Any Tips for Identifying Circuits and their breakers?


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Old 02-22-21, 03:09 PM
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Any Tips for Identifying Circuits and their breakers?

My house was built in 1930s with several extensions done over the years. I bought it in 2018 and I am getting ready to remodel the kitchen. An electrician will redo all of the kitchen wiring and I figured I could save him time and me money if I try to make sense of my messy breaker panel.

A lot of the labels were never updated as changes were made in the house. I know I can just go, flip breakers and check lights and outlets with a lamp to see what's affected by the opened breaker. Thats annoying but easy enough to do.

More tricky is the fact there are wires that have unknown destinations. For example, I have a double pole 30AMP breaker for "Hotwater heater". I dont have a gas hotwater heater and I cannot find anywhere that those leads travel to. I have another breaker for island outlets; I don't have outlets on my island.... Then, there are also wires coming into my breaker box that arent connected to any breakers and have no labels.

Any tips or tricks for sorting this out?
 
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Old 02-22-21, 03:34 PM
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The easiest method is the two people method using walkie talkies or cell phones. Pick a room and one person checks every switch and plug while another stays at circuit box and turns them on and off. Record what breaker controls what outlet or switch.
As far as those item that say they control an item but item is no longer there, if switching off the circuit does not affect anything then just leave it off. Or if it does affect something, cross off the old label and attach new label. Time consuming? Yes! Accurate? Yes!
That double pole 30 amp breaker for heater. If you don't have one , then remove it! Same goes for the island. And those wires in the box that have no circuit breaker attached? Remove the wires from the circuit box.
 
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Old 02-22-21, 04:20 PM
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30 amp would be for an electric water heater not a gas heater.
 
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Old 02-22-21, 07:53 PM
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A two pole 30A breaker would also be used for an electric dryer.
 
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Old 02-23-21, 04:23 AM
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I think the 30 amp use is a mute question. The point being it doesn't seem to be controlling any appliance. He wants to find out where the receptacle might be located if in fact it's still connected to an outlet.

To the OP...look for a large three or four prong outlet located where a water heater, dryer or electric range might be located. If you can't find any, then make sure that circuit breaker is in the off position. If you fail to have hot water then that means that 30 amp circuit is hard wired to your electric hot water tank (you won't find the outlet, it will be wired directly into the tank). Turn it back on!
 
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Old 02-23-21, 04:32 AM
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Originally Posted by pbct2019
I have a double pole 30AMP breaker for "Hotwater heater". I dont have a gas hotwater heater
Something's gabled there.
If you don't have a gas hotwater heater, then you'd have an electric hot water heater, or a combined boiler/hot water heater.
What heats your hot water?
 
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Old 02-23-21, 05:45 AM
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Yeah, sorry guys. Brain lapse there. I didn't mean to say "Gas hotwater heater" I meant to say electric.

I currently have a tankless coil in my gas convert boiler (although not for long--> this was the previous homeowners doing and don't get me started on how crappy this set up is). At some point the boiler for the house was moved from the basement to a utility closet in the garage. I am guessing before the boiler relocation, there was an electric hotwater heater somewhere in the basement and there is probably a hidden junction box somewhere that the double-pole breaker in question runs to. And after the relocation, they switched to the tankless coil from an electric heater

I did make some progress and got two birds with one stone. I've determined the "hot water" double-pole breaker powers nothing. I did find a junction box labeled "unused 220v" in the boiler utility closet in the garage with 10awg wire. While its not the leads that are connected to the double-pole breaker, it is one of the mystery sets of leads that connect to nothing in the breaker box.

So, the Hotwater breaker is now rewired to the newly identified leads that go to the utility closet; there I installed an outlet to charge my plugin hybrid. I will search around the basement one more time for the original hotwater junction box but I am not optimistic. The previous owner did a lot of work where they added or relocated things without properly "decommissioning" the old setup.

I was hoping there would be some easy tool but it seems like the best approach is:

1) buddy system for identifying appliances, switches and outlets
2) removing or setting aside mystery leads and hope down the road you stumble across their other end.

Thanks for the help and sorry for that initial confusion. Old house can be quite the puzzle.
 
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Old 02-23-21, 06:38 AM
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Originally Posted by pbct2019
buddy system for identifying appliances, switches and outlets
Tip for figuring out which breaker controls an outlet-

I plug in a radio and use a "headphone to FM broadcast" adapter similar to this-
[img]https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/6197IbsHgbL._AC_SL1200_.jpg[img]
then listen to the FM channel on my android phone's FM tuner.

When you flip the controlling breaker, the music stops. Quick and simple.
 
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Old 02-23-21, 11:56 AM
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There are circuit breaker finders that consist of 2 units - a transmitter and a receiver. That and a helper will help you go through the house quickly (a cheap adapter for light sockets so you can plug the transmitter into the socket will help ID breakers for the lights).
 
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Old 02-25-21, 07:12 AM
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Thanks, All. I will probably pick up one of those inexpensive Klein circuit breaker finders. Since the wife will have to be my assistant, anything to expedite the process will help.

Short of hiding leads in the walls (which honestly wouldn't surprise me with this house) I am guessing that the mystery leads run to some outlet/junction box in the basement/crawl space and are hidden behind insulation. Ill take a look around one more time for the mystery leads.

This is probably municipality specific but is it against code to have leads terminate in a breaker box but not connect to any breakers? I have several pairs just tucked along the inside wall of the panel
 
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Old 02-25-21, 03:59 PM
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pbct2019 post has several issues.

Issue #1 Tracing dead wiring is classic problem in telephone systems. Here is unit that can be used to trace, unpowered hidden wires from one point to another, identifying specific wire in bundle of many.

https://www.amazon.com/Finder-Genera...39828688&psc=1

Issue #2: This DIYer makes it easier to deal with home electrical circuit issues with diagram of each circuit breaker.

Long time ago made diagram of home showing dimensions of all rooms. Use copies to plan and estimate roofing, carpeting, painting or whatever. Contractors love it.

At main panel have file folder with multiple copies of house diagrams, each numbered with breaker number.
Over years, when working on or adding circuit added info and actual wiring routing for that breaker.

A one page master diagram showing all outlets and lights. Use for quick reference when something goes dead. Keep a copy in kitchen for quick reference. After major hurricane damage to home just gave electricians the file.

While that may seem complex, developed over the years it makes life simpler and safer. Started with 26 breakers on 30 breaker main 200 amp panel. Now have 50 breakers on main and sub panels with spare slots.
 

Last edited by doughess; 02-25-21 at 06:25 PM.
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Old 02-26-21, 03:05 PM
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Wires in the panel can be left unconnected to the breaker.
 
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Old 02-26-21, 04:44 PM
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Wires in the panel can be left unconnected to the breaker.
DH In post #11 to keep simple and safe for DIYers just wrote unpowered.

Point was circuit did no have to be live to use tracer.

Especially when working on wires in remote box it is good, safe practice to turn breaker off.

Unconnecting wire physicaly at breaker is unnecessary when using tracer.

BUT with wire connected and that breaker left ON, all circuits on that 240 phase will carry tone creating mass confusion
 

Last edited by doughess; 02-26-21 at 05:37 PM.
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Old 03-01-21, 07:05 AM
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thanks for the feedback. Good idea regarding the diagram. I will probably get started on that.
 
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Old 03-01-21, 09:05 PM
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A major advantage of fault finer tone generator is can find specific wire in area or bundle with out power.
Wire can be for electric power, phone, computer, door bell, sprinklers or whatever.

https://www.amazon.com/Finder-Genera...39828688&psc=1
 
 

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