We hired an electrician to Power a steam humidifier and when I opened the electrical panel I was surprised to see two 20 amp circuit breakers next to each other with a copper wire through the on/off switch connecting both breakers and ensuring both were moved on and off together. I have only seen dual switches with a common "bridge" to both that come that way from the manufacturer.

Why would the electrician install it this way and is this a safe feature in the panel...?

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    What is this linked pair of breakers powering? – ThreePhaseEel Aug 29 '18 at 23:19
  • All single pole GE breakers have a hole in the tab which allows connecting two adjacent breakers for manual switching. For modern breakers this does not mean common trip. For older breakers this may provide common trip. – Jim Stewart Aug 30 '18 at 0:00
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    We need to know more about what these breakers are powering, so we can figure out whether they require common trip or whether common maintenance shutoff will suffice. Regardless, a piece of wire (I've also seen a nail) is not acceptable as a handle-tie. The breaker manufacturers will cheerfully sell you a proper and UL listed handle-tie. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 30 '18 at 0:40

The nail/wire is not a legal handle tie, but a proper electrical supply who deals in that brand will cheerfully sell you one for $3 - or as Ed Beal points out, anyone will sell you a 2-pole breaker for $9. Whether that is legal: It depends.

If the breakers are powering device(s) that use both 120V and 240V (classically ovens (for the light) and dryers (for the motor)), then that device requires common-trip. Handle-ties cannot provide common trip. Only a 2-pole breaker can do that.

If the breakers are powering a variety of loads, every single one of which is a 120V-to-neutral load, or every single one is 240V-only (no neutral: water heater, A/C, EV charger), then common trip is not required; you need common maintenance shutoff. That is what a handle-tie does. But you need to use the proper one that is UL listed for the breaker type.

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  • a 240V only device (HWH, AC) can use a common maintenance shutoff just fine. It's only devices or circuits with both 120V and 240V loads (both L-L- and L-N) that require the common trip functionality – ThreePhaseEel Aug 30 '18 at 3:41
  • @ThreePhaseEel Thanks. Thought of throwing your hat in the ring for moderator? I can't take it, the eligibility window is at a time when I'm awaiting data that'll require me to make a huge life-path decision. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Aug 30 '18 at 3:53
  • I'm kind of taking a wait-and-see -- I know some diamond mods from other SEs though so I might talk to them about it – ThreePhaseEel Aug 30 '18 at 4:09

Although a 6 penny nail that was cut off was common in years past nails and wire are not legal handle ties. Manfacturers do make snap in ties but they are harder to find today than a double pole breaker that would meet code requirements where the wire is not code compliant. I state this as long as the panel is still supported double pole breakers are quite inexpensive for a common brand at 20 amps and this would be safer.

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