Safely Move a 15 AMP Circuit to a 20 AMP Breaker Switch?

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  #1  
Old 12-06-05, 03:25 PM
tclotworthy
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Safely Move a 15 AMP Circuit to a 20 AMP Breaker Switch?

Hello,
I have an electrical circuit on a 15 AMP breaker. Occassionally this breaker trips in the winter (2 space heaters are added). Is it actual dangerous (i.e., will cause a fire) to switch the wires at the breaker box from the 15 AMP breaker to an unused 20 AMP breaker? I would really like to do this, and assume the fire or other risk is probably slight, but would like to get any feedback from people here. Thanks
 
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  #2  
Old 12-06-05, 03:45 PM
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You can not go up to a 20 amp breaker unless you have 12 gage wire...which I doubt.
You are asking for more trouble switching the breaker, over reseting the 15 amp.
 
  #3  
Old 12-06-05, 03:46 PM
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Do not do this.

You will create a code violation, and if a fire should happen to start, this might make your insurance invalid.

Normally the risk of improperly using a 20A breaker where a 15A breaker is called for is actually slight, but this is only because you are significantly increasing a very very small risk. (If the risk is 1 in a million, and you make the risk 100X worse, you are still at 1 in 10000, which is a pretty slight risk...)

But you are starting out behind the eight ball. If you are regularly blowing breakers, then you are already putting a significant strain on this circuit, and certainly overloading it on a regular basis. As the various loads cycle on and off, the wires and connections heat up and cool down. This makes them expand and contract, and causes things to slowly work loose. Eventually a connection will become quite loose and heat up quite a bit, possibly causing a fire. There is no way to know if this will take 1 year or 100 years, but the way you are using these circuits will make them fail.

The proper solution is to have an additional circuit installed to provide additional power where you need it.

-Jon
 
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Old 12-06-05, 03:48 PM
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You cannot do this. It is a fire hazard. It violates code.

Run the space heaters on two different circuits, address the heating issue properly, or run at least one new circuit for one of the heaters.
 
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Old 12-06-05, 03:49 PM
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Even a 20 amp circuit will trip with two space heaters on it.
 
  #6  
Old 12-06-05, 06:05 PM
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Despite what the marketing department of the space heater companies would like you to believe, space heaters are for temporary and occasional use only. They are not the proper solution for a cold room. And they are probably the largest cord-and-plug connected appliance in your entire home. They are energy hogs, and not very safe. And many homes don't have the electrical system to support them.
 
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Old 12-06-05, 06:17 PM
tclotworthy
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Thanks for well-thought out advise

Thanks to all for well-informed advise. Since the circuit is intrisically overburdened (thanks to the Mensa that put half the house on it 35 years ago), I guess the best way to address this is somehow split the load on the breaker (remove some portion of the load) and take the part that is split off and put it on a new 15 AMP breaker. This makes sense, yes?
 
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Old 12-06-05, 06:25 PM
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Yes, that's an okay plan if it's feasible. But it often isn't feasible because of the way the cabling is run. Whatever you do, don't end up with two interconnected circuits because you failed to completely separate the loads.

In these cases, it's generally better to leave the existing circuit alone, and add a new circuit. You can add new outlets to the same rooms served by the existing circuit. Then you can move some of the load from the old outlets to the new outlets. And if you're running a new circuit anyway, you might as well make it a 20-amp circuit with all 12-gauge wire. That gives you 33% more power for the same amount of work and a trivial increase in cost.
 
  #9  
Old 12-06-05, 06:26 PM
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The way to address this problem is to install a new circuit.

You might be able to split the current circuit at some point, and run a new cable to point where you cut the circuit apart, but a better solution is probably to install several new receptacles on a new circuits, and to simply ignore the already present receptacles.

This is a task which can be accomplished by the average DIYer, however there is a bit of background study that you should do first. Basically there are many details which must be correct for an electrical installation, far more than could be described in a couple of paragraphs in this forum. What you want to do is read a couple of books on home wiring, and then come back here with your questions. If you would rather not take the time to do this study, or don't want to wait to solve the overloaded circuit problem, then I urge you to hire a professional electrician.

Good Luck
Jon
 
  #10  
Old 12-06-05, 07:51 PM
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Things were quite different 35 years ago. We didn't have microwave ovens, or portable hair dryers that could heat your whole bathroom, or home computers or home theater equipment (many people didn't even have color TV), and on and on.

Houses were wired to address the electrical needs of the day, which is how we build them today, to address today's needs.

Sure, some people building homes today will plan for the future and over wire (by today's standards), but it costs money. A builder is not going to do any more than absolutely necessary (especially with the electrical service that you can't "see") unless someone has specifically requested and is paying for it.
 
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Old 12-06-05, 08:12 PM
tclotworthy
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Again, Excellent Responses

Wow, thanks again all! I won't attempt to split the load. I will do as suggested and essentially leave it alone, but add a new circuit and selectively move several or more recepticles.
 
  #12  
Old 12-07-05, 10:20 AM
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Although adding new circuits for additional receptacles is a good idea, it still doesn't correct the problem of using space heaters where permanent heating should be installed.

It may be a good idea to buy and install some electric baseboard heaters in the rooms that are too cold. Unlike space heaters, this type of electric heaters are designed for regular operation and heating of whole rooms. Baseboard heaters will usually require running a new dedicate 20A circuit, installing a thermostat/switch, and installing the actual heaters. This is likely a better long-term solution than space heaters.
 
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