Bedroom outlets controlled by 2 different breakers

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  #1  
Old 03-02-11, 11:48 AM
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Bedroom outlets controlled by 2 different breakers

I was in the midst of replacing a couple 2 prong outlets with standard 3 prong outlets in my bedroom when I ran into troubles. I plugged a lamp into the outlet and started to check which breaker controlled it by shutting off 1 breaker at a time and checking the lamp and then turning the breaker back on if that was not it. I got to the last breaker and none of them turned the lamp off. So I started turning off all the breakers and discovered that the outlet is powered by my # 10 and # 13 breakers, the lamp shuts off if both those breakers are off but is still hot if either one is on. What does this mean and how can I fix it? Side notes they are both 15 amp breakers and there are 8 outlets total affected by this. My house is old and has a light switch that should control the lamp that is plugged into an outlet but the switch has never worked and only has 1 wire set connected, but the 1 wire set itself is also hooked into the 2 breakers. Thanks in advance for any help.
 
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Old 03-02-11, 12:18 PM
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Two problems here. First, replacing two-prong receptacle with three-prong receptacles can only be done if the circuit has GFCI protection. You can provide GFCI protection with a GFCI receptacle as the first device on the circuit or by replacing the breaker with a GFCI breaker. The replaced receptacle must then be labeled "NO EQUIPMENT GROUND, GFCI PROTECTED OUTLET". Without the GFCI protection, what you are doing creates a potential electrocution hazard.

The second problem is the potential interconnection of two circuits. What confuses me about this is that breaker #10 and #13 in most boxes could not be interconnected without tripping immediately. What brand box is this and are any of the breakers half-sized / skinny? Are there any red wires attached to this receptacle instead of the usual white and black?
 
  #3  
Old 03-02-11, 02:31 PM
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Thanks for the quick reply. As far as the receptacles go, we're both assuming there are only 2 wires going to the outlet box in my scenario correct? If I discover that there are in fact 3 wires, then I can proceed as planned, or no? The box and breakers are Square D. All the breakers are full size, no mini-breakers. I have yet to remove any of the said receptacles so I'm unsure whether the red wire exists or not. Thanks again and I will surely be back with the red wire answer.
 
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Old 03-02-11, 03:10 PM
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Originally Posted by neosapien View Post
If I discover that there are in fact 3 wires, then I can proceed as planned, or no?
If you mean black, white, bare wires then yes you could put in three-prong receptacles. If by some chance you do find bare grounds, make sure the grounds are actually hooked up. It would make little sense for the installer to have bought three conductor cable and two prong receptacles. Seems like it could only happen if he didn't know what to do with the ground wire.

You can proceed even with a two wire circuit as long as you have GFCI protection.

The box and breakers are Square D. All the breakers are full size, no mini-breakers.
Something else has to be going on, because a SqD box with all full-size breakers cannot have circuit #10 and #13 accidentally interconnected without making some sparks. One or both of the breakers would trip immediately when switched on.
 
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Old 03-02-11, 05:24 PM
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It would make little sense for the installer to have bought three conductor cable and two prong receptacles. Seems like it could only happen if he didn't know what to do with the ground wire
That was done in my area into the early seventies.
 
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Old 03-02-11, 06:50 PM
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Something else has to be going on, because a SqD box with all full-size breakers cannot have circuit #10 and #13 accidentally interconnected without making some sparks. One or both of the breakers would trip immediately when switched on.
It looks to me like circuits 9 & 10 and circuits 13 & 14 would all be fed from the same leg.
 
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Old 03-03-11, 12:51 AM
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I did count the spaceing and phasing on the SqD load centre and if the OP's load centre if that is QO series then no it will not spark at all it will become parallel so let me type this so you can see why unless you have triphase loadcentre then it WILL trip the breaker or get odd voltage show up.

1.2-A
3.4-B
5.6-A
7.8-B
9.10-A
11.12-B
13.14-A
so on for standard QO and HOMELINE seriés

Unless the OP did count the breakers in diffrent way then we will have new issue to deal with it.

So the OP do have interconnected circuits that will have to be addressed one way or other due someone been working on the circuits and not relized that was intertied by mistake.

The only way you can slove if you go up in the attic or look in the basement and note the diffrence between the newer and older NM cable that useally a giveaway and check the switch box few case it will show up there as well.

If that the case you have to seperated them.

Merci.
Marc
 
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Old 03-03-11, 10:02 AM
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Yes you guys are right. I wasn't counting clearly.

The OP definietly needs to be looking for an accidental interconnection between circuit #10 and #13. In my experience this is usually at a three-way switch setup that someone has wired up wrong.
 
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Old 03-03-11, 10:58 AM
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Just to add to what Ben wrote I have seen this at a 3-way switch where the power was bleeding through what appeared to be good insulation on one wire to another on a different breaker. Pulling the two switches out and separating the wires you no longer had the bleed over.
 
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Old 03-03-11, 07:01 PM
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Finding 2 circuits inadvertently tied together is actually a fairly common thing in commercial office space that has undergone many renovations and tenant changeouts. One time, many years ago, I saw 2 circuits tied together that were each originated from different transformers. Never did quite figure out how that happened without either breaker tripping.
 
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Old 03-04-11, 09:36 AM
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Wow, thanks for all the responses and help you guys. I will start to trouble shoot at the only place I believe there to be a three way switch. So it's sounds as those you guys believe the problem to be in the circuit wiring and not the actual load center correct? I have put the receptacle swaps on the back burner until I solve this more pressing matter. Thanks again for all the help, you guys rock! I will update here in the near future.
 
  #12  
Old 03-04-11, 09:50 AM
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Assuming it is in a switch box it will be in one that has two or more switches controlling lights on different breakers.

In the one example I saw it was a 3-way switch controlling lights on a stairway. There were 3-way switches at the top and bottom. The switch at the bottom was in a 2 gang box that had a switch controlling the first floor hall lights. The first floor hall lights were on a different breaker than the stair lights that were part of the upstairs lighting circuit. Only an example yours will likely be different.
 
  #13  
Old 03-05-11, 03:19 PM
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Well good news and bad news. The good news is that there are in fact bare grounds running to the receptacles I planned on replacing. I imagine the previous owner was cheap and had the 2 prongs laying around. The bad news is that I still don't know where the 2 circuits are bleeding together. I checked the only switch bank in the house and that didn't appear to be it. I imagine there are numerous places that could be the culprit as someone else pointed out this place was a rental for 30 years and had many changes done. As far as the switch controlled receptacle I think the problem is that the receptacle got replaced and no one broke the tab off. Does that make sense? There was no red wire from or to the receptacle. Just the 2 wire plus ground from the switch (end of run), the white being used as the traveler?, and the incoming circuit 2 wire plus ground. Both tabs were still intact. I imagine I'm going to have to pay a professional to find the cause of the 2 circuits bleeding together, o joy. I talked to my electrician friend, who is too busy to help me, and he said to keep one of the breakers off until I get it fixed. Does that make sense? Thanks again for all your help.
 
  #14  
Old 03-07-11, 03:09 PM
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Ok, after realizing I'm unemployed and broke hiring a professional is not realistic. 2 companies each quoted me $1800 and $2000 respectively. That I don't have. So I started dismantling every box I could find and examining if anything looks out of place. At one of the receptacles in the bedroom this is what I found.

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Coming from the top are (2) 3wire+ground cables. The one on the left I believe is coming from another outlet to the left of pictured outlet. The one on the right I believe was for another not previously mentioned switch that is no longer hooked up. Then on the bottom (1) 2wire+ground cable is coming in from I don't know where. So what are your thoughts? If this looks like it is the culprit, how would you go about testing it? Any comments or criticisms are welcome, thanks in advance for any further help you can provide.

Edit: Sorry not permitted to post attachments, there is a link to the picture though.
 
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Old 03-07-11, 04:59 PM
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Label each wire and record what connects to what then disconnect all of the wires and spread them apart so even the insulated parts aren't touching. Turn the power on and see if the original fixture still works, it may not, andif it is still controlled by two breakers. If the original problem fixture works and is no longer controlled by two breakers you have found the problem.

If it no longer work it may be disconnecting the wires in the box pictured killed it. Next would be to see which wires are hot in the suspect box and which breaker turns them on and off.
 
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Old 03-09-11, 11:43 AM
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So if I do in fact find this to be the culprit, what is the safest way to terminate the unused wires from the other circuit?? I mean I will disconnect the wires coming from the other circuit, thus separating the 2 circuits but what will I do with the unused wires that are still coming in the box?
 

Last edited by neosapien; 03-09-11 at 12:43 PM.
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Old 03-09-11, 01:07 PM
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but what will I do with the unused wires that are still coming in the box?
If, and only if you can disconnect at both ends, cut them as short as possible and shove back into the wall on both ends. If you can't disconnect at both ends cap with wire nuts and tag them with an explanation of why they are not used.
 
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Old 03-09-11, 01:58 PM
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Thanks for all your help Ray, I would be nowhere with out your expertise. So I marked and disconnected all the wires at the suspect receptacle, sure enough after flipping each breaker back on one at a time I have determined that the receptacle is where the problem is occurring. If you refer back to the picture, the top left cables are controlled by the #13 breaker and the bottom left cables are controlled by the #10 breaker. The top right cable was dead if either breaker or both breakers were on. After disconnecting all the cables, 2 receptacles and 1 switch no longer were working. Is it safe to assume that maybe the top right cable was providing them with power? Is it just a matter of hooking up the wires again omitting one of the cable sets and trying? The worst that will happen is the breaker trips right? Thanks again for everyone's help, you are saving the money and sanity of a good man.

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Last edited by ray2047; 03-09-11 at 02:51 PM. Reason: Add picture.
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Old 03-09-11, 03:01 PM
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After disconnecting all the cables, 2 receptacles and 1 switch no longer were working. Is it safe to assume that maybe the top right cable was providing them with power?
Yes. To verify this be sure there is no power then connect the black and white of that cable together with a wire nut and check the receptacle for continuity across the black and white.

When you put it back together just be sure the two hot cables are not connected together. The portion that is now dead I would connect to which ever breaker has the least load on it in normal use. I'd cap off and tag the other set of hot cables unless you can determine their source.

Didn't you say the red went to an abandoned switch?
 
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Old 03-09-11, 04:51 PM
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Well thanks for your help again Ray, everyday I am getting closer to being able to take a day off, not quite yet though haha. So after doing multiple tests and flips of breakers this is where I stand. The top left set of cables definitely come from another receptacle directly to the left powered by #13 breaker. This is a 3wire+ground cable coming off of the other receptacle. The top right cable is what supplies the 3 other receptacles and I believe the switch for my ceiling light/fan in the living room, this is also a 3wire+ ground cable. I got the receptacles working again but not the switch/fan but I am getting power to the switch. OK here is where is gets tricky. The bottom left cable is on the #10 breaker, but I believe it to be what I think is called a switch loop. The black is always hot and the white is hot when I flip the switch that should turn on my ceiling light/fan. In this switch box I keep mentioning are 2 switches. 1 on the #10 breaker that controls my porch light which is working fine, and another on #10 breaker that should control my ceiling light/fan in my living room but isn't. I have yet to look at the wiring in the porch light, it's raining, but there are 2 cables going to it. Sorry this is so convulted, I'm trying to give as much detail as possible.
 
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