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We recently moved into a newly constructed apartment (6 months old) and have an issue I have never dealt with until now. Day of move in we had all the lights on in our 3 bed 2 bath apartment. Due to the heat of the day my wife turned on all the ceiling fans and within 30 minutes a breaker tripped and the power went off in 2 bedrooms and the guest bathroom. I checked the panel and found that ALL lights and wall plugs are ran off a single 15 amp GFCI breaker. I am not an electrician so I called the office and they sent an electrician that ended up telling us everything checked out. He said that we shouldn't turn everything on at the same time. I have never heard such BS, Is this normal or even acceptable? each bedroom has 4 wall plugs and a ceiling fan, the bathroom as a vent fan, 3 light switches and 3 wall plugs. We cant run a blow dryer at the same time as a fan is on without popping the breaker.

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    If the "newly constructed" apartment is in the US, the bathroom should have it's very own 20A GFCI circuit, which can only be shared with another bathroom. Likewise, the kitchen has to have at least 2 20A circuits not shared anywhere else for countertop outlets. So that sounds substandard and not up to code, even if the area is not on the latest code version.
    – Ecnerwal
    Oct 23 at 12:19
  • Having multiable outlets and lights on one breaker is common. These days code calls for 20 amp breakers for kitchen and bathrooms since high wattage appliances are used in those rooms. Ceiling fans are usually not high wattage, but having many on one breaker can give problem.
    – crip659
    Oct 23 at 12:20
  • Is this GFCI breaker in your breaker panel, or is it an outlet?
    – SteveSh
    Oct 23 at 12:24
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    "We cant run a blow dryer at the same time as a fan is on without popping the breaker." And that's the reason the code requires a dedicated 20 amp breaker for a bathroom.
    – SteveSh
    Oct 23 at 12:29
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    Relocated for work to Iowa and the apartment is temp while we get a good lay of the land while we sell or other home. I have never ran into a situation where the bathrooms weren't on their own breaker.
    – Jeremy
    Oct 23 at 13:39
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I would call the local electrical inspection authority and tell them you want to know who the contractor is that did the wiring. I'm sure the contractor would want to fix this without getting the inspector officially involved, especially if he knows the inspector is aware of the problem. The inspector would likely not wedge himself into this unless he knows about issues with the contractor and knows he needs to be involved.

Weigh your complaint heavily on this issue, at least the bathroom basin receptacle needs to be on a 20A circuit that only feeds the bathroom(s):

210.52(D) In dwelling units, at least one receptacle outlet shall be installed in bathrooms within 36 in. of the outside edge of each basin. The receptacle outlet shall be located on a wall or partition that is adjacent to the basin or basin countertop. These receptacles shall have GFCI protection as required by section 210.8(A)(1).

210.11(C)(3) Bathroom Branch Circuits. In addition to the number of branch circuits required by other parts of this section, one or more 120-volt, 20-ampere branch circuit shall be provided to supply bathroom(s) receptacle outlet(s) required by 210.52(D) and any countertop and similar work surface receptacle outlets. Such circuits shall have no other outlets.

Exception: Where the 20-ampere circuit supplies a single bathroom, outlets for other equipment within the same bathroom shall be permitted to be supplied in accordance with 210.23(A)(1) and (A)(2).

The 15A circuit requirement is a little complicated to quote, but generally the requirement is at least one 15A/20A general purpose receptacle and lighting circuit per 600/800 sf (3VA per sf) in addition to bathroom, kitchen, and other dedicated circuits.

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    The NEC definition of "outlet" includes hard wired connections like fans and lights. Oct 23 at 16:09
  • If you didn't want to involve the inspector the State I live in you could actually look up online who the electrical permit was issued to. Oct 23 at 16:32
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Iowa has adopted the 2020 national electric code. There are multiple code violations. The bathroom receptacle is required to be 20 amp GFCI and only the bathroom(s) can be on this circuit. If the breaker is tripping with the lights and fan it was not wired to code the actual lighting and motor loads are required to be calculated at 125% so you should never trip the breaker because this is only 80% max of the breaker value. These code requirements GFCI & 20 amp circuit for the bathroom have been in the National electric code for more than 20 years.

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Code requires that bathroom receptacles be powered by a 20A circuit that either

  • Powers ONLY bathroom receptacles (in both bathrooms)
  • Powers ONLY bathroom receptacles and hardwired loads in that same bathroom

So they have a choice. They can have one 20A circuit that powers receptacles in both bathrooms. Or they can have TWO 20A circuits that powers receptacles and hardwired loads in each bathroom.

They don't have any other choices. If a bathroom receptacle shares a circuit with ANYTHING that is not in a bathroom, that is a Code violation, and it's time to contact the city inspector. They can force the owner to correct it, and revoke the occupancy permit if they don't. Which would have the side-effect of evicting the tenant!

All bathroom hardwired loads (light, fan) are allowed to be on other circuits.

Lights and fans alone shouldn't trip a breaker if you upgraded to LED

Day of move in we had all the lights on in our 3 bed 2 bath apartment. Due to the heat of the day my wife turned on all the ceiling fans and within 30 minutes a breaker tripped and the power went off in 2 bedrooms and the guest bathroom.

Well, the "bathroom receptacle" restriction doesn't apply to bathroom hardwired loads, nor to circuits in hallways, bedrooms and living rooms. As far as Code is concerned, they can ALL be on the same circuit. There is no rule saying "1 circuit per bedroom" and that would be unnecessarily confining anyway, because there are better ways to do that.

However, your claim is that with lights and fans only, you tripped the breaker. You weren't getting an overload trip unless you are still using old incandescent lights for some reason. (and if you're trying to cool off, the last thing you want is incandescent lights adding heat).

A typical fan draws 60-90 watts, so 0.5 to 0.75 amps.
A typical LED "bulb" draws 4-12 actual watts, or less than 0.1 amps.
Incandescents draw exactly what they say on the tin (divide their watts by 120 to get amps, typically 0.4 to 0.8 each).

Now, being as it's a GFCI breaker, it's possible you are experiencing a GFCI trip due to a faulty fan, either in a room or in the bathroom. Some circuit breakers allow you to read out an indication of the reason for the trip, however these vary dramatically by breaker type, and any given panel can only accept one brand's breakers*, so you are stuck with that type. You would need to identify the GFCI breaker and search the web for its instructions to see if it will tell you the trip reason.

If nothing is plugged in and you still get GFCI trips, I suspect this is ONE device causing them, and eventually through normal use, you will identify this device, as in, it always trips if you run it long enough. A supplied device tripping a GFCI is a defect, and the landlord should replace it for free.

You NEED to know your circuits

You cannot treat wall plugs like a magic cornucopia ready to power anything you plug in. It is your job to know which circuits power which receptacles, and to know the amperes drawn by each of your appliances (it is stated on the appliance nameplate), and to make sure that all the appliances on your circuit are less than the amperes of the circuit (plainly stated on the circuit breaker handle; either 15 or 20).

I said what fans draw above, and you need to figure out your lights. Add up all the loads plugged into all the receptacles on the circuit. If you asked my sweetie, she could point to every appliance in the house and tell you its number... 12 for the microwave, 2 for the crock pot, 1 for the fridge, etc. For instance I make toast (7), I knock the heater from high (12) to low (7) so we're well under the 20 we have on that circuit. (and 30 whole-house).

Since you have 15A between all bedroom circuits and lighting and fans and bathroom hardwired loads (at the very least), you will need to be careful with this number. Good time for LED upgrades if still on incandescent.




* Except Eaton CL breakers are certified for anyone's 1" breaker panel, and Eaton CHQ and Siemens QD are certified for Square D QO panels. However look before you leap - make sure those breakers do have better indicator features than what you have now before you waste time with them. Remember YOU can't do any electrical work in the apartment, you need landlord permission AND a licensed electrician must do the work. With authorization from the City and landlord, you might be allowed to do so-called "trivial" repairs such as replacing a fan, not that there's anything trivial about that.

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This is clearly a screw up. Hard to imagine it was done this way. My first area of investigating would be the main panel to see if the bathroom circuit and bedroom circuits were mistakenly tied to the same breaker in the panel, maybe as a temporary test of the circuit and then forgot to split it. Since it's a rental, you shouldn't do this yourself but maybe recommend it to the landlord. You could, however, check to see if any breakers appear not to be connected to anything by switching them off and on.

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    Well, it's hard to imagine a (non-corrupt/complicit) licensed (if properly qualified to look at apartment wiring when sent by the office to do so) electrician coming and looking at it and saying it's OK, given it's clear code violation in new construction. Is the local inspection office also complicit, one has to wonder? I'd give the management one more chance to get this right and then head straight to the state boards covering electrician's licensing and inspections to look for local gross violations and corruption. It does not seem that a local complaint is going to find an untainted ear.
    – Ecnerwal
    Oct 23 at 15:51

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