Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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How To Fix Double Tapping At Circuit Breakers

Double tapped circuit breakers are one of the most common electrical defects that I find while doing home inspections in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and they're usually one of the easiest defects to correct.  Today I'll explain what double tapping is, when it is and isn't a problem, why it's a problem, and how to correct this condition.

I didn't consult with an attorney before writing this article, so I feel like I should add a disclaimer:  This blog is only an overview of what an electrician might do.  Don't try to do any electrical work if you're not qualified.

Definition: I don't know of any official definition of a 'double tap'.  This is just what us home inspectors say when two wires are connected under one screw or terminal inside an electric panel.  Sometimes this refers to two wires at one circuit breaker, other times it refers to two wires connected under one screw at the neutral bar.  Today I'll be focusing on improperly double tapped circuit breakers.

When it's NOT problem: Double tapped wiring is ok if the circuit breaker is designed for two wires.  If a circuit breaker is designed for two wires, it will say so right on the circuit breaker, and the terminal of the circuit breaker will be designed to hold two wires in place.  The circuit breaker shown below is designed to accept two wires, and I highlighted and blew up the portion of the label that tells me that two wires can be attached.  This is acceptable.  To my knowledge, the only manufacturers  that make circuit breakers that can be double tapped are Square D and Cutler Hammer... but not all of their circuit breakers can be double tapped.

Square D Breaker

When it IS a problem: This is a problem when the circuit breaker isn't designed for two wires.  The label on the circuit breaker will clearly state this.

Double Tap Single Pole Label

Why it's a problem: If the circuit breaker isn't designed to hold two wires, the wires could come loose at some point in the future, even if they feel very tight today.  Loose wires can lead to overheating, arcing, and possibly a fire.

How to fix: The fixes I'm going to list below are a few common ways of dealing with double tapped circuit breakers.

Pig Tail This is usually the easiest and best repair.  The offending wires simply get disconnected from the circuit breaker, connected to a single wire with a wire nut, and that single wire gets connected to the circuit breaker.   Now, I know what you're thinking: "What's so tough about that?"  The answer is nothing.  This is a quick and easy fix.

Pig Tail

Different Circuit Breaker Another simple repair would be to replace the circuit breaker with a type that is designed for two wires, as long as the panel is designed for it.

If there are more problems going on besides just a double tap, the repair might get more involved.  For instance, if a homeowner finished off a basement and added a circuit for the basement bedroom on to the circuit breaker for the bathroom receptacles, simply adding a pig tail for the wires wouldn't be a proper repair, because the bathroom receptacles can't be on a shared circuit.   In this case, the wires would need to be split off on to two separate circuit breakers.  There are a few ways to do this.

Add A Circuit Breaker If there is room in the panel, another circuit breaker can be added, and the wires split off to the two different circuit breakers.

Two Circuit Breakers

Install A Tandem Breaker If the electric panel is designed to use tandem breakers, and a tandem breaker can be properly used in lieu of the offending circuit breaker, this is another acceptable fix.  Some people refer to tandem breakers as half-height or half-size breakers.  This is basically a way to install two circuit breakers in one slot.

Tandem Breaker

If a panel will accept tandem breakers, it will say so inside the panel, and the specific locations where tandem breakers can be used will be identified.  A panel may allow all tandem breakers, notandem breakers, or some tandem breakers.  The photo below shows a panel that allows some.  As you can see, eight more circuits could be added to this panel, as there are currently no tandem breakers being used.

Tandem Breakers Label

When none of the above solutions are possible, the repair might involve replacement of the panel with a larger one, or the addition of a subpanel.  This would obviously get much more expensive.

 

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 24 commentsReuben Saltzman • January 19 2010 04:28AM

Comments

Shouldn't these "repairs" be made by licensed electricians???

One of the problems with home owner improvements is the danger of home owner electrical work. 

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 8 years ago

Lenn - absolutely!  I added a little paragraph at the beginning of my blog stating that, at your suggestion.   Thanks!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

Thanks Rueben, As a combination House Watcher for Vacation Home owners, Handyman and REALTOR®, I very much appreciate having you add "double tapping" to my knowledge base.  Aside from double taps to a single terminal loosening up, in which of your illustrated cases are the breakers wire-protecting functions compromised, if any? I'll check back and also be looking for your double tap on the neutral terminals.

Posted by James Bath, REALTOR® , AHWD® , SRES® ,e-PRO® (Gulf Shores Realty) over 8 years ago

Thanks Reuben.  The implication that anyone could make these repairs was very troublesome.

Home owner electrical matters are a problem with older homes.

 

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 8 years ago

Hi James - the rest of those photos show acceptable installations.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

Hi Reuben.  Very good post that provides actual insight into double-tapping.  Homeowner electrical improvements scare the hell out of me as there is always the possibility of hidden problems. 

When I discover homeowner electrical work, more often than not I recommended that a licensed electrician be engaged to evaluate the entire property.

Posted by Glen Fisher (National Property Inspections of Southern New Jersey, LLC) over 8 years ago

If you find a problem, bring in the experts

Posted by Al Wright (Affordable Canadian Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

Reuben,  Love it.  This is a great article to link on inspection reports.  I love the double tapped Fed. Pacific breakers, can you say, "fire waiting to happen?"

Posted by Jim Allhiser, Salem, Oregon Home Inspector (Perfection Inspection, Inc.) over 8 years ago

Reuben

Good info.

Way to go on explaining simple fixes.

Posted by Mike Parks, Inspector (Residential Building Inspectors) over 8 years ago

Glen - thanks. Recommend an electrician is always a good way to cover your butt.

Al - agreed.  I wrote this blog to try to bring this issue in to perspective, and to show people that a double tapped circuit breaker isn't always a problem, and usually involves a minor repair.

Jim - good eye on the FPE breakers!  At this particular inspection, I didn't even mention the double tapped breaker; I just told 'em to replace the panel.

Mike - much appreciated, thanks for reading.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

Nice job!

 

Love the shot of the Federal Pacific breakers too!

Posted by Darren Miller (About The House) over 8 years ago

Thanks Darren, those FPE breakers just happened to have been at the last house that I inspected when I wrote this blog.  I figured a few HIs would chuckle at 'em :) 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

Nice explanation of double taps. One problem I hear about is HIs calling out double taps on breakers that allow for two wires. No every double is a problem.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 8 years ago

Thanks for the info and the how to fix them also.  Have a great day.

Posted by Gene Allen, Realty Consultant for Cary Real Estate (Fathom Realty) over 8 years ago

Good information Reuben.  This is a great quick fix in many of the older homes I visit.  Have a great week.

Eldon

Posted by Eldon Hendrix (Hendrix and sons Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

James - you're definitely right.  I think calling out double taps on circuit breakers is Home Inspection 101.  It's probably the first thing they teach at those "You'll-be-a-certiified-home-home-inspector-in-24-hours-guaranteed-or-your-money-back" home inspection schools.  Too bad they often miss the little details.

Thanks Gene and Eldon, you guys too.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

BTW

These (those) are not 'taps'.

It is two (or more) wires under a breaker.

Tap(s) mean something else.

 

Posted by Mike Parks, Inspector (Residential Building Inspectors) over 8 years ago

Mike - so what's a "Tap"?

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 8 years ago

There is no definition of tap in the NEC.

One example would be 'splicing' the overhead conductors to service two meters. Like a commercial job.

Other would be tapping a 50AMP circuit with a wire 20AMP conductor to feed a range, oven, or cook top. See Article 210.19(A)(3) NEC.

There many more examples.

You could call wire under the main lug as a tap, while technically not the correct language, you would be understood.

Just state what you see. KISS principle.

Posted by Mike Parks, Inspector (Residential Building Inspectors) over 8 years ago

Another example would be in a manufactured home.

You could have a 200 AMP disconnect on a pole feeding the home with 4/0, then under the home in a box reduce the wire to feed a 100 AMP panel inside.

That wire would be a tap. The 100 AMP breaker inside protects the tap.

Posted by Mike Parks, Inspector (Residential Building Inspectors) over 8 years ago

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Posted by Samanthacarter almost 6 years ago
I am a licensed electrician and I wish home inspectors would take the time to actually try and understand what you are explaining. It is very obvious when you open a panel and see the screw with the two "humps" on either side of the screw head you know that breaker is rated for handling 2 wires that are of the same properties and size. I have bought and sold many houses and been in many fights with home inspectors who thought they knew more than me until I pulled out my license and code book and taught them a thing or two. I wanted to point out that in your explanation of the breake type that can only handle one wire you circles "1 pole" on the breaker. That only tells some one that it is a single pole breaker not how many wires can be installed under the screw. IF the breaker doesn't say 2 wires or have the "humps" it can't have two wires under the screw and must be spliced to a single wire going to the breaker.
Posted by paul jackson about 4 years ago
i agree with paul jackson's explaination. 1 pole doesn't mean the breaker can only handle 1 wire.
Posted by keith about 4 years ago

Yes, that photo doesn't belong.  One pole is not the same as one conductor.  I originally wrote this post in 2009, then posted in here in 2010.  I don't know what I was thinking back then.  

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 4 years ago

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