I have a 208/120V 3 phase circuit currently feeding an outlet for a drill press. I would like to change this to 3 separate branch circuits for lighting. Can I keep the shared neutral? I plan on keeping the common internal trip breakers in place

  • 1
    You will probably need to up size the neutral (or equipment ground) to the same size as the phase conductors. I almost never run neutrals to 3 phase equipment, but do run equipment grounds. The equipment ground is usually much smaller than the needed neutral. If the wire is sized correctly for the breaker(s) it could be done.
    – Ed Beal
    Nov 22, 2016 at 20:14
  • What size is the current wiring? Nov 22, 2016 at 23:23

2 Answers 2


This only works with genuine 3-phase power. If you are using a "phase converter" to fabricate "3-phase" from a single-phase supply, Do Not Do This.

What you would be creating is called a multi-wire branch circuit (MWBC). There are several articles on here on how to do MWBC's, such as mine here, or you can Google it. You will need to pigtail neutral, mark the wires as grouped wherever they are near other wires, and as Kris points out, use a 3-pole breaker.

The circuit breaker would need to be sized for the thinnest wire including the ground. Sometimes 4-conductor circuits are installed with a smaller neutral than the hots, in that case the smallest wire decides the breaker size.

Also if you are feeding common USA 120V receptacles (i.e. NEMA 5-15 or 5-20), the breaker can be no larger than 20A. There are special rules which permit 30A for lighting circuits.

  • Good answer. Also required would be a 3-pole 20A breaker to cut off all the ungrounded conductors. Add that little detail and you got my upvote.
    – Kris
    Nov 23, 2016 at 0:27
  • @Kris -- it looks like the OP has a 3-pole breaker already Nov 23, 2016 at 1:19
  • @ThreePhasrEel yes but maybe not 20A rated
    – Kris
    Nov 23, 2016 at 3:14
  • @Kris We don't know that 20A would be the correct size breaker to use. Admittedly I'm not in the US and don't know how common it is, but it's not impossible that they've run 14 gauge. Nov 23, 2016 at 4:03
  • 1
    Right, 15 ... 20 A should be sized accordingly and a 3-pole breaker. Harper already addressed the wire size and that's good, but I wanted to emphasize the importance of still using 3-pole breaker with the MWBC
    – Kris
    Nov 23, 2016 at 13:20

The three circuits need to be individually breaker protected. You have to replace the three pole breaker with three single pole ones. Save the old breaker in case of future upgrades.

  • 1
    Uh, have you not heard of multiwire branch circuits before? Nov 23, 2016 at 1:26
  • 2
    @Trout, You got it wrong. It's the opposite. The 3-pole, or handle-tied, breaker is required for a MWBC. Nov 24, 2016 at 0:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.