Can I use 10 gauge wire off of a 20 amp breaker for outlets, lights or a window unit? I am wiring a barn and have a lot of 10/3 wire I would like use up.

  • 4
    I'll just comment that you are NOT going to be happy working with #10 in device boxes. Your sanity will be worth the cost of a roll of 12/2. Also, be careful with regard to box fill. You can go over the limit with #10 real fast. Apr 6, 2015 at 19:43
  • Person who works in solid-core wire detected. Come on over to the dark side, we have stranded! :) Dec 3, 2019 at 16:48

2 Answers 2


Yes, you can use 10 AWG copper conductors with a 20 ampere breaker. The smallest size conductors you could use with a 20 ampere breaker, are 12 AWG copper conductors. There's no problem using larger conductors, other than cost to you, and difficulties associated with working with thicker conductors.

  • 2
    There is a limit on the max gauge a receptacle/breaker can be connected to, which should be listed somewhere on it or in the sheet with it.
    – diceless
    Apr 6, 2015 at 15:37
  • 8
    Which can be addressed with a splice or wirenut to a pigtail of appropriate size, if the wire is too large for the breaker. 10Ga will be fine in most 20A breakers.
    – Ecnerwal
    Apr 6, 2015 at 16:06
  • Could you please explain why/how this (using 10 AWG on 20-A breaker) does not violate secs. 240.4(D)(5) and 240.4(D)(7) of the 2020 NEC? Such sections requires to use 12-gauge wires on 20-amp breakers and 10-gauge wires on 30-amp breakers. Is it because such section states the maximum OCPD size for a given wire gauge?
    – alejnavab
    Jan 18 at 20:15

10/3 cable is worth more than 3 times as much as 12/2 ($180 per 250ft vs $55). So I would consider selling or trading on Craigslist for 12/2 or conduit+THHN.

You're always allowed to upsize wires, although that doesn't mean terminating them will be easy. Breakers can always accept at least 1 upsize, because they accept aluminum wire (which itself requires 1 upsize).

Most receps can handle #10 on the side screws, just check their instructions (you have to look on the web) or their labeling. Also try screw-and-clamp type receps, and if that fails, aluminum rated receps (CO-ALR) are a sure bet because a 20A circuit requires #10 aluminum.

I gather you want to ignore the red wire? Consider not doing that, and putting the red wire to good use as a multi-wire branch circuit. However, you do need GFCI in this decade, and GFCI is tricky with MWBCs. You can't share LINE and LOAD neutral on the same wire. It comes down to strategically chosen $17 GFCI receps, or a $80 240V GFCI breaker.

A great example is if you want to dedicate a circuit to a 120V saw and 120V dust collector. Putting them on the same circuit is usually a mistake. So punch them down to a 2-pole 20A breaker, then feed two 20A GFCI recepts, one off red, the other off black, splitting the neutral on the LINE side (you wouldn't use LOAD at all).

If you wanted to feed additional outlets off the LOAD terminals, you must do it with /2 cable only (or don't use the red at all). This cable must attach all its wires to LOAD, it cannot interact with LINE (which means it can't share neutral beyond the GFCI recep).

Lastly, keep in mind that when you're working with #10 solid wire, it's less like wire and more like bus-bar. Use LARGE junction boxes (4-11/16 square with a 1-gang mud ring is not excessive here) with lots of room for the wires to lay down.

  • Use 2 circuit wire, like */2/2, instead of doing a MWBC on a */3. Feb 20, 2022 at 2:21
  • Thank you for the trip down memory lane! Seeing these old wire prices lol... I agree, /2/2 is better than MWBC. Feb 20, 2022 at 18:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.