PropertyManagementMaven: How To Fix Double Tapping At Circuit Breakers

How To Fix Double Tapping At Circuit Breakers


This is a VERY COMMON problems in rental properties and I have a section of my Resident Handbook devoted to advising residents how to deal with tripped breakers and GFIs


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.

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 - Email - Minneapolis Home Inspections

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Comment balloon 4 commentsWallace S. Gibson, CPM • January 19 2010 04:56AM


Wow! Great reblog. Lots of good info in this one.

Posted by Will Nesbitt, Nesbitt Realty is a family-run brokerage. (Nesbitt Realty at Condo Alexandria) about 8 years ago

Will * half my resident electrical issues can be solved with this information!!!  Saves my clients $ and time and hassle for residents

Posted by Wallace S. Gibson, CPM, LandlordWhisperer (Gibson Management Group, Ltd.) about 8 years ago

It is usually a good quick fix, if I don this I also add electrical tape around the marret as an extra safety precaution

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

This is good info!  As a former electrician apprentice in a past life, I've seen my share of this double tapping method.  I would caution folks to take great care in handling any wiring issues in their properties.  Unless you have trained experience with residential wiring, you stand the chance of creating a bigger problem and you certainly face the prospect of receiving a nice big jolt if your screwdriver touches the wrong post.  Look out!!

Posted by Eric Boyd, FL Licensed Real Estate Broker / Property Manager (Step One Realty, LLC, 904-469-6335) about 8 years ago

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