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Tricky wiring question involving 12/3 wire, AFCI, and switched outlets.

Tricky wiring question involving 12/3 wire, AFCI, and switched outlets.

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  #1  
Old 06-15-12, 08:41 AM
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Tricky wiring question involving 12/3 wire, AFCI, and switched outlets.

Hi everyone. This is my first post, so I'll try to make it worthwhile.

I'm left trying to fix what an unprofessional electrician did not complete, or maybe even start correctly in the first place. I'll do my best to explain.

We wanted to have switch operated outlets. The bedroom is adjacent to a sunroom/computer room, so they should have separate circuits. The walls between two bedrooms were removed to open it up, but we still wanted power in the middle of the room, so we had conduit put on our ceiling with three outlets. I assumed those had a separate circuit, but they do not.

So the electrician ran 12/3 wire the entire way. The bedroom, 5 outlets, is powered by the black wire. The ceiling outlets are also powered by the black wire. The sunroom, 6 outlets and 1 outdoor light, is powered by the red wire.
The first problem is that the bedroom has an AFCI breaker. A shared neutral would create problems. So I ran a separate neutral for that area, isolated from the other circuits. The neutral for the overhead outlets remains with the original neutral, and is still shared with the sunroom neutral (though the supply is separate). The switches for the bedroom and the overhead outlets are next to each other. I ran two pigtails from the black to supply each switch. Now I have no power at this point. I'm using a tester, with it on the audio setting. When I plug it into the bedroom outlets, I get no beep unless BOTH switches are on. I have not yet hooked up outlets to the overhead, so I am not sure about that.

The same thing happens with the sunroom/porch light. I only get power to the outlets when both switches are on.
Just a not about how it is wired. For some reason, I have to run power clear past all the outlets to a switch on the other side of the room. The power (red at this point) is pigtailed, and then goes on to each switch. One switch feeds the outlets, the other the light. Thinking about it, the power runs back through all the outlets, so wouldn't my neutral need to come back the other way first, toward the switches, before heading back to the service panel? I'm thinking that by either doubling back with power again, coming from the other direction, I could then catch the neutral properly.

Suggestions?

I don't know why the lazy electrician didn't just use two runs of 12/2 to begin with. This 112/3 business is such a headache.

Thanks in advance for you help.

If anyone has questions about drums, jiu-jitsu, or wooing ladies, I'll be glad to help.
 
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  #2  
Old 06-15-12, 09:13 AM
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Welcome to the forum.

I have read through your post twice and am really having a hard time keeping track of what is what (might be because I'm in weekend mode already).

My understanding is you hired someone to install some outlets that where on a switch.
When you are refering to the colors of the wires, are you refering to the casing of the 12/3 outer casing or individual wires (found inside the 12/3 cable).

If by any chance this was a licensed electrician you hired to do the specific task, and it's not to code, I believe you can go after them to make it right. I do not know anything regarding the process, so you'd be on your own with this.

Can you maybe clarify your post a bit?
 
  #3  
Old 06-15-12, 09:29 AM
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Welcome, I agree that you post is somewhat confusing.

I will point out two issues, one the AFCI will not work with a shared neutral and two, all conductors of the circuit must be run in the same cable or raceway. You cannot add a second neutral to the one in the cable.
 
  #4  
Old 06-15-12, 09:39 AM
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Questions:
1. What type of AFCI breaker did the electrician install. Example: Was it a single pole, or two pole breaker. If two pole, you did not need to run a separate neutral. (Note: A two pole breaker is simply two breakers married together)
2. How did you run a separate white (or gray) conductor?
Note: After you answer the questions above, we would need to start from the first box that the 12-3 landed in.
 
  #5  
Old 06-15-12, 09:41 AM
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It sounds like the electrician took an illegal shortcut. The 12/3 is fine as a MWBC but he should have installed a double pole AFCI breaker in the panel. That would handle the shared neutral. What you did just complicated the problem.

Best to start from scratch and map everything out before making any more changes.
 
  #6  
Old 06-15-12, 10:56 AM
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AFAIK there is only one brand of two pole AFCI breaker.
 
  #7  
Old 06-15-12, 12:11 PM
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@pcboss,
you are correct!!! I believe CH had them, but stop selling them. Siemens has them. Sq D doesn't make them. Not sure about GE.
Well, if the OP pulled in a cable to utilize the grounded conductor (White conductor AKA neutral) only, then—to avoid violating code-- the OP would have no choice but to use that cable as a circuit. If you have a siemens panel, then all is good. I guess a new question to my questions: Manufacture name of your panel, and year of install (Approximate year).
 
  #8  
Old 06-15-12, 08:21 PM
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Thanks for the replies. To answer everyone's questions:

-The casing is yellow. Inside are four wires, black, white, red, and bare copper.

-As far as going after the electrician, I have bigger fish to fry, and I don't think he has much to lose. I've been in touch with him, he just "doesn't have time" to fix the job. I'm really more annoyed that the inspector passed it without catching such major flaws.

-I'm not sure if the breaker is two pole or single pole. It is not really thick, the same thickness as my other 20 amp breakers, just a bit longer, and it just attaches to one tab, and therefore one bus. I believe that makes it single pole.

-I ran the separate white, 12 gauge solid wire through the same holes in the studs and even the same staples as the 12/3 wire, which is jacketed. I completely separated the bedroom's power supply (black) from the original neutral. I terminate the new neutral in the panel in the neutral bar, with its own screw (sorry for my poor command of the terminology). I will later tape the neutral to the original yellow jacketed wire (the electrician told me it is important to have them close because the electromagnetic field is important in AFCI breakers-- both news and Greek to me). I've already passed the rough in, so as long as that setup is safe, I don't mind if it flouts code a bit. Of course, I don't want to burn my own house down, so I want it to be safe.

-The panel is Cutler Hammer, 150 amps. It's less than one year old.

-I'm also wondering about the proper setup for the sunroom. I'll try to create an image since I don't know how to draw and post a diagram everyone can see. To rehash that: in the last box of the bedroom, the electrician took the red wire and tied it to the black wire of a 12/2 cable, creating a little jumper about three feet long that he took around the corner into the sunroom. It does not supply the outlet yet. In that box, it changes BACK to 12/3 wire, and the that cable goes through 3 more boxes. The red is tied only to itself with a wire nut in all of these. Then it arrives at a box with two switches, pigtails supply to both switches. One switch feeds the porch light, the other feeds back to the outlets, through the black wire. My confusion is how this is supposed to then get back properly to the neutral. I would think the switch would need to occur before the first outlet. Will this current setup work?
 
  #9  
Old 06-15-12, 08:41 PM
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I ran the separate white, 12 gauge solid wire through the same holes in the studs and even the same staples as the 12/3 wire, which is jacketed. I completely separated the bedroom's power supply (black) from the original neutral. I terminate the new neutral in the panel in the neutral bar
Which is a major code violation. Neutral and hots for a branch circuits must be in the same sheath, conduit, or cable.
 
  #10  
Old 06-15-12, 08:48 PM
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Rats.
Is the reason for that to avoid confusion, or does it create a safety problem? What if I were to tape it on to the original sheath along its entire length?
 
  #11  
Old 06-15-12, 09:11 PM
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Safety problem as individual conductors/wires not designed to be out of sheath. Best bet is to pull out the 12/3 and install two 12/2 cables.

Just to see why no one uses a common ground (Multi-Wire Branch Circuit) in residential with AFCI.....

To use AFCI MWBC with a CH panel:
Black handle CH 2 pole AFCI is $160 - http://www.mrsupply.com/eatons-cutle...brand-new.html
Beige handle CH 2 pole AFCI is $370 - http://www.electriciansupplies.com/product.cfm/p/49793/Cutler-Hammer-CH220AFIT.htm

oops - those are the old 2005 style ones. you would need combination style:
Black handle CH 2 pole AFCI is $520 - Allen Bradley, GE Fanuc, Omron -- Hundreds of brands repaired and supplied. Fast turnaround, clearance items, Allen Bradley, Modicon, Omron Programmable Logic, GE Fanuc, Reliance Electric - PLCCenter.com CORPORATION/BRL220CAF
Beige handle CH 2 pole AFCI is $520 - CH220CAF by EATON CORPORATION - Buy or Repair at PLCCenter - PLCCenter.com

Or you could put in a $50 sub-panel. Siemens/Murray has a 2 pole AFCI for only $87
 

Last edited by Astuff; 06-15-12 at 09:49 PM.
  #12  
Old 06-15-12, 10:22 PM
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Is the reason for that [in the same raceway] to avoid confusion, or does it create a safety problem?
In metallic raceways it is to prevent inductive heating. In non-metallic raceways such as NM-b it is to maintain a low-impedance ground-fault current path or so I have read.
 
  #13  
Old 06-16-12, 12:39 AM
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Rats.
Is the reason for that to avoid confusion, or does it create a safety problem? What if I were to tape it on to the original sheath along its entire length?
The reasoning has something to do with theory (Electrical theory). It’s to avoid an increase in overall circuit impedance, and reduce the inductive heating. Pretty much what Ray said. Currently you have created a few violations from installing the single white conductor.
You will have to remove the single conductor, and install one 12-2 with ground. This will address one issue.
Not sure I’m onboard with Astuff’s initial suggestions (removing the 12-3)—as there is no reason for it. The breakers listed by Astuff are too expensive, and not worth the hassle (Pretty much what Astuff said)!!! I believe installing one new cable (12-2) is ideal. Does your panel have room for more breakers?
 
  #14  
Old 06-16-12, 01:13 AM
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-I'm also wondering about the proper setup for the sunroom. I'll try to create an image since I don't know how to draw and post a diagram everyone can see. To rehash that: in the last box of the bedroom, the electrician took the red wire and tied it to the black wire of a 12/2 cable, creating a little jumper about three feet long that he took around the corner into the sunroom. It does not supply the outlet yet. In that box, it changes BACK to 12/3 wire, and the that cable goes through 3 more boxes. The red is tied only to itself with a wire nut in all of these. Then it arrives at a box with two switches, pigtails supply to both switches. One switch feeds the porch light, the other feeds back to the outlets, through the black wire. My confusion is how this is supposed to then get back properly to the neutral. I would think the switch would need to occur before the first outlet. Will this current setup work?
The below shows a half switched duplex receptacle. Notice that the pic says: Break tab. The brass tab (and only the brass tab) has to be broken off>>>>if you would like to wire your receptacle as a half hot. It seems the electrician installed it to be fully switched. Either way will work. Let me know if you want to have it fully switched, or half switched.http://i999.photobucket.com/albums/a...05/Halfhot.gif

Maybe someone else will get more detailed.
 

Last edited by SeaOn; 06-16-12 at 01:34 AM. Reason: Had to modify picture
  #15  
Old 06-16-12, 05:42 AM
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I would definitely prefer fully switched. Thanks.

My panel has plenty of room for more breakers. It has 32 spaces and is not even half full.

I'm really annoyed that my electrician did something so amateurish. I'm hearing everyone's suggestions about replacing the 12/3 run with 12/2. I really don't want to have to do that if taping the neutral to the 12/3 would work-- I have so many more things to move on to-- but I don't want an unsafe situation either. I'm also basically out of room in my boxes for more junctions. Is there any way around this, or any trick for boxes that are already too full? Can I carefully slice open the jacket of the 12/3, work in the neutral, and tape the entire thing? Why wouldn't that work?

Thanks everyone for all the thoughtful replies.
 

Last edited by mattemate; 06-16-12 at 05:59 AM.
  #16  
Old 06-16-12, 05:44 AM
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I would not blame the inspector. The inspector is looking at the quality of work. They may not know the thought process of how the building was wired or what was planned. A xx-3 cable can mean two circuits but could also mean that a constant hot and a switched hot is being used.

Sounds like you have a single pole AFCI.

If only the black was taken around the corner without a corresponding white and bare you do not have enough conductors to make the circuit work. Perhaps you can post some pics? A sticky of how to do this is at the top of this forum.
 
  #17  
Old 06-16-12, 07:35 AM
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Sorry, I was unclear here. It was properly wired around the corner, white and bare as well as black. I just meant that this is the point at which the red wire from the original 12/3 terminated.
 
  #18  
Old 06-16-12, 08:14 AM
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I see two options. Either pull out the 12-3 and install two runs of 12-2 NMB cable or pull out the 12-3 and install one run of 12-2/2 NMB cable which has two neutral conductors for cases like this. 12-2/2 NMB is a 4 conductor cable with 1 Blk, 1 Red, 1 Wht, 1 Wht with red stripe and 1 bare ground.
http://www.southwire.com/ProductCata...=prodcatsheet6
 
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Old 06-16-12, 08:24 AM
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Which of these is true?
1>The 3-conductor cable goes first to the first receptacle then the second receptacle?
2>The 3-conductor cable goes to the switch first then to the first receptacle?
3>The 3-conductor goes to the first receptacle then to the switch then to the second receptacle?
4>Some other combination. (please explain)

I would definitely prefer fully switched.
Have you stopped to think of the consequences? Examples: How do you plug in cell phone charger that needs to be on with lights off, alarm clocks, TVs that need constant power to hold their settings.
 
  #20  
Old 06-16-12, 08:52 AM
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2>The 3-conductor cable goes to the switch first then to the first receptacle?

This option is correct.

Yes, I've thought of the consequences of having a fully switched room, specifically a computer room that a child may turn off. But it's not might call, it's my wife that wants it. If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.
 
  #21  
Old 06-16-12, 09:05 AM
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2>The 3-conductor cable goes to the switch first then to the first receptacle
Then the solution here is simple.

At the breaker:
Connect the black to the breaker.
Cap the red. Tag it not for use.

At the switch:
Pigtail both blacks to one side of the switch and red to receptacle to the other.
Connect the whites together.
Red from breaker is capped and not used.

At each bedroom receptacle:
Connect the red and white to the receptacle.
Connect the blacks to each other but not to the receptacle.

Run a new 2-conductor cable for the sun room on a single pole breaker or AFCI breaker as required by local code.

Explanation of bedroom receptacle wiring: When your Wife realizes the mistake of all switched you can easily go back and change any receptacle to not switched or half switched.
 

Last edited by ray2047; 06-16-12 at 01:23 PM.
  #22  
Old 06-16-12, 10:09 AM
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OK, many thanks.
I'll let you know how it turns out.
 
  #23  
Old 06-20-12, 08:25 AM
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Thanks for the input everyone.

I found an old HS friend who is now a mater electrician, and he said I could put an AFCI OUTLET (not breaker) on the first outlet, and everything downstream would be protected, the I could just use a regular breaker, and the same neutral between the AFCI outlet and the breaker, an independent neutral after it.

I could not find that outlet anywhere, so changed everything out. It took me all day, but it is done right now.

Thanks again.
 
  #24  
Old 06-20-12, 08:38 AM
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I could not find that outlet anywhere, so changed everything out. It took me all day, but it is done right now.
Nor will you, it doesn't exist other than a few prototypes.
 
  #25  
Old 06-20-12, 08:53 AM
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@ Matt,
not sure I’m hearing you right, but if your friend (Master Electrician) says it’s ok to use the independent neutral conductor, then you should run the other way.

What’s wrong with the electricians in TX?? Goodness!!!
 
  #26  
Old 06-20-12, 08:56 AM
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As Justin said, the AFCI receptacle has not hit the market yet.
 
  #27  
Old 06-20-12, 09:49 AM
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As Justin said, the AFCI receptacle has not hit the market yet.
Nor is it likely to anytime soon, IMO, since the code requires that the circuit feeding the space be protected.
 
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