This image shows a quad-breaker with handle ties.

enter image description here
Image borrowed from this DIY question

One of the comments noted that despite the "handle ties", this is not a "common trip" breaker. I, in my ignorance, previously assumed that a trip on one of the tied breakers would have forced the tied mate to trip as well and that this would, therefore, also be a "common trip". It seems I was wrong.

What is the difference between a "handle tie" and a "common trip"? For bonus points, when should each be used?

As was pointed out in an answer on that original question, this quad-breaker is labeled


Does this mean that "common trip" is internal to the breaker and can only be identified by reading the labeling, while "handle tie" is the external plastic/metal piece that physically ties the handles together? If so, does that mean (theoretically) that one could have a common trip breaker without a handle tie?


3 Answers 3


It ain't about the handle-tie

Common trip does NOT work by one handle tripping, and that action dragging the other handle over via the handle-tie. That is not how that works.

That wouldn't work because the handles "trip free" - that is, if the breaker needs to trip and a padlock or naughty human is impeding the handle from moving, the breaker just trips anyway. So if the other half of the breaker impeded the handle from moving, the side that tripped would just trip anyway, and common trip would not occur.

This means you cannot 'bolt on' common trip by adding a handle-tie.

Common trip works by an internal mechanism within the breaker. Either the breaker has it, or does not. In the case of this Siemens breaker, it does not. Eaton also makes a line of non-common-trip quadplex breakers just like these, but they also make nearly identical breakers with common trip inner and outer. Other makers build them with inner common-trip and outer independent trip.

So from a common-trip perspective, a handle-tie is nothing but "trip theater".

The real purpose of a handle-tie, as manassehkatz discusses, is to assure common shutoff when the handle is used as an "off" switch. And provide a visual cue that the circuits are related.

  • 1
    I will add that handle ties without common trip can make it much harder to see that one of the tied switches has tripped, as it’s possible for it to trip without moving at all. This confused me mightily one time when I was trying to get the power back on for part of my house, and it looked like all switches were on.
    – Wildcard
    Aug 23, 2020 at 20:12

Common trip means if one trips, so does the other.

Handle tie means if a person turns off one, they turn off the other.

Common trip effectively includes handle tie but handle tie doesn't guarantee common trip.

Common trip makes sure that if part of an appliance has trouble, the entire circuit is shut off.

Handle tie makes sure that related circuits, such as two halves of a multi wire branch circuit are turned off at the same time, to protect people working on one circuit from getting shocked by the other one.

The problem is not only "the trip of the top breaker could twist that long, thin looking handle leaving the bottom breaker live instead of forcing it to trip", but also because many breakers don't actually cause a big sudden external handle "flip". In fact, sometimes it isn't so obvious that a breaker has tripped because the handle has hardly moved at all! A true common trip is an internal mechanism, where the thermal or GFCI or AFCI trigger event causes both of the protected wires in the circuit to be disconnected at the same time.

  • 1
    "handle tie doesn't guarantee common trip" - is that because, in the 40a example above, the trip of the top breaker could twist that long, thin looking handle leaving the bottom 40a breaker live instead of forcing it to trip? Is the shorter, more stout looking handle tie on the 30a breakers indicate common trip, or are those also "just" handle ties?
    – FreeMan
    Aug 20, 2020 at 17:03
  • 2
    Both are handle ties Aug 20, 2020 at 17:13
  • Another issue is that even if the design of the breakers is such that tripping by one breaker will switch the other one off, pushing the handle to the "on" position without pushing it off first would turn on the breaker that hadn't tripped, even if letting go of the handle would result in it being switched off again by the still-tripped breaker.
    – supercat
    Aug 21, 2020 at 23:34

A basic requirement for such breakers is that their tripping is independent of handle position. Ergo, you can completely immobilize the handle and it must never defeat proper operation, i.e. tripping. So common trip and a common handle are independent matters, and you can have common trip breakers without a common handle, as well as common handle breakers without common trip.

Common trip is handled outside of view, by mechanical interconnects going between the side panels of the breakers. Those are not visible when the multipole breaker is handled as a unit. But if you disassemble the breaker into individual poles (this is potentially destructive and voids warranty), you'd find little mechanical links that connects the trip mechanism across the breakers. So if one pole trips, it will set off other ones to trip.

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