Upgrading 1980s Lighting Relay Panel with Insteon Switches and Dimmers

We purchased our current house a few years ago. We understand that the house was originally constructed by an electrical contractor, and there wasn't much lacking on the electrical service installed in the house - underground electrical feed with Teck cable, to a 400A service with a 200A generator disconnect, underground Teck cable to the pool shack for a generator installation, three 200A breaker panels, 2 automation relay panels, and an industrial programmable logic controller (PLC) panel - used for lighting and HVAC automation. 

The photo below shows the 110V lighting relay panel. About 28 circuits in the house were controlled by GE lighting control relays, so the 110V line feeds to the light fixtures originated in the basement in this panel, and not from normal light switch boxes. Instead of normal light switches, the house had 24V automation switches installed in the walls, these low voltage switches controlled the lighting relays directly, or they were wired as inputs to the PLC, and the PLC controlled the relay. The automation switches in the walls didn't look good, they worked on a one to one relationship with the fixtures (no scenes), and there was no dimming function - all the relays were on / off only. 

In the photo below, you can see the 24V control wires on the left side of the steel division in which the relays were mounted. All the 110V cables to the light fixtures exit the right side of the box. All the line feeds from the 200A breaker box to the right enter the bottom right side corner. 

Lighting control relay panel - Circa 1988 prior to upgrades
My first step was to layout the panel upgrades in Google Sketchup, and purchase all the material. I decided to use Phoenix contacts modular contacts to make all the connections, and plastic cable channels to route all the electrical cables in the panel. Once I was confident I could fit all the Insteon switches required in the box, I went ahead and purchased the materials. To install the standard Insteon Switchlinc Relays and Dimmers, I planned to mount them on aluminum C channels - 1/2" wide flanges, 2" deep webs.

Panel upgrades planned and laid out in Google Sketchup
Once I had all the supplies on hand, the next step was to disassemble the panel. I disconnected all the 24V control wires, and all the 110V line and load wires from the relays. To simplify the overall task, I left the interconnection of the neutral and ground wires as they were originally wired in the panel. As I disconnected each control wire, I labelled it with it's original circuit number to assist with tracing the wires back to their origins throughout the house in the switch boxes on the walls. 

Disassembly of the original relay panel

Disassembly continued, steel division and GE relays removed
Once the panel was disassembled, the hard work begun. I began by installing the Aluminum C channels upon which the Insteon Switchlinc Switches and Dimmers would be installed. I drilled a series of 1/2" holes in the webs of the C channels, and installed rubber grommets to protect the Insteon Switchlinc cables which would need to run through the C channels towards the connection terminals.

Installation of C Channel mounts for the Insteon Switchlinc Switches and Dimmers
Once the C channels were installed, I started running the cable channels.

Installation of plastic cable channels
The next step was to install the Phoenix terminal blocks. To do so, I installed a DIN automation rail to accept the snap in terminal blocks. I also started installing some of the Insteon devices. I ran the line cables from the breaker panel into the bottom of the terminal blocks, and then fed out the line to the Insteon Switches through the top of the terminal blocks. The control cable from the Insteon devices (red wire) was then installed on the tops of the terminal blocks, with the distribution cable running out to the light fixtures installed in the bottom of the terminal blocks. This orientation was used for the top half of the box, and mirrored for the bottom half of the box.
Installation of Phoenix Contacts Terminal Blocks, DIN Rail, and Insteon Devices
Each Insteon device was grounded to grounding studs on the panel. Crimp connections were used on the ground wires.

Photo showing detail of the terminal block connections. 110V wires were all routed in the cable channel.

Construction of the bottom half of the box begins - C Channels and Terminal Blocks

Intallation complete covers installed on the cable channels. 
The last step to this project will be to install a hinged cover on the panel. The cover currently mounts with four screws, and it's a bit slow to access the panel if you want to troubleshoot any of the devices. This panel has been running 2 years now with no issues whatsoever. The Insteon devices only consume around 60mA of power, so there is not very much heat buildup in the box. I labelled each Insteon device with it's circuit identification in the house electrical plans, as well as the breaker which feeds each device. 

I'll write another post with how I upgraded all the 24V automation switches in the house with Insteon devices. 

Just after I completed this project, Smarthome introduced a DIN rail mounted series of Insteon Switches and dimmers - which I suppose I could have used to accomplish the same task here with this panel. I wouldn't have had to use the C channels, and I would have had a bit more space to place the wiring. The plastic wire channels still would have been required. 

Smarthome DIN Rail Switches and Dimmers


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