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I have a 12/3 NM cable landing on two separate 20 amp breakers sharing a neutral between the two. They are landing on a Dishwasher/Garbage Disposal outlet.

I understand this is NOT to code since there is no tie bar between the two breakers (confirm this WOULD be to code if this was the case).

I’m not an electrician, but I understand this to be legal only if shutting one breaker down forces the other to also be closed.

This is a remodel, what is my best practice in this case?

Should the panel be rewired where this condition exists, and there are several in here, land next to each other at the panel then simply use tandem connected breakers with tie bars?

Or, should I simply put a note in the panel to use caution, shared neutrals exist to warn a potential workman of the danger? (I guess this wouldn’t hurt!)

The remodel does not include significant rough electrical. I’m trying to decide if this expense to re-wire the panel is justified in this case.

I have updated the panel photo to reflect the proper slot identification.

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  • You do not have to change anything with that old panel (the split MWBC was code when installed) if you do anything why not replace the panel with a modern one (is that a rule of 6 in upside down)? Murray were good but being an outside panel for all these decades takes a tole on the connections and the breakers themselves, then setting up a proper MWBC would be easy. A new panel would allow for GFCI or AFCI breakers more full sized breakers this may be a bigger safety update than combining the MWBC to adjacent handles on adjacent poles.
    – Ed Beal
    Jul 25 at 19:41
  • Actually, probably 8B and 22B. Normal numbering is (I think) left/right, odds on left, evens on right, counting by full-size breaker spaces. 24-space panel. A/B for top/bottom of each space. Jul 25 at 20:14
  • Guys great info, thank you very much. As a non-electrician with enough knowledge to get in over my head, I appreciate you guys taking the time to really explain your answers. I understand enough to not get myself or hopefully anyone else hurt!
    – Richard
    Jul 25 at 23:24
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    Just a note in case investigating other circuits, prior to adoption of the 2008 NEC simultaneous disconnect was not required unless the circuits fed multiple devices on the same yoke, which you have in the circuits in question. Jul 26 at 1:55
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    Can you post photos of the labeling on the inside of the panel's door please? Jul 26 at 3:33

2 Answers 2

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First, technically, the breakers are not #8 and #16. They are actually #4B and #11B. This is important because odd numbered breakers are on one leg of 120 volts and even numbered breakers are on the other leg. If they were on the same leg, you would have the problem of overloading the neutral. This also says they you cannot use a single tandem breaker for both hots!

Your correct solution is to combine these hots with an appropriate double breaker in the middle of a quad breaker, such as this Siemens QT breaker:

quad 15/20 breaker

If you put this in place of the 15/20 and the 15 below it, and move the upper hot to the lower half of this 20, you gain an extra 20 above (where you moved the hot wire away), and the double-breaker takes care of the MWBC common shutoff requirement.

Note that I am not saying that this is the correct breaker for your panel. You need to check the panel labeling to make sure that it can take this type of breaker (or its predecessor, as the panel is older) and that the panel can take tandem (and in this case, quad, but this issue is how many tandems and where they can be placed) breakers in that location.

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  • I understand your comments and thank you for the quick, complete answer. Is it proper to simply make a note in the panel as I indicated above until I can get an electrician to re-wire the panel? We have the same condition on 8 breakers. This job is not being inspected, nor do I feel comfortable re-wiring this panel.
    – Richard
    Jul 25 at 19:24
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    @Richard Notes(big visible notes) right now are the most important till this gets fix. With only one breaker off, the circuit still has power in it that can kill someone. Make sure each breaker is noted, or require main breaker to be off if any work is to be done.
    – crip659
    Jul 25 at 19:42
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    Minor possible clarification, the factory provided panel directory in my GE panel with single row and Main breaker in center skips counting the Main making the breakers 4B and 9B Jul 26 at 2:08
  • @Richard what NoSparksplease says. Those double-wide breakers are not in "special spaces". Those are just normal spaces but the breaker occupies two of them. Anything can go in any space (except the main lol). Jul 26 at 23:43
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica I understand, I’m going to get that clarified at the panel when I’m there next and will clear up the “stab/slot/space” confusion. That was my fault from my original post.
    – Richard
    Jul 27 at 14:12
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The rules of MWBCs

I understand this is NOT to code since there is no tie bar between the two breakers (confirm this WOULD be to code if this was the case).

Correct. This is called a "Multi-Wire Branch Circuit" or MWBC. Yes, circuit singular. A MWBC is one circuit for safety purposes. (though for for the provisioning rules, you can treat them as separate, e.g. 1 MWBC an power 1 kitchen receptacle "circuit" and 1 bathroom "circuit").

You must follow several rules with those:

  • As Doxylover discusses, the two hots must be on opposite poles, which would mean 240V between the two hots. This is so neutral carries only difference current, and isn't overloaded. 0V between hots is BAD, which is why a duplex/tandem breaker cannot be used as the 2 breakers (there would be 0V between the wires since they are on the same pole/phase).
  • As you said, the handles must be tied. This must be an approved handle tie, meaning made by the manufacturer and UL-Listed for tying those breakers. Not allowed to use a nail - after all, a nail could be used to tie the 2 handles of a tandem/duplex!
  • In each junction box, neutral must be pigtailed. You are not allowed to use devices to make a neutral splice (e.g. the 2 screws on a typical receptacle, 1 for supply and 1 for onward wire). That is because the neutral cannot be broken if a device is removed (or there'd be very bad consequences downline). Ground already follows this rule, you may notice.

Handle ties: yes. Tandems are a complication.

Should the panel be rewired where this condition exists, and there are several in here, land next to each other at the panel then simply use tandem connected breakers with tie bars?

Well not TANDEMS, for Pete's sake!

But yes, this needs to be done. Leaving a note is a terrible idea, most people have no idea what a MWBC is and will "don't understand, don't care".

I would also argue that moving breakers around is hardly "rewiring", it should be super easy. Worst thing you might need is a few wire nuts and extra wire for pigtails, in case the provided wire is not long enough. (some builders obsess with clipping all wires as short as possible, bad idea).

However all your breakers are "double-stuffs" except a few 2-pole breakers. So this is a problem because you need to find a way to do it with tandems after all. Doxylover covers one way to do it: with Quadplex breakers, which are paired tandems that correctly access both poles and give an "inner" and an "outer" 240V breaker. Those will work nicely.

The other way is manufacturer-specific. Some have a "handle tie" that works between TWO tandem breakers (so 4 throws). **This "ties" the inner handle on each breaker, sort of like a quadplex with only the inner handles tied. You can stack those indefinitely- so you can go like this

 2A  2B--3A  3B--4A  4B--5A  5B--6A  6B

Giving two single breakers (2A and 6B) and four handle-tied pairs. There's a practical limit to how many you can hold together when fitting it into the panel, LOL!

Breaker types.

However you must use THE correct breaker type for your panel. Breakers are NOT interchangeable across brands. I think in the 60s they were copying each other's designs, but patent infringement suits forced everyone to make their bus stabs a different shape. As a result, alien breakers won't engage the bus properly, and will arc and destroy the bus stab, if not the panel, if not the house.

Get us any information off the stickers off your panel - there may be important stickers on the backside of the deadfront cover. (the one that does not fit properly). From that we can identify the proper modern breakers approved for your panel. They don't cost a lot, $5 per pole before the weird shortages started happening.

Some other notes.

The panel cover seems to be fitting extremely poorly. I imagine you've had a few outlet and switch boxes open in your career, and you've noticed the box is often sunk into the wall, and the system is designed to accommodate that. And you see an sunken service panel and you think "that must be fine too". Absolutely not. Service panels cannot be sunk. The lid won't fit properly and the breakers will fall out. The cover's proper positioning is the ONLY thing that keeps breakers in place. The edge of the breaker needs to catch the lid.

So do whatever - mill out the interfering stucco, or shim the panel out so it's flush. That lid needs to go on properly.

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  • thank you for the additional information. I had the same thoughts, instead of re-wiring the panel, we will likely make a panel upgrade a priority, but that’s something I will hire out. Thanks for all the great explanation. Really helps
    – Richard
    Jul 25 at 23:25
  • The panel cover definitely should fit, as you say. However, it appears that some of the breakers are foreign to this panel. The breakers in the panel have at least two different physical designs for their handles and raised portion which interfaces with the panel cover. All of the breakers with colored handles appear to be intended for a panel cover with a cut-out the size which is currently being used. All the other breakers have a different handle shape and are for a somewhat narrower panel cover cut-out. I can't be sure based on just the picture, but I'd definitely be sure to verify.
    – Makyen
    Jul 26 at 18:42
  • @Makyen thank you for that observation, I’m going to investigate this further and post my results. At this point, I’m thinking the best action is to have the panel upgraded in full. This is a 1974 condo build in Southern California.
    – Richard
    Jul 27 at 14:15
  • @Richard There are people here who would be able to give you better advice about replacement than myself (need pictures requested by others above). So far, it doesn't appear that anything you've mentioned you desire is impossible to do with the current panel (barely). The current recommendation of replacing the bottom 15-20, 15 with a 15-20=20-15 would leave a single available 20 A breaker (your label 4B). That's assuming all the same, or similar, breakers are used in this panel. If you do replace the panel, just make sure that you get a panel that's way larger than you think you need.
    – Makyen
    Jul 27 at 14:40

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