I have a small subpanel fed from my main panel. The subpanel has two (unsheathed) hots (from separate breakers) exiting the top, going back into a wall cavity and then back to the main panel where they are spliced (wire nuts) to two circuits going off to other areas of the house. I suspect that there were some double tapped breakers in the main panel and this was the 'solution'. I'm prepping the house for sale and I assume this will not fly with a home inspector. What are my options for correcting this?

Here's the subpanel:

subpanel showing two hots exiting

Here's the back of the main panel:

Back of main panel showing hots entering

  • 1
    What are you showing us in the second pic?
    – brhans
    Dec 6 '17 at 18:45
  • That is the back of the main panel showing the two hots entering.
    – Jim S.
    Dec 6 '17 at 18:47
  • 1
    Aah now I see them ... WTF?
    – brhans
    Dec 6 '17 at 18:55
  • Do you have a picture where they are spliced? Where are the neutrals and grounds to these circuits? From what I understand, they are probably tied in to the main panel? The solution would be to extend the full circuit to the subpanel (new romex for both wires, tie the grounds and neutrals to the sub). Also it should be supported (stapled down) and should have adequate space to run, not sandwiched through a crack like seen in the second photo.
    – TFK
    Dec 6 '17 at 20:09
  • Not getting it. I see hot-hot-neutral (no ground but we can fix that) entering the subpanel from a fat black cable... this is the only thing in that subpanel that isn't wrong. The main panel pic is too unclear to see, what's the issue, did they strip back too much of the black sheath? What's behind that pink fuzz? Is there enough slack in the black cable to get both ends of the sheath 1/4" into the box on both ends? Dec 6 '17 at 21:06

This thing is a disaster at so many levels. First let's tackle the instant (immediate) case.

The fundamental rules being broken here are that: every hot must travel in the same cable with its partner neutral, hots cannot use neutrals from different circuits, and hot, neutral and ground must be sourced from the same (sub)panel. **

There are two radically different approaches to fixing this, assuming the main panel is full. Both of them involve a favorite trick of mine: putting a large steel junction box smewhere appropriate (usually quite near near the panel, with a <2' short run of EMT conduit into the panel). Site the junction box so all the cables can make it with their existing length.

Approach 1, pull the 2 circuits in question out of the main panel, and terminate them in this junction box. Then, double back from the subpanel with two runs of /2 Romex of appropriate AWG, bringing that also to the junction box. Splice their hot-neutral-ground all separate, except for grounds which can be a big clump with a ground pigtail from the junction box. The junction box is now the subpanel's grounding system, but it doesn't matter if the EMT also provides a grounding path, since you also grounded the subpanel.**

approach 2: find two other circuits or one 240V circuit now landed in the main panel, which lend themselves to be easily rerouted to the subpanel. Again you can use an intermediate junction box, but the box must remain accessible. Now, with two breaker spots freed in the main panel, move your two problem circuits back to the main panel.

Other stuff

On the subpanel, you see that Romex flopping around wingle-wangly. Nope. Staple that stuff properly, find a way to use any extra length or shorten it in the panel**, and if its already too short, either put some lumber there for it to run along, or junction box/splice/extension.

**Related, your subpanel does not have a ground nor ground-neutral separation, but that's a pretty easy fix. Buy and install two ground bars that are correct for that panel (get these at a REAL electrical supply house which sells that panel type, GE Q line?) one at the top, one at the bottom, so all the ground wires will reach. Move 'em to the ground bars. Remove any neutral-ground bonding straps or green screws on the neutral rail. Then, get some probably #4 bare ground wire and run it from the main panel to the sub. It is legal to retrofit grounds in this way. There may be a way to weasel out of this using Code grandfathering, but it's easy and cheap to do it, using the routing the blacks are now using. The dusty old neutral bar and shiny new ground bar will impress the inspector.


LOL yeah someone cheated there. It looks like two black wires by themselves. If those are both hot legs then it is a 240 volt circuit. Otherwise, it may be a hot and a neutral. There doesn't appear to be a ground wire.

Those wires should be replaced with appropriate sized NM cable. So if they are #12 they should be replaced with a 12/2 w/ground cable. If it is a 240 volt circuit you can re-identify the white wire as red.

You can make joints in panels as long as there is sufficient space. It's not pretty but it is allowed by the Code.

Good luck!

  • If a sub it would need both neutral and ground, what would keep someone from putting in a single pole and using the ground for a neutral.
    – Ed Beal
    Dec 6 '17 at 23:16
  • @EdBeal I don't quite understand what you mean. The circuit the OP is referring to is a 2 wire branch circuit not the panel feed.
    – ArchonOSX
    Dec 7 '17 at 10:44
  • OP stated a small sub panel fed by the main. I just reread again and maybe this is the sub feeding the ? With the 2 wires.
    – Ed Beal
    Dec 7 '17 at 13:59

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