i have several outside floodlights, and several outside outlets.

family member wired it

plugging into the outside outlets causes the breaker to trip

using a 4-conductor cable(1 black, 1 red, 1 white, 1 bare ground) he put the red (lights) and the black (outlets) on the same phase (breakers 4 and 8)

now it seems to me that this is unsafe, that the breakers should be next to each other on the opposite phase

i believe i need AFCI breakers for both. Do they need to have the bar across the handles so that when one trips, it trips the other

the wire is 14 AWG solid and the breakers are 20A

  • That sounds like a problem, yes. Can you add a picture of your breaker panel with the cover removed, and point out which breakers this circuit is wired to? Also a picture of the breaker panel's labeling (usually on the inside cover of the door) would be useful.
    – Nate S.
    Jul 18, 2019 at 20:08
  • no camera, but it's a Square D QO type panel, with the red from the cable in question going to breaker 4, labeled 'outside lights' and the black going to breaker 8, labeled 'bathroom,' but it's not actually controlling the bathroom, but instead is going to the outside receptacles
    – mb91
    Jul 18, 2019 at 20:20
  • Basically yes to all your questions. But as to why it trips I've no idea... electricity doesn't care if it's a different breaker on the same phase. So, all of that, yes. But there's still a problem here, and I don't think any of that will solve it. Also, on 4&8: it's not a MWBC. So if you do make it one, you need to make sure all the wires go where they're supposed to (that nothing is being back-fed)
    – Mazura
    Jul 18, 2019 at 20:36
  • 1
    so if it were on 2 and 4, say, it would be considered an mwbc? breaker 4 is a gfci breaker, and it's the one that's tripping. they use a common neutral.
    – mb91
    Jul 18, 2019 at 20:46
  • 1
    @mb91 - Any two circuits on separate phases sharing a neutral is a MWBC. But you just about listed all the things code requires for them to comply.
    – Mazura
    Jul 18, 2019 at 21:02

2 Answers 2


You're correct that there are several problems here.

First of all, if indeed breakers #4 and #8 are sharing the same neutral wire in a 14/3 with ground cable, then you're at risk of overloading that neutral. Correct MWBC wiring requires either a two pole breaker, or two adjacent breakers connected with a listed handle tie. Whether AFCI is required will depend on your local code, but it isn't a bad idea in any case. GFCI is required on the outdoor outlets, and it's not a bad idea to do that in the breaker, but using a GFCI outlet (preferably weather-resistant rated) is also fine.

Additionally, 20A breakers are not allowed on 14 AWG wire. When you're replacing the breakers, get a 15A.

However, none of this should cause the outlet breaker to trip when something is plugged in (unless perhaps if it's already a GFCI breaker), so it's very possible that there's something else wrong in the wiring as well. Since your family member made so many mistakes already, it would be wise to open up all the lights and outlet boxes they wired, and check their work (or hire an electrician to do so, if you don't feel confident doing so yourself).

Edit: since you mentioned breaker #4 is a GFCI breaker, the fact that its sharing a neutral with breaker #8 is why it's tripping. GFCIs function by monitoring the current on both the hot and neutral and making sure they're equal, and if not, they trip. Since the circuit shares its neutral with breaker #8, the currents will not be equal, so the GFCI is doing its job and tripping. To have a GFCI breaker protect a shared-neutral MWBC like you have here, it must be a two-pole GFCI breaker, so that it can monitor both hots and their shared neutral, and make sure the current on all three wires sums to 0.

  • Open up everything, +1
    – Mazura
    Jul 18, 2019 at 20:59

It is a multi-wire branch circuit (MWBC) because it has 2 hot wires sharing a neutral. It's an MWBC no matter where the breakers are positioned. Breaker position decides whether its a dangerous MWBC.

It is not enough for the breakers to be next to each other. They must be a 2-pole breaker! (or single breakers handle-tied so they occupy the exact same shape and space as a 2-pole breaker will suffice).

Now if you need GFCI or AFCI at the breaker, this also must be a 2-pole breaker. AFCIs won't work any other way. GFCIs can be done as receptacles instead of a breaker, since you don't need GFCI on lights. The GFCI receptacle can protect downline loads as long as it's after the split; i.e. the other circuit doesn't borrow neutral past this point.

Your #14 wire requires a 15A breaker.

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