I have a 20 amp breaker in my 1890’s home with 12 gauge wire attached to it. Further down the line (Where I can not see) there is some old 1960’s 14 gauge Romex wire attached to it within the walls of the house. This old 14 gauge wire is attached to a plug I want to tap into with 14 gauge wire to add a ceiling fan in my bedroom. Is this ok?

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    "attached to it somewhere within the walls of the house" I would recommend finding where this "somewhere" is. One would hope that the connection is at a switch, receptacle, fixture box, or junction box with a blanking plate. If it's truly "somewhere in the walls" then you've got another code violation and potential fire starter by having a wire junction either not in a junction box or the junction box not accessible for maintenance. – FreeMan Jun 25 '20 at 13:08

Since your 20A circuit has 14ga wire attached to it, it's already illegal -- adding more 14ga wire to it won't change that situation as far as the code is concerned. But adding load to it may well start a fire inside your walls and burn your house down, since a 20A breaker or fuse can't properly protect 14ga wire. You're lucky in that it hasn't overloaded so far, but your new ceiling fan may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

To correct this problem, and make both your existing installation and your proposed extension legal and safe, you should change the breaker on that circuit to 15A.

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    It sounds like the 14ga wire is the final segment in that particular part of the circuit. In that case, there's not much luck involved -- it would take more than 15 amps plugged into the duplex outlet at the end of the circuit to overload the wire, and that's not something people do very often. – Mark Jun 25 '20 at 22:21
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    @Mark But hoping it won't happen isn't sufficient protection. If you live alone and there are no neighbors close enough to catch fire from your property that's kinda morally OK. Otherwise it is just selfish. – Mołot Jun 26 '20 at 12:01

Technically, no. 14ga needs to be protected by a 15A breaker, not 20A. Your choices are to replace the breaker with a 15A, find and replace the 14ga section, make an entirely new run for your new fan, or ignore it and take your chances.

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    It's against code and for safety reasons. You shouldn't be advising the OP to ignore and take chances. Just my humble opinion. – JACK Jun 25 '20 at 1:35
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    @JACK I can see that last statement being sarcastic, but it's not quite as obvious as one might hope. – FreeMan Jun 25 '20 at 14:11
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    @FreeMan You could be right. If it was between some of us who answer these questions, we sometimes throw in humor and sarcasm at each other (who, me?) but not to a newcomer, they could take it seriously. – JACK Jun 25 '20 at 14:32
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    It was sarcastic, but also an acknowledgement that people often chose to ignore things like that regardless of better advice because they don't want to spend the money to do it right, so I wanted to ensure that he knew he was taking chances by doing so. – JRaef Jun 25 '20 at 17:06
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    "...and take your chances that your home will burn down and kill your family." is significantly different than "...and take your chances that your fan won't work" or "...and take your chances that the breaker will nuisance flip." If you want to ensure that he knows he's taking chances, you should be clear what chances he's taking. – Tim Sparkles Jun 25 '20 at 20:01

No, that is not ok. You may not have 14Ga copper (or 12 Ga aluminum) downstream of a 20A breaker/fuse. All the wiring downstream of a 20A breaker/fuse must be 12 Ga copper or larger (10 Ga or larger for aluminum).

  • Thanks for your responses everyone. I didn’t think so. I’m bothered by the fact that the old 14 gauge wiring attached to my plug is on the 20 amp breaker. I think I should disconnect that plug and cap the wires? It’s been like that for probably 50 years. Thanks – Bill C Jun 25 '20 at 2:05
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    Or just change the breaker to 15A. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 25 '20 at 15:24

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