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I currently have 14 gauge wire going into a 20 amp breaker that is used for the kitchen. I want to just swap out the 20 amp breaker for a 15 amp instead of replacing the wiring. Can I do that? I read somewhere that the kitchen can't have a 15 amp breaker. Need advice. Thanks.

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    Is this a kitchen receptacle circuit? If so, does it feed receptacles serving the kitchen countertops? Finally, do you already have two twenty amp circuits feeding kitchen countertop receptacles? – ThreePhaseEel Sep 22 '16 at 1:23
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Not a code expert or have any quote here...but I think code might require 20 amp circuits in kitchens, since it's expected to have a lot of extra power draw there.

However, what you have now is a fire safety issue. Far better off with the 15 amp breaker than having wires too small on a 20 amp breaker.

The ideal solution would, of course, be to replace all the wires with 12 gauge.

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Sounds like an option. At least it will prevent the wires from overheating due to excessive current running through them. You need to check the total power of your kitchen appliances and whatever else is running off that breaker. Assuming this is the US, anything greater than approximately 1.5kW will cause the breaker to trip, in which case it will become a nuisance rather than a danger.

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Yes, the National Electrical Code requires 20A circuits in a kitchen. But code also requires that 14 AWG wire be protected by no larger than 15A circuit breaker or fuse.

A circuit is a complete system consisting of an "overcurrent protection device" (fuse or breaker), the wire, and the devices (receptacles, light fixtures) at the other end of the wire. The capacity of the circuit is considered to be the weakest link in the circuit. In your case, that's the wire: 14 AWG wire is only rated for 15 amps.

Since the purpose of the code is safety, the requirement to install a 15A circuit breaker trumps the requirement to install a 20A circuit.

Changes to the electrical code do not imply that upgrades must immediately be installed. Existing wiring may be left as-is. However, your local jurisdiction may require correcting unsafe conditions or the building's certificate of occupancy may be revoked (a fancy way of saying "condemned"). They may also require bringing all systems to modern codes if there is any remodeling conducted.

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It depends on which outlets in the kitchen that the circuit serves.

You can have additional 15 A circuits that do not service countertop surfaces in a kitchen as long as you have two 20 A small appliance branch circuits as required by 210.11(C) and 210.52(B) supplying all countertop surfaces. I personally have two dedicated 15 A circuits serving my refrigerator and dishwasher.

Applicable clauses per NFPA-70:2014 (a.k.a. 2014 NEC):

210.11 Branch Circuits Required.

(C) Dwelling Units.

(1) Small-Appliance Branch Circuits. In addition to the number of branch circuits required by other parts of this section, two or more 20-ampere small-appliance branch circuits shall be provided for all receptacle outlets specified by 210.52(B).

...

210.52 Dwelling Unit Receptacle Outlets

(B) Small Appliances.

(1) Receptacle Outlets Served. In the kitchen, pantry, breakfast room, dining room, or similar area of a dwelling unit, the two or more 20-ampere small-appliance branch circuits required by 210.11(C)(1) shall serve all wall and floor receptacle outlets covered by 210.52(A), all countertop outlets covered by 210.52(C), and receptacle outlets for refrigeration equipment.

Exception No. 1: In addition to the required receptacles specified by 210.52, switched receptacles supplied from a general-purpose branch circuit as defined in 210.70(A)(1), Exception No. 1, shall be permitted.

Exception No. 2: The receptacle outlet for refrigeration equipment shall be permitted to be supplied from an individual branch circuit rated 15 amperes or greater.

(2) No Other Outlets. The two or more small-appliance branch circuits specified in 210.52(B)(1) shall have no other outlets. Exception No. 1: A receptacle installed solely for the electrical supply to and support of an electric clock in any of the rooms specified in 210.52(B)(1). Exception No. 2: Receptacles installed to provide power for supplemental equipment and lighting on gas-fired ranges, ovens, or counter-mounted cooking units.

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