Before we get into the subject of double tapping of a breaker, we need to understand what the following two terms mean and their purpose: 1. circuit breakers 2. conductors
A circuit breaker is an automatic switch that protects the circuit from overcurrent. As the name implies, a circuit breaker ‘breaks’ the circuit during such instances. Your electrical panel is the place where all the circuit breakers are placed. Each breaker is a part of the branch circuit – either a 120v one or a 220 v one – of various home systems. Each breaker is designed for a particular amperage load as well.
The conductors or the wires should be sufficient to carry the current in every branch circuit. Usually, a 15-amp branch circuit uses a 14-gauge wire. More on amps and wires later.
Now, let’s get to double tapping. Take a look at the image below.
The top right circuit breaker – rated for 15 amps – has the right conductor or wire. On closer inspection, it shows that the breaker – designed to hold only one wire – has two conductors connected to it. This is what home inspectors and electrical contractors call double tapping of circuit breakers. While there are breakers that are designed for accommodating two wires, this one is not.
What is the problem with double tapping?
When circuit breakers that are designed to hold 1 wire are double tapped, it increases the probability of overheating. Loose connections are also a reason for overheating.
Overheating breakers can be found using a infrared cameras that capture temperature differences or a non-contact thermometer.
The easiest fix for the problem is adding an additional breaker for the second wire. Find another breaker of the same amp rating and slot the second conductor into it. Solved! There are other options as well.
You could also look at using Tandem breakers. They are breakers that are engineered to two hold two wires but occupy the physical space of one circuit breaker. However, before proceeding understand if your panel can accommodate them. Older panels generally do not.
Call a professional
Before you try to open your panel to check for possible double tapping, it is suggested you approach a licensed electrical contractor. They have the tools and the knowledge to assess and rectify the problem. Home Inspectors, though generalists, are capable of identifying potential issues related to the electrical systems of your home. Most SOPs (Standards of Practice) mention that a home inspector need not necessarily open the panel to check the condition of the wiring and breakers as they pose a major hazard. However, most inspectors do it – unless there’s a lack of access to the panel.
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