Typically, breakers are not designed for more than one wire to be connected to them. Double-tapping occurs when two electrical wires are connected to a breaker rated for only one wire connection. Double tapped breakers can overheat, and wire connections can become loose, causing the breaker to arc or trip frequently. In some cases, a house fire can occur.
A double-tapped breaker, aka ‘double-tap,’ occurs when two or more wires are connected to a circuit breaker rated for one wire connection. You can fix double-tapped breakers by installing a pigtail wire connection, install a tandem breaker, or install a breaker rated for two-wire connections. A double-tapped breaker costs about $150-$250 to fix.
In this article, we will look at why double-tapped breakers are dangerous. Moreover, we will also tell you how to fix a double-tapped breaker to ensure your safety.
What is a Double Tapped Breaker?
A double-tapped breaker is an electrical hazard where two or more wires are connected to a single breaker rated to receive one wire connection. Breakers come in two types, “1 pole” or “1 or 2 pole”. Breakers labeled “1 or 2 pole unit” are rated to receive two-wire connections, while a “1 pole” breaker is only rated for one wire connection.
Double tapped breakers are dangerous because the breaker can overheat and trip frequently. Two electrical wires connected to a single rated breaker reduces the resistance, causing the breaker to overheat and trip or fail suddenly. As the circuit overheats, the wire expands and contracts, creating loose connections that can arc and cause a house fire.
Are Double Tapped Breakers Allowed?
When people ask if a double tapped breaker is illegal, we assume they refer to electrical codes. Double tapped breakers are against national electrical codes and manufacturer guidelines unless the breaker is specifically rated “1 or 2 pole”. Electrical updates have to follow building codes enforced at the time of the change. When unwritten, the electrical code follows manufacturer specifications.
There is no direct mention regarding the National Electrical Code (NEC) regarding double tapped breakers and whether or not they are allowed. However, manufacturers rate their breakers for one or two pole connections.
Circuit breakers are clearly labeled whether they are designed to receive a single wire connection or a double wired connection. At 110.3(B), the NEC statement states that equipment labeled should only be installed and used in the way that the instructions list. Therefore, because the manufacturer specifies how the breaker should be connected, we can derive that double tapped breakers are not allowed.
Why Would Someone Double-Tap a Breaker?
Double tapping a breaker can be done when the electric panel box does not have adequate space to connect all the wiring circuits. Often, a homeowner or amateur electrician looking to get the job done quickly might double-tap the breaker to avoid going through all the hassle of either replacing the electric panel entirely or purchasing a breaker designed for two circuit connections.
The best way to know whether or not the double tapping of the breakers on your house’s electrical panel is a defect and potentially dangerous or not is to read the label of the breaker that has been double-tapped. If it is a breaker, which can allow for 2 circuit connections, it will clearly say so on the breaker itself which, can save you and your home from any tricky or dangerous situations.
How to Fix Double Tapped Breakers
The good thing about double tapped breakers is that they can be relatively easy and cheap to fix. There is more than one way to fix double tapped breakers, which means you can choose whichever method is the most comfortable and most convenient for you to do.
Install a Pig-tail Connection
The quickest and cheapest repair for a double tapped breaker is to create a pig-tail connection inside the electrical panel. A pig-tail connection is formed by connecting the two wires from the breaker to a third extra wire. Use a wire nut to secure the three wires together. Finally, connect the third extra wire to the breaker as a single wire connection.
The pig-tail connection repair option will only work provided the circuit breaker is not overloaded. Some ways to tell if the circuit is overloaded is if the breaker is overheating or tripping routinely. If you have questions, consult a licensed electrician.
Add a New Circuit Breaker
The safest and best repair is adding a new breaker into the box to separate the circuits if an open breaker slot exists. However, this may not always be an option. Double tapped breakers often occur because the electric panel is at total capacity with no available breaker slots.
Install a Tandem Circuit Breaker
A tandem breaker is a double breaker that fits into a single breaker slot in the electrical panel. Tandem breakers have two “1 pole” connections, each with individual trip handles.
Installing a tandem circuit breaker is an excellent alternative if the electrical panel manufacturer allows it. This option may not be suitable for older electrical panels.
A tandem breaker costs about $25-$40 per breaker plus labor for the install. Installing a tandem breaker will take about an hour to complete. The panel data plate should tell if you can install a tandem breaker. If you’re not sure, contact a licensed electrician.
Install a Two-Wire “1 or 2 Pole” Rated Breaker
A two-wire “1 or 2 Pole” breaker is a single breaker with two slots to connect two wires safely. You can easily identify a two-wire breaker because “1 or 2 Pole” will be printed on the breaker tag or stamped on the front of the breaker.
Like tandem breakers, installing a two-wire circuit breaker is an excellent alternative if the electrical panel manufacturer allows it. This option may not be suitable for older electrical panels.
A two-wire breaker costs about $25-$40 per breaker plus labor for the install. Installing a two-wire breaker can take about an hour to complete. The panel cover diagram will tell if you can install a two-wire breaker. If you’re unsure, consult a licensed electrician.
Lastly, if your panel is overloaded with all double tapped circuits, is at maximum capacity with no available breaker slots, and the manufacturer does not allow for tandem or two-wire breakers, replacing the electrical panel or installing a subpanel will be needed to separate the circuits safely.
Electric panel replacement can be significantly more expensive and take longer to repair. The national average cost to replace an electrical panel is about $1500 and can be as high as $4000.
Installing a subpanel to move some circuits into can cost $500 to $1500. The cost to install a subpanel will vary based on where the subpanel will be located, the amount of electrical wiring needed, the number of circuits being added.