Circuit Running through Two Breakers

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Old 01-31-13, 12:49 PM
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Circuit Running through Two Breakers

I cannot kill the power to the lights and outlets in my hallway unless I turn off two 15 amp circuit breakers. One is labeled "Lights/Outlets" and the other is labeled "Lights/Outlets/Smoke/Attic". If I flip both breakers, then the fixtures go cold and I can work without issue. The circuit feeds the lights and outlets in my hallway (3 floors) and living room. It presumably also feeds my hardwired smoke detectors and the single attic light, though I did not expressly check these.

To me, this smacks of a bad job by the contractors that built my unit and it seems potentially dangerous. I would love to hear other thoughts in case this is somehow normal and I am missing the boat.

I live in a townhouse condo, which I own, with fully independent utilities. In essence, it is a stand alone house that shares two walls with other units.My unit is 5.5 years old, and I am the original owner.

Thanks for your help!
 
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Old 01-31-13, 01:03 PM
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Welcome to the forums!

Having outlets supplied by two separate circuits is dangerous, and a clear violation of the requirements of any electrical code that was in place at the time. It is not "normal."

The original electrical contracting company should be delighted to have a qualified mechanic at your place within hours, if not minutes, to correct this situation. Take enough time to make sure you're speaking with someone with enough authority to say "Yes." If they hesitate, you might try wondering aloud, but gently, what the county inspector might say when he or she comes over to have a look.

I expect you'll have it fixed by the first part of next week at the latest. Let us know how it works out for you.

Tech Note: I just re-read your title for this thread. What you have, stated in standard electrical terms, is a set of outlets, including receptacle, lighting and smoke alarm outlets, that are fed by two separate circuits. You'll probably have a better connection with the contracting company if you describe it that way instead of 'one circuit running through two breakers.'
 
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Old 01-31-13, 01:18 PM
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If the breaker is a 2 pole breaker, it sounds like a multi-wire branch circuit. This is where 2 hots share a common neutral. Both hots need to be turned off to safely work on this circuit at the same time. You may not have an issue and this would be required by the code.
 
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Old 01-31-13, 01:37 PM
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Thank you for the replies, Nashkat1 and pcboss, and the warm welcome to the forums.

The breakers are not a 2 pole, but two separate 15 amp breakers. They are not even adjacent in the box.

I believe the builder has gone out of business, so I am not sure they will be on any help. I will still follow up ,however, since I woulds rather the people responsible pay for this fix, rather than me. I will let you know how it all goes down. Thanks again.
 
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Old 01-31-13, 03:57 PM
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It sounds like those two circuits come through a common box somewhere, and they were accidentally tied together. The fact that the two breakers are not adjacent adds to this theory, because if they were adjacent the problem would've been caught immediately since it would be a dead short and the breakers would trip out instantly. Since the two breakers are on the same leg, everything appears to work properly and the problem doesn't come to light until someone goes to kill one circuit and it stays live...

It isn't necessarily an indicator of shoddy work, it was most likely an honest mistake. If you have access to a toner and have some spare time, you can figure out where the cross-connection is.
 
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Old 01-31-13, 03:59 PM
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You might check with the property manager for your condo about leads to the people who did the work. Remember that you are looking for the electrical contractor, not the general.

On all of our jobs we have to pull our own permit. The permitting office for your jurisdiction will have a record of which company pulled the permit and stands behind the work. The tricky part will be getting that information from them without telling them the real reason you want it.

One other thought: Have you looked for stickers on your panel? There should be, at a minimum, an approval sticker from the permitting authority. That should tell you the permit number, the date of the inspections, and contact information for the permit office. Additionally, there may be a self-promoting sticker put on by the electrical company that did the work. You know, one of those "For Service Call..." stickers.

More electrical companies have survived the recession than general contracting companies. And, regardless of whether any of them are still in business, their bonds for the work they did where you live now may still be in place. It might take a bit of lawyer work, but you might be able to make them pay for it even if they're all out of business!

One more point, before you put a lot of effort into getting this covered. This problem should be fixable in a 1-hour service call by someone who knows what he's doing. I used to get calls all the time asking me to fix something like this, or more complicated problems, "on your way home." Bottom line, while the company that did this should be held accountable, getting it fixed is more important. Pay for it and look for reimbursement, if you need to.

The fact that the smoke detectors are fed on one of the circuits is particularly worrisome.
 
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Old 01-31-13, 08:26 PM
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Remember that you are looking for the electrical contractor, not the general.
Nashmakes a good point, but also remember that the typical warranty on a new home is one year so the electrical contractor may want to charge you for a service call.
 
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Old 01-31-13, 10:16 PM
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remember that the typical warranty on a new home is one year so the electrical contractor may want to charge you for a service call.
Also remember that the warranty is intended to cover repairs to properly dome work that somehow, unforeseeably, failed.

What you have is work that was done so improperly that it not only doesn't meet the requirements of the governing code, it poses a clear, present and imminent hazard. If this were my condo, and the installing company had left it this way and the AHJ (the Authority Having Jurisdiction) had signed off on it, I would offer the parties a simple choice:
  1. Make it right, right now. Yesterday, if possible. With no residual damage or clean-up remaining, and with no interruption of my normal routine and schedule. Or
  2. I will pay you what you bill me for. I will then file suit to recover that cost, plus compensation for my worry, my endangerment, and the disruption your lack of cooperation have cost me. Plus, say, about three to five times that as punitive damages. And oh, yes, I spend a lot of time on social media - you know, Facebook, Twitter, that kind of thing? I'm sure I won't be able to stop myself from telling all of my friends there how you guys responded.
Seriously though, as I said earlier, once you track the company or its successor down,
Originally Posted by Nashkat1
[They] should be delighted to have a qualified mechanic at your place within hours, if not minutes, to correct this situation.
 
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Old 02-01-13, 11:24 AM
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Thank you for all of the help. All of your suggestions, both technical and practical, are appreciated.

I checked the building permit for my condo and found the electrician who did the work, but he has gone out of business. The builder may still be in business - it is unclear - but regardless is hard to contact as they have closed their office and their phone mailboxes are full.

I am checking with my condo management company to see if they have better contact info for the builder, and I am following up with the state licensing office to try to get info on the electrician. I am choosing to believe that a firm-but-friendly approach will win out, but I am also gearing up for legal actions if it comes to that.
 
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Old 02-01-13, 02:35 PM
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Just running this by everyone...as I don't know all the specifics....but is it possible the contractor broke the tabs on the receptacles, splitting them into two separate outlets, and ran two circuits with them?? That way the top half would be on one breaker and the bottom half on the other? Just throwing it out there...you never know....
 
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Old 02-01-13, 02:45 PM
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That is a good question, Jim, but it is not the case. The receptacles, top and bottom, all get killed with the light fixtures, which is only when both breakers are flipped.

In my friend's identical unit, one breaker controls the first floor hallway and living room, while the other controls the second floor hallway and smoke detectors. In mine, both control both areas. It seems the problem is well identified at this point, and my challenge now lies in the less technical skill of navigating bureaucracy.
 
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Old 02-01-13, 07:41 PM
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Also remember that the warranty is intended to cover repairs to properly dome work that somehow, unforeseeably, failed.
1. Make it right, right now. Yesterday, if possible. With no residual damage or clean-up remaining, and with no interruption of my normal routine and schedule. Or

2. I will pay you what you bill me for. I will then file suit to recover that cost, plus compensation for my worry, my endangerment, and the disruption your lack of cooperation have cost me. Plus, say, about three to five times that as punitive damages. And oh, yes, I spend a lot of time on social media - you know, Facebook, Twitter, that kind of thing? I'm sure I won't be able to stop myself from telling all of my friends there how you guys responded.
Nash, I agree with you on the principle, but I still want to point out that the owner may hear evey excuse in the book since the unit is 5 1/2 years old. The single excuse I remember best is , "We don't know who may have been in there doing electrical work who could have caused this problem." Now that the electrical contractor has gone out of business, the problem is dealing with the general contractor, IF he can be found and IF he is concerned about his companies reputation. The fix is probably and hour or two of labor. The fix also might be cheaper than litigation.
 
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Old 02-01-13, 10:53 PM
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The fix is probably and hour or two of labor. The fix also might be cheaper than litigation.
Yep. I agree, on both of these points. I even said as much, earlier, I think.
 
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