wrong wire gauge used - how big a deal?

dej142April 4, 2013

Yesterday I had a repairman replace a breaker because my dryer wasn't heating (I first replaced the dryer, then realized it was an electrical problem rather than a broken appliance...but I really like the new dryer, so that's ok).

In replacing the breaker, my repairman noticed that several wires were the wrong gauge for the breakers they are attached to. He felt the wires and none were warm.

We had a contractor remodel our home 5 years ago (a down to studs remodel). The contractor normally built decks, etc., but assured me he cound handle a whole home remodel, and we're in a rural area and I didn't have much choice. Per our contract, he was in charge of upgrading or replacing all wiring as needed. I'm not sure if he did or what all he did. We don't have codes here and we didn't have a separate inspection of his work.

Over the last five years, we've found several instances of mistakes or shoddy work or just incompetence, so now I'm worried about our electrical. Do we have a major fire hazard? Is this a fairly common thing?

We will hire an electrician to look into this, but in the meantime I just wanted to ask how big of a deal this is. It's been five years since our remodel and we haven't had a problem with breakers tripping, etc. The blown breaker happened last week when I flipped the breaker to reset our washing machine (I stopped our washing machine midcycle and the only way to reset it was to flip the breaker). When I did, apparently there was a power surge that blew the breaker.

Thanks for any advice!

This post was edited by dej142 on Thu, Apr 4, 13 at 15:33

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Ron Natalie

If the wiring is too small for the breaker size, then yes it's dangerous. However, I'd not trust a repairman to know what he is talking about. Have a real electrician, not a repairman, not a contractor who thinks he knows how to do electrical work.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 4:13PM
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It is not a common thing. I've torn apart every house I've owned and the breakers always are rated for the lowest gauge of wire used. This means often times ppl stick in lots of 15A breakers - but oh well at least it's safe.

If your dryer is on undersized wire that's definitely a problem. It won't get the current draw it needs thru a 12ga wire and if it does it would be a hazard. Of course you could use it this way for years and maybe be fine -- or not. I would definitely repull the right size wire for your dryer, and put 15A breakers on any circuits that use 14ga wire. Switching out the breakers is a cheap fix at $3 ea.

For starters, if you're comfortable, look into it yourself. All your 20A breakers should have 12ga wire coming off them. The gauge of the wire is printed right on the wire. 15A breakers should have 14ga, tho they can have bigger wire.

This won't tell you for certain if 14ga wire wasn't used somewhere you don't see... but it will point out if you have obvious red flags.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 4:36PM
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I looked at the wires but couldn't see any info printed. For what it's worth, the dryer (a 30A breaker) and a 50A breaker both have huge red wires coming out...much bigger than the other wires connected to other breakers.

I will definitely find a licensed electrician to look at this. Thanks for the advice.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 5:11PM
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If there is any marking it will often be only on the outer jacket of the cable, not the individual wires in the cable.
#14 is very close to 1/16 inch diameter (0.0641 inches actually), #12 around 1/10 inch (0.0808 inches actually closer to 1/12 inch).

If you see them in the same panel it is readily apparent when they are side by side.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 12:06PM
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