Renters Keep Popping 20a Breaker!

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Matt A

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Hey guys love the Forum typically I'm always asking Plumbing questions that today it's electrical. I own a Triplex apartment but the breaker panel is on the center unit only it was built back in the '60s. Anyway one apartment in particular has a dedicated 20 amp breaker with number 12 wire in the kitchenette. The renter in there keeps popping the breaker by running multiple appliances on one outlet. For example maybe a microwave, a coffee pot and hot plate at the same time! I keep telling him you can't do that but he continues. It's inconvenient because the person in the center apartment is not always home to reset the breaker. Anyway I have inspected the wire and it is in good condition I have even replaced the 20 amp breaker with a brand new one just on principle. My question is could I just simply install a 15 amp GFI outlet in line in this kitchenette with my thinking that it would pop before the 20 amp breaker pops?
Thanks in advance,
Matt
 

WorthFlorida

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GFCI's do not trip on overload. GFCI interupters only detect the difference of current between the hot and neutral. My first suggestion would have been to replace the breaker since they can degrade and pre-trip. You have done everything correctly as I would have performed the same inspections.

The latest code for kitchens is a minimum of tow 20 AMP circuits for the counter(s). It's to minimize the exact problem you are having. The maximum wattage for a table top appliance is 1800 watts but most are 1500 watt maximum. A 20 amp breaker will pop at about 2400 watts continuous total load.

One solution can be replace the outlet with a single plug. Place a power strip on the counter and most now have breakers built in at 15 amps. It'll trip before the main beaker does. Built in breakers is to prevent overloading of an outlet.
 
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Matt A

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Wow thank you so much for the prompt reply and the excellent advice. That is a great idea putting a strip but unfortunately I know renters and I've seen a lot in my 35 years they will go and buy a triple adapter to expand the single outlet. They are going to do what they're going to do whether it's hair dryer,coffee pot, toaster oven, microwave ALL on one Outlet... you can't tell them anything. They will remove the strip as to them it is just an inconvenience! You should see some of the stuff I have seen people do. I guess then I'm probably looking at an electrician and running a subpanel to this particular situation unless there is such thing as a "breaker outlet" that will trip on load?
 

John Gayewski

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Wow thank you so much for the prompt reply and the excellent advice. That is a great idea putting a strip but unfortunately I know renters and I've seen a lot in my 35 years they will go and buy a triple adapter to expand the single outlet. They are going to do what they're going to do whether it's hair dryer,coffee pot, toaster oven, microwave ALL on one Outlet... you can't tell them anything. They will remove the strip as to them it is just an inconvenience! You should see some of the stuff I have seen people do. I guess then I'm probably looking at an electrician and running a subpanel to this particular situation unless there is such thing as a "breaker outlet" that will trip on load?
Leave it tripped for 48 hours. They will be more careful. They'll get sick of having to wait two days to get power back to the kitchen.. That's what I do. I have a similar situation. I warn them first, but then it's two days before I turn it back on if they trip it.
 

Matt A

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I love it! Especially since a small 5k window AC is on one of the other circuits that they keep tripping so I'll sweat them out down here in Florida!
 

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This is getting bad. Replace the outlet with a 220v receptacle. Replace the plug on the power strip to match.
 

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Matt A

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Love it! I do have a question for either John or Worth. I can't wrap my head around amp load. So I have two separate outlets 3 feet apart on a 20 amp #12 wire kitchen counter. Let's hypothetically say Outlet number 1 has a double hot plate that is on and outlet number 2 has a power strip with a 15 amp breaker and that one is loaded up with a coffee pot, microwave and toaster. Will that just trip just the 15amp power strip or will it overload the entire circuit and pop the 20 amp breaker in the panel?
 

WorthFlorida

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With two outlets it makes no sense to use a power strip. The total load that must past the breaker cannot be more than 2400 watts (20amps). If the load on the power strip is less than 15 amps and a hot plate is turned on at the first outlet, yes it will most likely trip the 20 amp breaker. If only the power strip is in use and it exceeds the 15 amps, it will trip but not the main breaker.

Depending on the location of the is rental unit, the power panel location and if there are any spares slots, have a new 20 amp circuit added to this unit.

A home built in the 1960's the electric panel will be no more than 100amp, maybe even a 60 amp panel and with three units it probably it is at its maximum design or over extended its rating. Just remember that the breaker protects the wiring from over heating if the load exceeds it rating.
 

Matt A

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I appreciate all the advice. The panel is 100 and it is maxed out. I think the only solution is to run a sub panel outside the apartment and set it up with two 15 amp Breakers that way the tenant at least has access to turn the power back on. The problem is it is a mother-in-law Suite with a kitchenette there is no kitchen but these people will go to Walmart and buy a gigantic toaster oven, a gigantic double Hot Plate, a gigantic coffee pot, a gigantic microwave and think they can run it all at the same time. It is what it is and I try to explain to these people but they just continue to overload the circuits. I'm surprised they don't go to Harbor Freight and get an arc welder and try to use that with all those appliances!
 

WorthFlorida

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I appreciate all the advice. The panel is 100 and it is maxed out. I think the only solution is to run a sub panel outside the apartment and set it up with two 15 amp Breakers that way the tenant at least has access to turn the power back on. The problem is it is a mother-in-law Suite with a kitchenette there is no kitchen but these people will go to Walmart and buy a gigantic toaster oven, a gigantic double Hot Plate, a gigantic coffee pot, a gigantic microwave and think they can run it all at the same time. It is what it is and I try to explain to these people but they just continue to overload the circuits. I'm surprised they don't go to Harbor Freight and get an arc welder and try to use that with all those appliances!
I know it is a huge expense to upgrade the panel to 150 or 200 amp but may also prevent an electrical fire. Question? Is this building permitted as a multi-family dwelling?
 

Afjes

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MattA - first off the panel for this person's apartment must by code either be accessible to the renter or you must have someone on call 24/7 to reset any breakers if for example it was in a utility room not normally accessible to tenants.

Second - the renter has to understand there are limits to what he/she can plug into one circuit. A 20amp circuit is the largest allowed by code for a regular receptacle. This holds true in any case. If he continues to do this he may cause damage to the circuit with other heating.

No, GFCIs will not trip on overloads.

What I suggest then since this seems to be an issue with this tenant is to have another circuit placed in the kitchen. This will cost you some money to have done but will lessen the chances of something more dangerous happening in the future. Also, isn't there something written into the lease about the use of electrical etc in the unit?

Using a power strip will not solve any problems. It will just encourage the tenant to keep doing it. Sooner or later you will end up with a problem.
If you want to figure what a circuit can handle simple Ohm law will apply.

120v x 20amps = 2400 watts/power
If an appliance is: 120v at 8 amps it is using 960 watts of the 2400.
If the same appliance only says 120v 960 watts the it is using 8 amps
Look at the back or under the appliance for the name plate or data showing this.
Use this simple formula
Watts = volts X amps

If an appliance has written on it 120v and 11amps then you take 120v X 11 = 1320 watts.
If the same appliance says instead 120v and 1320 watts you simply divide 1320 by 120v to get 11amps.

Although it is a 20amp circuit it is not good to run appliances together that will constantly come close to the max of 2400 watts. There is more involved in some cases such as continuous loads but I won't get into that now.

This is your property. The tenant must make it a point not to abuse it. You must make him aware of the fact that the circuit meets codes, there are limits to what the circuit can handle and if he continues to do this and causes a problem such as melted wires or even a fire he will be liable for this. He would have the same problem with this same circuit in any other apartment or house. Some tenants think they can do what they want and the demand more power. That's not the way it works.

If you do go with installing an additional circuit to this kitchenet you may want to consider a MWBC (multi wire branch circuit). It will still only be one cable going to the apartment but will give you two separate circuits and you will then have 3 circuits in this kitchenet. Do a google search on MWBCs. You will get a better understanding. Installing one will give you two separate 20amp circuits on the one cable going to the kitchenet (this is a simple explanation; read up on it for more detail).
 

John Gayewski

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He is available 24/7 but responding in a reasonable time can mean a lot of things. Reasonable-ness goes both ways. He doesn't have to rush over to reset a breaker if they tennant has been warned and fully informed.

MattA - first off the panel for this person's apartment must by code either be accessible to the renter or you must have someone on call 24/7 to reset any breakers if for example it was in a utility room not normally accessible to tenants.
 
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