What Is A Double Tapped Breaker: Dangers and How to Fix Them

Jennifer Eggerton
by Jennifer Eggerton

Circuit breakers protect your electrical system and home. If a circuit is overloaded, the breaker is tripped to cut off the flow of electricity. Normally each breaker has only one wire, but double tapped breakers are common. The problem may be identified by an electrician or home inspector.

A double tapped breaker is a breaker that has two wires instead of one. Double tapping can cause an arc or spark that may start a fire. Double tapped breakers tend to trip frequently and overheat. You can fix a double tapped breaker by adding a breaker, using a tandem breaker, or pig tailing the wires.

At best, double tapped breakers are nuisances in your electrical system. At worst, these miswirings are dangerous. Let’s review the basics of a circuit breaker, and learn more about double tapped breakers.

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How Does a Circuit Breaker Work?

Every wire in your home is soldered at a point in the circuit breaker box. A spring is connected to the solder. When too much electricity runs through a wire, the solder melts. This releases tension on the spring and trips the circuit breaker to stop the flow of electricity.

When you reset the breaker, tension is put on the spring again. It is not the number of outlets and appliances that trip the circuit breaker. Instead, it is the overall load on the electrical system or specific circuit. Circuit breakers also trip as a result of power surges from thunderstorms and rolling blackouts.

Importance of Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers are safety mechanisms within your electrical system. Too much electricity flowing through the system damages wires. Under these conditions, the electricity will arc, which means that it moves outside the wiring. Sparks are also common when wires carry too much electricity. Both of these situations increase the likelihood of fires, as well as electrical shocks.

Dangers of a Double Tapped Breaker

A circuit breaker is designed with a tightening screw that is large enough for only one wire. If two wires are connected to the breaker, the tightening screw will not hold both wires securely. Electricity flowing through the end of an unsecured wire causes an electrical discharge in the form of arcs and sparks. More than 30% of all house fires are caused by electrical issues. These types of fires not only damage property, but they are also responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths each year.

Proper Wire Connections for Circuit Breakers

Double tapped circuit breakers are easy to find when you know how wires should be connected to the breakers. Each circuit break has a tightening screw at one end. Some models have two screws. A circuit is properly installed when there is only one wire secured by each screw.

How to Find a Double Tapped Breaker

First, turn off the main breaker in the box to cut off the electricity. You don’t need to take anything apart inside the box. This is a safety precaution. Next, find the connecting screws at the end of the breakers. You may need a flashlight. Check each tightening screw to see if there is only one wire or two under each screw. You may need to maneuver a bit to see if there are two wires. Some electricians double tap with wires side-by-side and other stack the wires in the screws.

What to Do If You Find a Double Tapped Circuit Breaker

Shut off the circuit breaker. It needs to be fixed as soon as possible. Call an electrician, or you can do the repair yourself.

How to Fix a Double Tapped Breaker

Removing the extra wire from a double tapped circuit would certainly solve the problem. Unfortunately, you will also loose electricity to a part of your home. Here are three ways to fix a double tapped circuit breaker. If you have no experience with working on electrical systems, it is best to have an electrician do the work.

Double Check the Amps

If it is a DIY job, check the size of the breaker that is being used or installed. Home circuit breakers are typically 15 or 20 amps. Circuit breakers can only handle about 80% of their rated amps. You need to know the amps of the outlets and electrical connections that feed into the circuit breaker. Multiply that number by 80% to determine the right size breaker. Choosing a breaker with an equivalent or lower rating increases the risk of damaging the electrical system and causing a fire.

Safety First

Some important safety tips to remember when performing DIY electrical jobs in your home.

  • Do not touch any of the main wires or their connections coming into the box
  • Large wires are always live, so cover them with a piece of cardboard
  • Shut off the main breaker in the box

Install a New Breaker

If there is an open space in your circuit breaker box, install a new breaker for the extra wire on the double tapped circuit breaker. Make note of the model number, manufacturer, and style of your breaker box. You need this when you buy the new circuit. Do not use a different style of circuit breaker.

Step 1: Remove the Cover

The door of your circuit breaker box is held in place by three or four screws. Remove the screws, and hold onto the door so it doesn’t drop.

Step 2: Install the Breaker

The open space in your circuit breaker box has hooks for new breakers. Snap the new breaker into place.

Step 3: Prep the Wires

Check the length of the wire to make sure that it will reach the new circuit breaker. If there is some extra length, remove the copper ends of the wire. Strip the wire to expose fresh copper.

Step 4: Connect the Wires

Your new breaker has two posts. Connect the white wire to the AFCI post, and the black wire to the second post. Tighten the screws on the breaker until the wires are secure.

Step 5: Ground the Breaker

Connect the ground wires and AFCI pigtail to the neutral bus. Tighten the screws until snug.

Step 6: Test the Breaker

Test the breaker before you start to use it. Turn on the AFCI, and press the test button on the box. The circuit should trip. If it doesn’t trip, double check the steps of the installation.

Install a Tandem Breaker

If you don’t have an open space in your breaker box, a tandem breaker is a good alternative. Tandem breakers are also known as double circuit breakers. The device fits into the same space as a single breaker, but it has connections for two wires.

Check the manufacturer’s documentations and website to make sure that your model of box can handle tandem breakers. Remove the old breaker, snap the new one in place, and connect the wires.

Pig Tail the Wires

Pig tailing the wires to a double tapped circuit breaker is the easiest fix. You need a wire nut and a short length of extra wire. Remove the two wires from the breaker. Twist the copper ends of the three wires together, and secure them with the wire nut. Connect the end of the extra wire to the breaker. Pig tailing is very easy, but it may not be ideal in some situations. The extra length of the wires and wire nut may not fit well inside the box, and the connections can come loose.

Related Questions

Why are circuit breakers double tapped?

Double tapped circuit breakers are considered defects in an electrical system. The original electrician may have not had enough breakers for the home wiring, or the homeowner may have added wiring for new appliances and electronics and decided not to add a new circuit breaker. Double tapped circuit breakers are rare in newer homes, but they remain one of the most common issues found by home inspectors.

Are there any times when it is OK to double tap a breaker?

Some circuit breakers are designed for two wires, such as the breakers made by Square D and Cutler Hammer. Circuit breakers that can handle two conductors are clearly marked.

What are the signs of a double tapped breaker?

In addition to a visual inspection of your breaker box, there are other signs that may indicate a double tapped circuit breaker. Double tapped circuit breakers frequently trip. There may also be signs of arcing or sparks inside or around the box, such as burn marks.

Is a double tapped circuit breaker illegal?

Double tapped circuit breakers are safety risks, and the practice does not comply with building codes. If you have new wiring installed in your home and find double tapped circuit breakers, speak with the electrician. It may have been an oversight. If you are adding wiring to your home, follow local building codes. It is far more affordable to add a new breaker box than to lose your home to a fire.

What is a triple tapped circuit breaker?

Triple tapped circuit breakers happen less often than double tapped circuit breakers, but they do happen. A triple tapped circuit breaker has three wires in a circuit breaker that is designed for only one. If you find a triple tapped circuit breaker, it can be fixed with a new breaker or tandem breaker. Pig tailing may be less effective with triple tapped circuit breakers.

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What Did We Learn?

Double tapped circuit breakers are one of the most common defects found in home inspections. Instead of having one wire connected to the circuit breaker, the wiring was installed with two wires to a single breaker. Double tapping a circuit breaker is a safety concern. The practice causes arcing and sparks in the wiring that increases the risk of fires.

Double tapped circuit breakers can be fixed by adding a new circuit breaker. You can also use a tandem circuit breaker if your box accepts this type of breaker. Pig tailing is another fix for double tapped circuit breakers.

There are circuit breakers on the market that are designed for double tapping. The devices are clearly marked as accepting two wires inside the breaker box. Make sure that your breaker box is designed for these types of circuit breakers before installing them.

Jennifer Eggerton
Jennifer Eggerton

Jennifer L. Eggerton loves being hands-on, whether it's with a home DIY project, making repairs, re-decorating a room, or keeping life organized. She enjoys helping people by sharing her knowledge, insights, and experiences, as well as her lessons learned. In addition to her work as a writer, Jennifer is a JeepĀ® overlander, self-published author, and nature photographer who loves being outdoors.

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