What Is a Double-Tapped Breaker?
Improper wiring can be extremely dangerous. According to the National Fire Protection Association, faulty wiring causes 68% of all home fires and 42% of fire-related deaths in the US. Because of this, it is important to have a home inspection company check your property for potential problems such as outdated, frayed, or flawed wiring.
One wiring-related issue inspectors often encounter is a double-tapped breaker. This occurs when there is more than one wire running into the same circuit breaker. The setup could cause sparks and electrical current arcing, which could lead to a fire.
Why Is a Double-Tapped Breaker Dangerous?
A double-tapped breaker can negate the protection offered by circuit breakers.
What Do Circuit Breakers Do?
Circuit breakers protect the wiring system from overload. They automatically cut the current when it travels along an unintended path (short current) or produces more energy than expected (overcurrent). Circuit breakers and fuses perform the same function, with the only difference being that you can reset a circuit breaker, but you need to replace a fuse.
What Happens When You Attach Two Wires to One Circuit Breaker?
Typically, a circuit breaker has one terminal per wire. When you attach two wires to the same terminal, it can overload the circuit. Some circuits are designed to accept multiple currents, but most are not, so you should always assume that doubling up on one terminal is dangerous.
Electricians call connecting multiple wires to one circuit breaker terminal “double tapping.”
The problem is that double tapping does not lead to immediate catastrophic results. Instead, the circuit breaker will become hot or trip repeatedly. Because it is usually hidden behind a door or panel, you will not notice this overheating. Over time, the wires could corrode, and you may experience failures on the circuit. You could lose power to certain appliances or have the lights in one room go out unexpectedly.
Also, depending on the current, you may hear a buzzing or hissing sound coming from a circuit box with one or more double-tapped breakers.
Can Double Tapping Cause a Fire?
Though regular tripping of the circuit breaker is the most common symptom of a double-tapped circuit, the setup can lead to electrical fires.
You may see sparks coming from the connection if the wires loosen or become corroded. However, the most catastrophic issue is arcing.
Arcing occurs when a spark combines with gases in the air and the current jumps between a gap in the wiring. Arcing can cause a fire, and if the electrical panel ignites, the flames will spread quickly. Though arcing is less common than simple overheating of circuits, it could have catastrophic results.
How Many Wires Can a Circuit Breaker Handle?
A standard circuit breaker can only handle one wire. Some models allow you to safely connect two wires to one terminal, but they are not common.
Typically, an unqualified electrician or someone doing DIY wiring will create a double-tapped circuit. It is even possible to have a triple-tapped circuit, which can exacerbate the overheating problems and increase the danger of a spark or arc.
If you are unsure about the wiring in your home, it is best to have an inspector assess the situation. Depending on local regulations, a city inspector may issue a citation for double-tapped circuits or mandate that you fix them to avoid a penalty.
Can You Fix a Double-Tapped Circuit?
There are several options for fixing a double-tapped circuit. However, it is best to seek the advice of a professional electrician, who can help you decide which solution is best for your needs.
Combine the Two Wires
The first solution is to combine the multiple wires using a so-called pigtail connection. The goal is to join the wires and then connect them to a single conductor that attaches to the circuit terminal. Since the wires get connected before they reach the circuit breaker, there is technically only one wire connecting to the terminal.
Combine Circuit Breakers
Another choice is to replace the standard circuit breaker with a tandem model. This product is actually two different circuit breakers that take up the same amount of space on a panel as a single unit. This is a good option if you are planning to add wiring or make renovations or additions to your property. It gives you the same safety benefits as a standalone breaker in a more compact package.
Some circuit breakers are designed to handle two wires. They have spaces to connect two wires, and you will be able to see an illustration on the label showing two connections.
Add a New Circuit Breaker
If there is room on the panel, you can simply add a new circuit breaker and connect the second wire to it so that there is only one wire per circuit. This is arguably the most straightforward option because you do not need any specialized circuits, and you get the full safety benefits of a standalone breaker for each wire. The only requirement is that there is space to plug in the additional unit.
Costs to Fix a Double-Tapped Circuit
Double-tapped circuits are generally straightforward to repair. An electrician or someone with knowledge of electrical wiring can handle a pigtail connection, tandem circuit installation, or the addition of a new breaker. The repairs are certainly easier and cheaper than dealing with an electrical fire or contending with repeated tripping from an overwhelmed circuit breaker.
Why You Need a Property Inspection
Someone who isn’t familiar with electrical wiring may not notice double tapping. Other issues, such as having too many appliances connected to one outlet, can regularly trip circuit breakers.
Also, when you are buying a new home (or if you are an agent assisting a buyer), you may not have the time and know-how to inspect all the wiring in the home before closing.
If you are in the Orlando area, you can enlist the help of Pro Inspect Solutions to help you assess the wiring, circuit breakers, and other essential systems on the property. Wiring is part of Pro Inspect Solutions’ Four-Point Inspection service.
If you are purchasing a new property or have concerns about your current home, contact Pro Inspect Solutions to book an appointment.