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Is That Circuit Breaker Really Double “Tapped”?

This term is quite universal when it comes to home inspectors. I don’t think there is a week that goes by that I do not see double tapped circuit breakers. Many home inspectors call this out as a defect, which in many cases is. Just because two branch circuits are connected to one single pole circuit breaker that does not mean it is unsafe or a “violation”. Square D manufactures a circuit breaker (in the picture above) that is made to accept two branch circuits. Notice the marking on the breaker indicating that it can accept two copper conductors, however only one aluminum. There may also be a marking on the side indicating the maximum size conductor (copper / aluminum) for the breaker. A home inspector will more than likely not be able to see that during a home inspection unless it is the last breaker in the panel. There are also breakers that may be able to accept different wire sizes. The manufacture guidelines should be referenced. We should also be concerned with the proper amperage rating and conductor size. Here are other issues a home inspector should be looking for when inspecting double tapped circuit breakers:

  • Just because the circuit breaker is approved for two conductors, does not mean that the circuit is properly protected. Amperage should be correct.
  • If two different size conductors are used on one breaker, ensure the breaker is sized for the smaller conductor and the breaker is approved for this application
  • Each branch circuit, depending on size and load, should be supplying a certain number receptacles / switches
  • Even though the breaker is acceptable, it still may be overloaded based on the receptacles / switches / fixtures supplying
  • A dedicated circuit should not be used with this type of breaker
  • Ensure the connection is not being used for a multi-branch circuit or a 240 volt circuit. This would be a major defect and very dangerous
  • Having two branch circuits on one breaker will also add an additional neutral and ground conductor. Neutral and ground busses should normally not be double lugged
  • It would be difficult if not impossible to determine how many receptacles are on each branch circuit. Recommend a qualified electrician evaluate the circuit (s) to determine it is safe.
  • As a possible upgrade, a tandem or mini breakers could be installed if the panel is approved for them. It may also be necessary to upgrade the panel

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