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I have a panel in this two story house that has a weird wiring setup. The outlets around the house have been divided into 4 breakers of 15AMP each, which normally work however there is a single one of the four that takes a majority of them (living room, dining room, master bedroom, and a second bedroom). This is causing that breaker to be tripped at least 1-2 a week. The panel does have 5 or so spots left on it where no breakers are installed. I'm wondering if it's possible to take that one breaker that's constantly tripping and divide it into a newly installed 15AMP breaker?

If anyone has the answer or maybe a different solution for how to fix this that would be great as I'm worried about wearing out the existing breaker.

  • Is the breaker tripping when you use a vacuum cleaner? These can pull 12 A so it is easy to overload a 15 A circuit with a vacuum cleaner. You might try using a 15 or 20 ft extension cord and plugging the vacuum into a receptacle on a different circuit. – Jim Stewart Oct 11 '17 at 15:10
  • You should analyze why the breaker is tripping -- is it simply due to having every light in the house on, is it due to using a window AC unit, the vacuum? If there isn't an identifiable cause there is a non-trivial chance that you're seeing an intermittent short somewhere. – Hot Licks Oct 12 '17 at 2:29
  • Are these GFCI or AFCI breakers or just old standard breakers? – JimmyJames Oct 12 '17 at 14:43
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    Another potential is poor wiring. I lived in a house as a child that my parents bought from what can only be described as a complete liability. The lights in the house upstairs didn't work unless the hallway light downstairs was on, and it just got worse from there. They ended up replacing all of the cablings in several rooms after finding that in some places he had used Telephone Cable for lighting. Hence the constant trips. If you're unsure of electrical provenance, definitely, check that your house doesn't have electrical issues like this! – Miller86 Oct 12 '17 at 15:13
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The problem is that all of those outlets and fixtures are on a single circuit. That means a single cable. The circuit breaker is merely the beginning of that circuit run.

What you need is more wire, not just more breakers. You would have to run a separate wire from one or more of those outlets and fixtures to the panel box, and then you could add a new breaker. Supplement: You would, of course, disconnect these outlets and fixtures from the original circuit.

Also, though you do not suggest it, please do not even consider changing to a higher amperage breaker. The amperage is again controlled by the wire (in this case, size), not the breaker.

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    Worth mentioning: the consequence of not following this advice is a good possibility of your house burning down. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Oct 11 '17 at 16:01
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    @Myles Only if you can check all of the wire, it all has to be 12g – Roshan Bhumbra Oct 11 '17 at 22:37
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    One needs to be careful with regard to wire gauge -- make sure that ALL of the wire is 12 gauge if switching to 20A. It's not uncommon, in older homes, for there to be a kludge of different wire gauges, even though this is "illegal" unless conspicuously marked. – Hot Licks Oct 12 '17 at 2:27
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    @J... I thought that was implied, but I will clarify. – bib Oct 12 '17 at 13:14
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    @bib I've seen enough "handyman" electrical jobs that, if it's implied and there's a way to interpret it wrongly, someone will, and they will do something stupid, dangerous, or both. It's obvious to anyone that already knows what they're doing, but that isn't necessarily the target audience here (no offence to Sandose either... just that anyone anywhere can and will read this). – J... Oct 12 '17 at 16:22
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The fact that this one breaker is regularly tripping could mean that that breaker is worn out. These have a lifetime. Replace it with a new 15 A breaker of the same type. These are very cheap.

In the short term analyze what the loads are in those rooms. Can you replace any light bulbs with LEDs? Are there any high power appliances which could be replaced with new ones which would do the same job with lower power?

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    I also love the LED idea. This is likely where most of the power is used. When buying LED lighting, it's important to pay attention to the color temperature. A higher color temperature will be more like incandescent light. A cooler temperature is like daylight which is typically undesirable, especially in bedrooms as the blue light is thought to disrupt sleep cycles. – JimmyJames Oct 11 '17 at 16:46
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    @JimmyJames Though the numbers go in the opposite way, i.e. 4000K color temperature is more blue than 3000K. – jpa Oct 11 '17 at 17:02
  • @jpa Good point. My recollection is that they are typically labelled with descriptive words but it's a confusing system. – JimmyJames Oct 11 '17 at 17:05
  • @JimmyJames They are required to have the Lighting Facts by the FTC which makes it easy to ignore the buzzwords ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/… – Halfwarr Oct 11 '17 at 19:34
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    Ive switched the entire house to power smart lights. Even the halogen spot lights in the kitchen are now LED version. 90% of the lights in the house are phillips hue lights so we can actually control the light kelvins to desired. They are making the switch to a smart home which is where i come in. – Sandose Oct 12 '17 at 7:04
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First, remember that the breaker tripping is a good thing. While inconvenient it's far better than a fire. Also, if the breaker has been tripping this often, it should be replaced, they do have a limited useful life.

As for resolving the issue, while you can try to reduce the load with more efficient lights or appliances, the best solution is to split the rooms into different circuits.

Now this may or may not be a simple process, it really depends on how the house was wired. If the rooms are wired in sequence and there is only one wire coming to that breaker, then the poster above is correct about having to rewire to add circuits and more breakers. However, I suspect that there are probably several wires running into this breaker and that each wire connected to the breaker is actually a different set of outlets and/or switches. If that is the case, then it is a relatively easy job for an electrician to split out the circuits into multiple breakers. You won't know until an electrician pulls the breaker and looks at the panel.

Regardless of how you proceed, you should call an electrician to do the work. Splitting up circuits into new breakers is not a DIY project unless you have a lot of electrical experience. I'm happy to change switches, outlets and fixtures, but even though I understand the process, I wouldn't tackle this one myself.

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    Splitting up circuits into new breakers is not a DIY project unless you have a lot of electrical experience. or the walls are open. Pulling all that wire can turn into a real headache fast. – Brad Oct 11 '17 at 17:41
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    FYI: Replacing breakers isn't as easy as it sounds. Often by the time you need them they stopping making compatible breakers. Then you have to replace the whole panel. – cybernard Oct 12 '17 at 1:46
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Breakers are there to protect wires. If you think that you'll just put two 15A breakers in parallel to "take the load" off the single 15A, but send that down the same wiring as before, then you're now effectively working with a 30A breaker on the 15A wire -- very bad.

If you split the wiring so that there are now two separate circuits going into the box (one for living/dining, and one for master/second bedroom, say) and then use a separate 15A breaker for each of those two circuits, then absolutely, that's why panels have multiple slots! Make suring wiring is to code, use a high quality UL listed 15A breaker that fits your panel, tighten all connections sufficiently, and you should be all good.

Each panel has a master breaker at the top, which makes sure that the panel itself is not overloaded. If you have a really skewed wiring, you may end up drawing all the power on one of the two phases that go into a typical box; if so, you can move some breakers to a different phase to even the load. This is a less common problem, though.

  • Thanks Jon, I have seen enough electrical fires to know what putting a 15 amp wiring load onto a 30 amp breaker can cause. Thank you for your help verifying this. – Sandose Oct 12 '17 at 6:57
  • "one of the two phases that go into a typical box" - just to point out that this is US only. UK will only have one phase in the box; Germany (at least around us) will have three. – Martin Bonner Oct 13 '17 at 11:07
  • @MartinBonner Very true; typical European wiring is three-phase 220V/240V. Which goes to show that you should typically check with someone who knows the specific rules and codes for your locale if you're unsure of what you're doing! Better safe than sorry. – Jon Watte Oct 13 '17 at 16:21
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I have had this problem with older houses. If the breaker trips to often carbon builds up on the points and yes the breaker wears out. By installing a new 15amp breaker is the problem resolved? If not you can buy or borrow an Amp meter to measure the current flow. start by switching on normal load then go to heavy load see where it trips. Some Amp-meters have a hold key that holds onto the last reading so you can read it when the current trips. Its very handy for heavy load devices such as water heater and stoves.

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