you replace a 15 Amp circuit breaker with a 20 Amp?
I tagged along with my friend for a day at his job. He is a handyman. One of
his stops for that day was a house that had an obsolete circuit breaker box
with a 15 Amp, GFI circuit breaker that was warm to the touch and kept
tripping. This 15 Amp circuit is for a bathroom and at some point, someone
added a wire to power a refrigerator in the garage.
The reason he asked me to come along is because he wanted me to help him
replace the entire breaker panel. A 15 Amp GFI could be obtained for $240
American. It was decided to buy a sub panel, one 20 Amp, GFI circuit breaker
and one 20 Amp circuit breaker to replace the original 15 Amp breaker. The
wire used for the circuit is 14/2.
I guess the complaint of the customer was that when someone used a hair
dryer it would trip the breaker.
The first thing I noted was no one measured the current while the
refrigerator and hair dryer were in use. All they did was install the 20 Amp
breaker and check to make sure it didn't trip with the fridge and hair dryer
This scares the hell out of me. Any thoughts?
14-gauge wire *requires* a 15A breaker. Anything larger creates a risk of
Well, no kidding. The circuit doesn't have the capacity to run a hair dryer
and a refrigerator. The cure is to install a new circuit, with both wire and
breaker properly sized for the intended load.
Your friend is a dangerous hack, not a handyman. He shouldn't be touching
anything electrical, ever. You should warn the homeowner that this "handyman"
has created a serious fire hazard, and report this guy to whatever licensing
and inspection authorities may exist in your location. He's endangering
people's lives with this sort of stuff.
Doug Miller (alphageek-at-milmac-dot-com)
I appologize. I should have written 20 Amp GFI circuit breaker. The circuit
breaker wasn't sold by Lowes or Home Depot because the manufacturer was no
longer in business.
I'm just the messenger here. I agree with everything you say and basically
told my friend and his boss. I did my best. Since then I've been accused of
being a perfectionist, anal retentive, no common sense etc... . Typical
stuff from people that can't get it through there head that *all* electrical
components have "Absolute Maximun Ratings." It's a lonely feeling when
everyone else (none of which knows a damn thing about electricity) thinks
it's okay to repace a 15 Amp breaker with a 20 Amp. His boss told me that he
replaced his 20 Amp with 30 Amp breakers in his own home. I fear for his
life and told him so. Anyhow, thanks for the response, I needed it.
Thanks again for the confirmation.
His boss should hire BinaryBill from the "Spa wiring question" thread.
They sound a lot alike.
Sad thing is there's always this kind of stuff going on. Some people
just think that codes are meant to be bent.... or broken. I helped a
co-worker rewire his vacation home because the previous owner had wired the
whole place with 22ga LVT! There were burn and char marks all over, a pure
miracle the structure was still standing.
Better to be lonely and alive than be in agreement and die when your house
burns down. I don't agree with a lot of permitting issues and think it is
often just a way to make money for the town. I do, hover, agree with the
codes and the reasons for them. They come about from data collected in
testing and also from real life happenings when buildings are destroyed and
In this case, the inspector would have caught the "error", but since they
know it is wrong, they would not get a permit, nor would they have an
Fact is, you can get away with larger breakers than called for IF the load
does not go beyond the capacity of the wire, but when you start plugging in
more stuff and the load get up there, trouble can start. Next owner or
tenant may plug in a couple of space heaters. Not worth the risk.
Even that's not a sure thing. Given that scenario, will the resistance of
the wire be enough to limit short-circuit current to less than the rating
of the oversized breaker? Do YOU want to be the one running short-circuit
current through that wire, and whatever fault caused the short, for a long
period of time to find out?
It is possible to distinguish between a referral and a NXDOMAIN
response by the presense of NXDOMAIN in the RCODE regardless of the
Small error, Edwin -
Circuit breakers are there to protect the WIRE not the load. If you put a
20A breaker on 14 ga wire there is nothing preventing the user to plug in a
20A load. You should NEVER oversize the breaker past the rated capacity of
Now, the exceptions ~ Depending on the type of wire, it's temperature rating
and how it's installed, 14ga wire can actually go up to almost 60A. This is
based on single conductor, type PFAH & TFE wire rated at 250'C. Not your
typical house wiring by any stretch of the imagination.
To further confound matters ~ The NEC actually states 14ga wire, type TW,
RH, RHW . . . , rated at 75'C is good for 20A. However it also states that
unless specifically permited by instance the overcurrent protection for 14ga
is 15A, 12ga is 20A, etc.
Hope this helps,
wrote in message
OK, fine, that's *way* too high a price for a 20A GFI breaker. Really. About
six to eight times what they really cost. If they're not available at HD or
Lowe's, try an electrical supply house. A 20A GFI breaker shouldn't cost near
that much, even *including* the labor to install it.
Your buddy's boss is as big a dope as your buddy. :-(
You're on the right page, anyway, and they're out to lunch. Don't *ever* let
these clowns work on the electricity in your house.
Doug Miller (alphageek-at-milmac-dot-com)
Yeah. To protect the customer, I'd call the city inspector pronto about
this hack job. Otherwise if the worst happens you're culpable too, for
knowing about this and letting it go. Your buddy might think it's okay
to bend the code, but he took you along and got you involved. He did
what he felt like doing, and you have that right, too: follow your
conscience (and better knowledge) here and do the right thing, even if
it ends the friendship and gets him in trouble.
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.