problems with circuit breakers post-remodel

raee_gwJanuary 16, 2014

I am hoping someone can educate me a little bit (or a lot) before I speak to the contractor. I apologize, this is very long but I hope you will bear with me.
I have just recently finished a remodel of my kitchen, which as far as electrical work involved:
1. removing 2 fluorescent ceiling fixtures (one of which worked on a pull chain) and adding 5 ceiling LED lights all working off the old wall switch.
2. new outlet under sink for garbage disposal, relocate switch for GD, new box and fixture in over sink location of a previous can, working off above counter wall switch previously in place
3. relocated dishwasher
4. undercabinet lights operating off new wall switch, which is located next to (and is connected to) a previously existing above counter outlet.
5. addition of 5 above counter outlets on 3 walls and an outlet for the microwave inside a cabinet
6. relocation of stove and frig; there were already outlets in the new locations.
7. addition of an indoor ceiling light and wall switch by the back door using wall switch/outlet already present

The house is 70 years old, 1200sf, 2 stories with basement; and the existing wiring to most of the older outlets and switches (I guess one or two were newer, such as the one that controlled the old garbage disposal) is/was the fabric covered 2 wire stuff. There was basically one outlet on each wall, with an extra on one wall that powered the frig and stove. There was a 220 outlet not in use. The breaker panel is also older, push button breakers that were here when I bought 21 years ago & I've no idea how old it really is.

So, they removed the 220 outlet from the kitchen since I didn't anticipate using it again, and the box seemed to be fully used. I had asked for gfci outlets (plural). They put in only one, when I questioned that was told that only one was needed on a circuit and all the over counter outlets were on one circuit.

Everything worked when they were done (well, had to replace one switch that was installed with the wires switched and was also the wrong dimmer for the LEDs. It worked fine after that.)

Now, for the problems: I needed to know which breakers were controlling what, since they switched things around in the panel (I had a list previously, ie breaker #6 controlled half the dining room and the upstairs bedrooms and still does, #8 controlled the washer, but doesn't seem to now,
#11 used to the be thermostat but now #15 does and so forth). And the fellow who did the work never would tell me which now controlled what while he was here -- always in a hurry.

So, I had to start pushing off a breaker, seeing what outlets/switches were off, turning it back on, moving on to the next. All breakers seemed to go off and on okay (I mean, none got stuck-- I've had that happen before)
I found that the circuit that controlled the new ceiling lights was the same as before; it also controls 2 and a half other rooms (not a change).

I found that one circuit that controlled another room was now also linked to one outlet in kitchen (new). That outlet is still old wiring that was relocated from elsewhere in the room and it does not have the ground wire attached to anything (although it is a 3 prong outlet).

I found that one breaker controls the lone gfci outlet and nothing else.

Another breaker controls the undercab lights and the outlet by their switch; a 5th breaker controls the gas stove's outlet and the 3 overcounter outlets nearest to it; a 6th breaker for the outlet for the microwave next to the frig and nothing else; the frig is on a 7th circuit shared with the front hall (same as an old outlet that was in that area).

I could not find a breaker that controls the oversink light and garbage disposal. They never turned off. Also, even though that light and disposal are working, the dishwasher next to them is not now (it did before I started this), and I can't find the breaker that is controlling it.

Lastly, now I can't identify which breakers are controlling two upstairs rooms and half of each of two downstairs rooms. They also won't turn off.

Out of 21 breakers in the box, I have 6 that do not appear to be working -- they turn nothing off, and do not turn on the dishwasher. I have a circuit in the kitchen that no breaker turns off, and at least 2 other circuits in the house ditto.

It had been probably 3 years since I last had to turn off a breaker to replace an outlet; although in the past year I did have to reset a popped breaker. So I can't vouch for the functionality of the mystery breakers before now.
I can see where they took out the breaker for the old 220 outlet and put in a single 20 amp which now has the frig and half the living room connected to it.

My questions: Shouldn't I be insisting on more GFCIs in the room? at least, shouldn't the outlet under the sink be one? If different outlets and switches are controlled by different breakers, they are not connected to that single GFCI, right?

How can I tell (IF I can) if they have messed up the connections in the breaker panel, or if the problem is that I have breakers that are bad ?

and, the new box with 2 switches, that replaced the old switches for the over sink light and garbage disposal, does not have an outlet cover on it yet -- and I can see what seems like a lot of exposed copper wiring coiled up in there. Don't see that in any other switch box. Is that okay? This is a box that is right next to the sink.

What about the outlet that has no ground connected? Can that be grounded with the old 2 wire cable in there?

I will really appreciate any ways that you can advise me.


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Ron Natalie

Your electricians were in likely a "rush" and not talking to you because they are unprofessional and doing ILLEGAL work.
Were there permits pulled and inspections done?

From the magnitude of the work done, I would suspect that you really should have brought all the kitchen wiring up to code. Certainly no NEW receptacles in the kitchen should be on circuits in use elsewhere in the house.

As you realized the ITE Pushmatic panel you have isn't the greatest. Having the mechanical part of the breaker fail such that it won't turn on or off is not uncommon.

I'm really concerned that they did a lot of "rearranging" on this older panel. It makes me wonder just WHAT they were doing.

As for things that won't come on, I'd look for GFCI's that are tripped. Note that a GFCI on a circuit can protect the other outlets. Only the countertop receptacles are required to be GFCI (unless your appliance manufacturer's information requires it for the appliance).

The bare wiring you see is hopefully the grounds. Properly stowed in the box, it is fine. Nothing that's supposed to be carrying electricity should be in a position to touch the bare wiring. There should be a cover on the box. Frankly an electrician shouldn't have left it without a cover but often they do when other trades are buzzing around (painters or tilers).

What outlet with no ground? A receptacle with a ground pin has to be grounded. If you have older ungrounded two pin receptacles that is probably OK. If it has the three prong then they should not have put that directly on the old ungrounded branch circuit. The only way around this is to have a GFCI there (and even then it should blatantly say NO EQUIPMENT GROUND).

This isn't something we are going to diagnose too well via forum posts. You should have an electrician (either the clowns you were using before or a new one) come and answer those questions.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 4:18AM
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The outlets that won't turn off for any breaker may be fed from two (or more) breakers. This could have catastrophic consequences. To locate the breakers involved turn off all circuits and then turn them on one at a time and then off again. See if there are multiple breakers that energize the over sink light and disposer and the other places that you indicated. If you hire new electricians make them aware of this.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 6:31AM
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Easiest t way to find a two circuits that got tied together is to switch off one breaker at a time and check the terminal screw to see if it is still energized when off. You can only have one breaker switched off at a time in order for this to work.

That being said, Pushmatic breakers can be a bit flakey. Are you able to read the little "ON" and "OFF" windows to see if they are really off? The best way to operate a Pushmatic is with a firm, quick and deliberate punch with your finger. They don't always work so well if you are timid with them.

I am guessing the Pushmatic panel is a 3 wire sub panel fed with a cable? If so it was not legal to use it for new, grounded circuits. (unless it is the main panel, where the main disconnect is).

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 8:52AM
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Ronnatalie, elltwo, and joefixit2, thank you so much for your clear answers.

Joefixit2, it is the main panel, and thanks to all of you I think that I do need to get a REAL electrician, that I hire myself, out here to inspect and perhaps replace it.

I had asked the GC about permits early on, and he told me than none were needed for this job because I wasn't doing any major changes (no wall changes I suppose he meant).

I am hanging my head in shame -- I should have investigated myself. In my defense, though, this is the contractor that is used by a local retailer for all their kitchen installs (not HD or Lowe,s btw) so I assumed (and I see what that makes me) he did things correctly.

I did go down after I posted last night and punched all the "unaccounted for" breakers again, and did find the ones for the dishwasher, the sink and GD, the sump pump and the other half of the dining room. So I am down to two circuits that don't turn off, and two breakers that must be faulty or at least balky.

I just don't understand why they moved some of the circuits that they weren't dealing with to different breakers -- would it be because most of the breakers are 15 amp, others are 20?

About the GFCI receptacle -- it is on a circuit that seems to only power that single receptacle. Are you saying that it proctects the other receptacles, too, even though they are on a different breaker circuit?

Thanks again, Raee

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 11:39AM
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For a GFCI receptacle to protect additional receptacles, the additional ones MUST be "fed" by the GFCI. Most GFCI receptacles today have "Feed-Thru" capability if connected correctly. Some of the earliest ones did not have that capability.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 12:56PM
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