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There are two wires coming out of two of my circuit breakers in my electrical panel. I am thinking the previous owner of the house stuck these two wires in there because the panel was full and they didn't want to replace the panel. I am not sure though, all the searches I have done on line haven't returned any info on why they would do something like this.

Picture of the wires in question

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    Can you post photos clearly showing the label on the breaker in question? Dec 23 '20 at 4:03
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    Looks like pretty shoddy work with the exposed wires sticking out.
    – Danny
    Dec 23 '20 at 16:49
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    Can you upload a picture showing the entire panel. It is hard to tell if the wires are actually paired and there may be other concerns too. Dec 23 '20 at 18:21
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    The main question is whether each wire individually is rated to handle the breaker current.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 23 '20 at 21:39
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    On a side note, one of your hots has a chunk of insulation ripped off (bottom left of picture). May want to check that the copper is not exposed there. As always, shut off power before grabbing.
    – tnknepp
    Dec 24 '20 at 13:40
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It depends -- some circuit breakers are designed to accommodate two wires. If they are, though, it'll be clear that they are. For example, these Square D Homeline breakers are marked with symbols or text indicating that two conductors are allowed but only if they're both copper. The plate under the screw and the molding of the case are also visibly formed to accept two conductors.

homeline breakers

Your breakers could be marked on the side of the case; you'd likely have to remove one to find out. There's a label just barely visible which might tell the story.. I'm not well-acquainted with your BR breakers but to my eye they don't look like they're designed for two conductors.

In any case, it's always safe and easy to use a pigtail: a single piece of wire as a jumper between the breaker terminal and the other two wires. Join the pigtail to the others with a twist-on or push-on wire connector.

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    And what of the fact that two white wires go into a single breaker with no tie?
    – J...
    Dec 23 '20 at 19:12
  • I have more concern around the white 'neutral' being fed in there with no tie, no label, and no comment for why. Fix :( That's an accident waiting to happen.
    – J.Hirsch
    Dec 23 '20 at 21:15
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    There's always a balance to be struck between answering the question that was asked and pointing out other problems that may also be visible. OP didn't ask for a full electrical inspection after all. Although I did notice the white wires and the lack of handle ties they imply, other answers had addressed that already. This time I opted to focus only on the asked question.
    – Greg Hill
    Dec 23 '20 at 22:20
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There are a few different potential problems here (and I think the pros will find more...):

  1. The original question - 2 wires allowed or just 1? That depends on the particular breaker. I did a quick search and couldn't find a definitive answer for BR 20A breakers.

  2. Wire color. Normally white wires are neutral. One of these breakers has a pair of white wires, the other has a pair of black wires. That gives rise to 2 possibilities:

  • Cables - White is permitted as a hot if you have a 2-wire (black & white) cable serving a 240V circuit. However, such circuits are supposed to use double-breakers, not two individual breakers.
  • Individual wires in conduit - If you have individual wires in conduit then white can't be hot, only neutral.

There is a 3rd possibility, but I don't see how it can apply here: Multi-Wire Branch Circuit (MWBC). An MWBC actually uses 3 wires to provide 2x120V & 240V all with one set of wires. An MWBC requires either a double-breaker or two breakers connected together with a handle tie. But an MWBC (which would have to be two MWBCs for 2 sets of wires) makes even less sense because that would normally use either a 3-wire cable with hot wires black & red (and neutral white) or 3 individual wires, with any colors for hot except white.

  1. Insulation on the black wire just below where it passes behind the white wire near the bottom of the picture does not look good.
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    No handle tie seems to be the big issue here that nobody else has touched - whatever is going to those two breakers doesn't add up.
    – J...
    Dec 23 '20 at 18:09
  • I mentioned handle-tie with respect to the IMHO extremely unlikely MWBC. For a standard 240V circuit I said (and another answer did too) "double-breaker". Dec 23 '20 at 18:12
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    Yes, agreed completely - was just leaving a compliment, really.
    – J...
    Dec 23 '20 at 18:17
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    @J... It actually isn't clear from the stated question or from the pictures whether the 2 whites and 2 blacks are paired. It makes logical sense since it appears that one wire from each breaker/color goes up and one goes down. But actually "unknown". Dec 23 '20 at 18:20
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    Indeed, but as you say, wherever they go, it can't be correct. Maybe it is MWBC and the ground wire is carrying the imbalance. 0_o
    – J...
    Dec 23 '20 at 19:13
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Even if the breaker only allows 1 wire per lug, wire nuts are allowed in service panels so you just pigtail and done.

I am concerned about the age of this unmarked breaker, but also concerned whether it is an appropriate breaker for this panel. All breakers need to either be the same brand/lineage/type as the panel... or be a competitor breaker that is UL-Classified for use in that panel.

Mind you there have been many mergers and acquisitions in the business, leading to interesting chains: Westinghouse-Challenger-BRyant-CutlerHammer-Eaton for instance.

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Whether or not it's OK depends on the breaker itself. The breakers for my panel are (at moderate amperages, anyway - the larger amperage breakers have different wire terminals suited for larger wires) rated/listed/have instructions for two copper wires up to 12 or possibly 10 gauge. They are only listed for a single aluminum wire at any size and a single copper wire at 8 guage, if I recall correctly.

Appearances suggest that those breakers should be handle-tied, as they appear to be supplying 240 volts to the black and white wires of the cables connected to them. So long as the wires are at least 12 gauge (since they are 20A breakers) and the breakers themselves are allowed to have 2 wires connected to them, there's nothing inherently wrong.

But I don't know from looking at that picture if your breakers are listed for two wires or not.

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For most circuit breakers, there is a maximum wire gauge / diameter that can be tightened. You can check from your circuit breaker (near your wire hole) or spec on the internet.

Let's says you have a maximum wire diameter 6mm, if each wire have 3mm diameter it's acceptable, but it much safer if you twist both ends to secure that joint before put in there and tightening it.

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    Typically US breakers (and this is pretty clearly US/Canada/etc.) have the specs in terms of # and type of specific AWG wire - e.g., "1 or 2 14 AWG to 8 AWG". Dec 23 '20 at 18:29
  • yes, he should check if it's in spec or not but I more worry about his cable is a bit worn at the bottom... Dec 23 '20 at 18:32
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    Wire terminal specifications for distribution devices don't work the way your answer describes them to (whether we're talking North American or IEC/5-continent gear) Dec 23 '20 at 22:49

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