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First off I know this is not the best idea.

To start my 200 Amp Main has suffered a partial failure and as it is old (60s) and unusual it will be very hard or impossible to replace it. Since the main breaker has failed only half of my breakers are working as only one of the hot lines from it is supplying power to the breaker box and so basically every other breaker is working.

This means of course that any double pole breakers will not work.

I need to wire up my water heater (18.8 Amp) using two 110 breakers.

Can anyone explain to me how to do this for a quick fix as my real fix will require a complete new breaker box and so on.

Main Breaker

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Shirlock has it right - you cannot get 220v from two 110v breakers on the same leg of your box. You need one feed from each of your two incoming hot legs. You'll have to fix/replace the main breaker or replace the box. –  JoeFish Dec 29 '11 at 18:08
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5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

You cannot get 220VAC from one leg in your panel. You must have two isolated 120VAC legs to do this. Using two single pole breakers on one leg will still only give you 120VAC.

Why can't you have the main breaker replaced? You should be able to buy a replacement breaker without replacing the whole panel. Also, have you tried manually setting the magnets in the main breaker? This is done by removing it and slamming it hard down on all axis. This will sometimes physically reset the magnets in their proper position within the breaker and restore normal operation. They can sometimes be jarred out of position when tripped. But since you have to remove the breaker to do this trick, you might as well replace it with a fresh new one.

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The electrician that I had diagnose and look at the breaker originally said that it would be very hard to find a similar breaker. I have attached a photo if it to the original post. –  ian Dec 29 '11 at 18:51
    
heinemann breakers are now made by Eaton, a common Canadian brand. You may have to take your panel model number to an electrical distributor that handles Eaton. I bet they can get you a replacement. I found them online easily –  shirlock homes Dec 29 '11 at 19:10
    
Thanks. How do I tell if a breaker is correct for the box other than it being 200Amps? Is there anything to consider other than the mount points and how it connects to it's inputs and outputs? –  ian Dec 29 '11 at 19:24
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@ian The electrician you call should be able to get the proper breaker. DO NOT DO THIS YOURSELF!. Replacing the main breaker requires you to shut power off to the whole house (either at the meter, or the pole), which will have to be done by either the utility company or a master electrician. –  Tester101 Dec 29 '11 at 20:13
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Thanks for all the help I switched breaker a couple days ago without much fuss and its working perfectly! –  ian Jan 6 '12 at 0:54
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Not an answer, @shirlock homes got the answer right. This is for the replacement breaker. Do a google search on UQFB200, a breaker made by Milbank. It has been around forever (early 60's?) and looks like your Heinemann. Forget about Cutler Hammer having it. Hopefully you can read the specs to compare measurement, but if you measure, keep your hands out of it and use nothing conductive!!!

REMEMBER YOU ARE RISKING YOUR LIFE ANYTIME YOU MESS WITH AN OPEN PANEL OR OPEN LUGS LIKE ON THE BREAKER. EVEN IF THE POWER IS OFF ALWAYS ACT AS IF THE POWER IS ON. If you cannot measure SAFELY show the picture to the electrician and he can figure it out.

UQFB Spec

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Why do you say forget about Cutler Hammer? My electrical supply store listed this: yblighting.com/… as being suitable for my breaker box. –  ian Dec 30 '11 at 2:50
    
It was not a knock at C-H, just as getting a Heinemann replacement from C-H and I was going from your picture. If your local supply says that is the replacement, then they know what they are talking about, as probably you are not the only person in that area with that breaker and they have gone through all this before. Ask them if it is new and in the box before you get it. That's something that should always be asked when buying larger frame replacement breakers. –  lqlarry Dec 30 '11 at 5:59
    
@lqlarry; +vote on excellent research. –  shirlock homes Dec 30 '11 at 12:12
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You could use a step-up transformer to increase the voltage (the opposite of what North Americans do when they go to Europe), however by the time you do this, you may as well just fix the actual problem. Residential main panels are inexpensive but there is a bit of labour involved to swap it out, and you usually need a licensed electrician do this work.

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Even if someone would attempt this, I think it would be very hard to find the right transformer for the job. And the transformer itself is probably going to cost more than replacing the whole panel. –  Vitaliy Dec 29 '11 at 22:57
    
Even if you could find a transformer that big, you'd need a 50 amp circuit at 120 volts just to power the water heater. –  Skaperen Dec 29 '11 at 23:03
    
I know you are both right, but it is a possible solution and thats what this site is all about! –  Steven Dec 29 '11 at 23:17
    
+1 for thinking outside the box –  Vitaliy Dec 30 '11 at 5:48
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Odd as it might sound, you could run the water heater on 120 volts. Based on the amperage you stated, it would be a common 4500 watt heater. At 120 volts instead of 240 volts (which as explain in previous answers you simply do not have), it will be effectively a 1125 watt heater (half the amps times half the volts). It will take up to 4 times as long to recover. Today's heaters are well insulated and should be able to reach a reasonable temperature even at the low wattage. You might add some extra insulation if the outside feels warm.

When I was in college, I moved into an apartment where the gas water heater was shut off and only had a lit pilot. I merely noticed it was taking a very long time to recover (nearly all day). But it was enough to shower once a day. I did this for 3 months before finding out that it was never running the main burner. Running the electrical elements on half voltage should be better than a pilot.

I'm also concerned about adding extra load to the remaining side of your panel. That could easily cause the crippled main breaker to completely fail. We don't know why it failed on one side. Why would that trouble not also exist on the other? This is something that needs fixed sooner, not later. These larger breakers are often similarly sized and a new one from another manufacturer may fit (have an electrician do that work). The connections in your photo are what is common in separate large breakers.

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Thanks. If the water heater was running this way would Just one of the two heating elements be running. (they are 4500 watt) or would they both be running at lower power? Would letting the elements run so much longer damage them? I have been able to find a UL Listed replacement main breaker with the help of my electrical supply store. (my electrician could not and wanted to replace mine with a used one of the same model that he would maybe find online..) –  ian Dec 30 '11 at 0:35
    
They would both be running when you feed just 120 volts to the 2 conductors that power the heater. Some heaters MAY have an active control circuit that won't operate on 120 volts. Otherwise the two elements operate in parallel when the thermostat(s) indicate a need for more heat. –  Skaperen Dec 31 '11 at 2:40
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I have used 120 volts to power a 240 volt hot water heater before. The 240 volt 4500 watt element will put out about 1125 watts of heat if hooked up to 120 volts. Depending on your hot water usage you might never run out of hot water. I had 3 people living in my home with a 240 volt hot water heater hooked up to 120 volts, and never ran out of hot water, but it was a 80 gallon HWH.

The hot water heater's recovery time, which is the time required to heat up the hot water used, will be about 4 times longer than if it were hooked up to 240 volts.

One could also replace the elements in the hot water heater with 120 volt elements. My local hardware store sells a 120 volt 1650 watt element for about $20. Use a 20 amp breaker. Replace both elements, upper and lower. Make sure you save the 240 volt elements to use when you solve your main breaker problem.

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