.00 CAD)
1 x 30a 10/4 wire dryer cord (~24.00 CAD)
2 x 3/4" strain relief cord grips and locking nuts (15.00CAD)
3ft of 10/4 SWOO neoprene coated outdoor wire (5.00 CAD)
1 x Scepter 3/4" strain relief/cord grip with assorted grips (7.00CAD)
1 x Scepter single gang FS box no hub (17.00CAD)
1 x L6-30R twist lock receptacle and cover (already had from previous apartment)
1x wire nut.

Total cost of the parts: ~$168.00 CAD

So I got things together and got to work. I started by punching two holes through the bottom of the spa panel with a 1" hole saw. The panel had punch-out marks on the outside of the panel making it easy.

From there I put a 3/4" grey strain relief through the left hole and chose the rubber sealing ferrule that fit the dryer cord. I then wired in the 4 wire dryer cord to the breaker, making sure to attach the GFI breaker Pig tail to the neutral bar (see goofy looking diagram for details) I then put in the 3/4" black strain relief on the other side, and put in the 10/4 SWOO wire in it and wired it up to the outgoing side of the panel. I had to use two different types of strain relief on the Spa Panel because the dryer cord was significantly narrower than the 10/4 SWOO neoprene wire, and needed a narrower strain relief. From there, I cut a hole in the 1 gang FS box for the second black strain relief, and ran the 10/4 SWOO into the box.

I then installed l6-30R receptacle and plate into the box. Now, some of you may have noticed that the cord into the outlet box is 4 wire, and the plug-in itself is only 3 wire. I did this because my current controller is only 3 wire (https://www.homebrewtalk.com/showthread.php?t=575199), but eventually when I upgrade my panel it will need to be 4 wire and I didn't want to have to buy the wire twice. So this begs the question; will a 4 wire GFI breaker work with only 3 wires hooked up to the plug?

Based on the wiring diagrams that I had found on the forum originally created by P-J, it seemed plausible what I was doing wasn’t 1000% stupid, but I had an electrician buddy of mine walk me through how GFI's work just to be safe. Here is the simplified interpretation of what he told me - The GFI in a breaker constantly monitors the current flowing through each wire that comes out of the breaker against a set point. This is why the GFI breakers have that pigtail wire, the pigtail has something to do with the set-point. Now if any of the wires coming out of breaker managed to come loose and begin to ground out at any point along the path of the circuit that is not the normal ground, it notices this and shuts off.

So for example, if you drop a hair dryer into a bath tub, the thing wants to ground out to the water, this energizes the water, and causes bad times for anyone that happens to be in the tub. If the hair dryer in question is connected to a GFI, the GFI monitors this, senses that it is not grounding correctly and trips the breaker. Proper GFI's that are up to electrical code are capable of turning off so quickly that the electricity is shut off before the person in the tub can have a bad time.

Now in the example above we were working with an appliance that only had two monitored wires, a hot and a neutral. In our case, we have 2 hots, and a neutral being monitored. In our scenario (an electrical brew pot), if the system were to ever short and ground out to something. It would most likely be the pot itself, which would energize to the wort and metal brew pot. If this happened, anyone who happened to touch the brew pot may have difficulty being alive anymore (That's a problem for me as I like being alive where all the beer is). If we were using an e-brew system like Kal's controller, where we have all 4 wires in and 4 wires out connected, everything would easy and it would work fine. Obviously this is not the case, as there are 4 wires going into the box where the outlet is, and only 3 wires getting connected to the outlet.

It is my understanding from my electrician friend, that the breaker monitors all the lines and can run without a neutral wire connected going OUT of the breaker. In order for the GFI to work, it needs the neutral hooked up going INTO the breaker, as this is how it monitors the set-point. This makes some sense as there are items that need GFI protection that only require 240V 3 wire setup. For example, some hot water heaters, older hot tubs, Jacuzzi bathtubs, etc. So if you are going to have 4 wire going out of the spa panel to a 3 wire plug in, it needs to be somehow capped so it cannot accidentally ground itself out causing the GFI to trip. My electrician friend advised me to put a wire nut on the neutral wire and tuck it aside in the outlet box. So that’s what I did.

From there, the portable panel was essentially finished, only thing left was to plug it in and test it. So I whipped out my handy electrical checking pen (a magical device that starts screaming when it detects a live wire near it) and systematically checked every point of contact one by one making sure that the breakers provided power when on and completely de-energized the system when off or tripped.

It all seems to work according to plan, so the next step is to hook up my brew controller and try it out. I will keep people posted about my progress.

Cheers,

BMB

2016-03-19 11.11.13.jpg


2016-03-19 11.12.25.jpg


2016-03-19 11.14.54.jpg


GFCI Wiring.jpg
 

Alt

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jul 12, 2013
Messages
121
Reaction score
28
Location
Santa Rosa, CA
Thanks for posting this. I hadn't picked up on that particular panel before. I like that the housing is plastic, even if it is a bit more expensive than other spa panels. What are the dimensions of the flat surface where you choose to exit the box? I ask because I am trying to determine if there is room to mount a L6-30 receptacle in lieu of the strain relief and hard-wired cable you went with. I would rather plug directly into the spa panel instead of a tethered outlet.

Also, any particular reason why you ran a 4-wire cable out of the spa panel instead of a 3-wire one, unless you were simply using material which you already had or couldn't source 3-wire at the time you needed it? Couldn't you have just left the neutral terminal open at the breaker? All you are using the neutral line for in this instance is a reference for the GFCI.
 
OP
Black_Marsh_Brewer

Black_Marsh_Brewer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2015
Messages
59
Reaction score
18
Location
St. John\'s
There's not a whole lot of room to put a receptacle there. But you might be able to do one out the side. I will send measurements when I dig the box out of my brew storage. I chose 4 wire because I am eventually moving to a larger panel that will use 4 wire, but currently my controller is only 3 wire. I didn't want to buy the wire twice.
 

Alt

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jul 12, 2013
Messages
121
Reaction score
28
Location
Santa Rosa, CA
OK, that makes sense. I should have figured that out from your stated goal to be "Kal style" compatible. Appreciate the measurements when you get a chance.
 
OP
Black_Marsh_Brewer

Black_Marsh_Brewer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2015
Messages
59
Reaction score
18
Location
St. John\'s
Alt - The outside measurements of the side are 8" x 2.25" on the sides and 5" x 2.25" on the top and bottom. because of the way the breaker is setup, you can't put a plug in the top. As you will see in the pictures that the ground bar and neurtal bars are in the center of each side, making it difficult to fit a plug in on the sides. Because the wiring cover screws down top and bottom there isn't a lot of room for a plug there. If you could find a compact receptacle you might fit it in the bottom corner of the side.
 

Alt

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jul 12, 2013
Messages
121
Reaction score
28
Location
Santa Rosa, CA
Bummer, if I go this route I guess I would put a L14-30R connector on the cable end instead of the outlet box - one less cable in the mix. Thanks for checking though.
 
OP
Black_Marsh_Brewer

Black_Marsh_Brewer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2015
Messages
59
Reaction score
18
Location
St. John\'s
I actually ordered one of the L14-30R connectors, I have it on the system now... works like a charm.
 

Alt

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Jul 12, 2013
Messages
121
Reaction score
28
Location
Santa Rosa, CA
Not sure we are talking about the same receptacle. I am referring to installing a panel mount style receptacle directly on to the spa panel. This type is white or off-white and round. The main body is 2.05" diameter with a 2.88" flange.
 

BullMoose

New Member
Joined
Apr 8, 2011
Messages
4
Reaction score
0
Location
Cleveland
Hey, just wondering... If you have a power panel with a dedicated 4-wire dryer outlet, can't you just pull the non-GFI 30A breaker out and swap in a 30A GFI one?

Reason I'm asking is that this is my current scenario. I have the dedicated 30A dryer outlet with a 14-30R socket. It seems to me that I can just purchase a GFI circuit breaker and swap it in and have the protection needed.
 
OP
Black_Marsh_Brewer

Black_Marsh_Brewer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 24, 2015
Messages
59
Reaction score
18
Location
St. John\'s
You 100% can do what you said, and it would be the easiest option...

In my case I had two issues that made it impossible to change the breaker 1) I wasn't allowed to change the panel. I rent from a friend that gives me pretty free range but some things are a no go. And 2) the 30amp gfci breaker for my panel was $250.00 CAD where I am located and $100.00 USD + shipping online... Which was more costly compared to the portable spa panel.
 

ryanj

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Nov 19, 2017
Messages
222
Reaction score
73
Sorry to dig up this ancient thread, but I want to build a similar solution for my situation which is a little different.

Background:
  • I have an existing 50-amp circuit in my garage with a NEMA 14-50 plug.
  • I removed the 50-amp breaker and replaced with a 30-amp GFCI breaker
  • I removed the NEMA 14-50 receptacle and replace with a NEMA 14-30 receptacle.
  • This setup has been working successfully for a few years now.
I'm buying a Tesla in the next few months, and having a true 50 amp circuit would be best. So I'm thinking about:
  • Basically putting everything I did previously back to how it was:
    • Reinstall the 50-amp breaker in the main panel
    • Reinstall the NEMA 14-50 receptacle (so I can charge via 50amps)
  • I already bought the spa panel like the one linked in this thread.
  • Build the portable spa panel from this thread and install a NEMA 14-50 corded plug so I can plug it right into my wall.
  • ***Install the 30-amp GFCI breaker in the spa panel.***
  • Plug my brewery controller into my 30-amp GFCI spa panel
So, when I need to charge my car, I can plug into the 50-amp circuit on the wall and charge at a faster rate.

And when I want to brew, I can plug my 30-amp spa panel into the wall and still be under GFCI protection.

Does that make sense?
 
Last edited:

doug293cz

BIABer, Beer Math Nerd, ePanel Designer, Pilot
Staff member
Mod
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
May 14, 2014
Messages
10,982
Reaction score
7,112
Location
Renton
Sorry to dig up this ancient thread, but I want to build a similar solution for my situation which is a little different.

Background:
  • I have an existing 50-amp circuit in my garage with a NEMA 14-50 plug.
  • I removed the 50-amp breaker and replaced with a 30-amp GFCI breaker
  • I removed the NEMA 14-50 receptacle and replace with a NEMA 14-30 receptacle.
  • This setup has been working successfully for a few years now.
I'm buying a Tesla in the next few months, and having a true 50 amp circuit would be best. So I'm thinking about:
  • Basically putting everything I did previously back to how it was:
    • Reinstall the 50-amp breaker in the main panel
    • Reinstall the NEMA 14-50 receptacle (so I can charge via 50amps)
  • I already bought the spa panel like the one linked in this thread.
  • Build the portable spa panel from this thread and install a NEMA 14-50 corded plug so I can plug it right into my wall.
  • ***Install the 30-amp GFCI breaker in the spa panel.***
  • Plug my brewery controller into my 30-amp GFCI spa panel
So, when I need to charge my car, I can plug into the 50-amp circuit on the wall and charge at a faster rate.

And when I want to brew, I can plug my 30-amp spa panel into the wall and still be under GFCI protection.

Does that make sense?
I believe code requires that your car charger circuit be GFCI, so you need to put in a 50A GFCI for your charging circuit. You won't need a separate GFCI for your brew panel. You might want a 30A breaker if your brew controller cord is 10AWG.

Brew on :mug:
 

ryanj

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Nov 19, 2017
Messages
222
Reaction score
73
I believe code requires that your car charger circuit be GFCI, so you need to put in a 50A GFCI for your charging circuit. You won't need a separate GFCI for your brew panel. You might want a 30A breaker if your brew controller cord is 10AWG.

Brew on :mug:
I actually haven't heard that the car charger needs to be on a GFCI circuit, but the good news is I can pull the 50-amp gfci breaker out of the spa panel and put THAT in the main panel and put the 30-amp GFCI in the spa panel. Any problems running 2 gfci breaker one after the other? Probably unnecessary, but it's what I would have on hand.
 

ryanj

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Nov 19, 2017
Messages
222
Reaction score
73
I don't think GFCI's in series should be a problem.

Brew on :mug:
Ok. That's what I thought. I've wired several GFCI outlets in a series before and I know that usually the first upstream GFCI will trip and all others further up stream will stay on (which is fine).
 

ryanj

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Nov 19, 2017
Messages
222
Reaction score
73
Update: I built it and it worked beautifully. 50-amp GFCI breaker in the main panel. 14-50 outlet. Then I have a portable spa panel with a 30-amp GFCI breaker to power my brewing panel.
 
Last edited:

SalParadise

Active Member
Joined
Sep 4, 2020
Messages
33
Reaction score
21
Location
Grand Rapids
I came across this very thread a few weeks back when I was searching for the exact same answer. Glad to hear it's working well for you, as this is essentially what I'm planning to do. Though, what I'm doing doesn't look nearly as clean as the OP. I plan on attaching the spa panel directly to my control panel. This should save a bit on wiring and make it impossible to plug in the control panel without the GFCI in place - meaning I'll be less likely to forget it when I tote my control panel between locations. Or, at least if I do forget it, I'll be forgetting the entire panel, so I won't be tempted to try brewing without the GFCI protection.
 
Top