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Mixed or Different Name Brand Circuit Breakers


Brian G
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In an electrical panel box, I often find mixed or different name brand breakers. Last week on a two year old house I found a GE panel with all Square D breakers inside of it. I took a picture of the sticker in the panel that said, "Use only GE type breakers, use of other circuit breakers voids the warranty, may void the UL listing and could result in property loss or personal injury," and included it in my report.

I have been told by other inspectors that they do not call this out as a major defect. They only put it in their report for information purposes. Am I correct in calling this out as a defect and referring it to an electrician? I have yet to see any problems related to different name brand breakers in a panel box. Are problems common with this type of thing?

I know that different panel boxes say to use only approved breakers which I can normally find listed inside the front cover. Is there a cross reference list somewhere that tells you what breakers can go into what boxes?

Thanks,

Jeff Euriech

Peoria Arizona

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Originally posted by Brian G.

... In my area I would estimate that 9 out of 10 panels more than 5 years old have more than one brand of breaker in them.

Which is why Brian is a Home Inspector and not an estimator. Even in Mississippi, I can't believe that 90% figure...unless breaker-swapping parties are a big thing in dem der southern regions?

Anyway...on the "relatively" rare occasions that I see mixed breakers I do call them. I've never seen a definitive or approved list of which breakers are suitable for other panels and, until I do, I think I'll leave it to Sparky to say it's OK or not. On the other hand, like Brian, I don't jump up and down and get all excited about it.

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I write up incompatible breakers, in most cases. We have mostly Square D panels out here, and the panels say to only use Square D components. Most panels have a sticker saying something similar.

I've seen some jerry-rigged breakers that have no business being in the panel, and until I can find a cross-referencing breaker guide (if one even exists) how do I know the breaker will work, long-term?

One exception I make is a Cutler Hammer breaker in a Square D panel. A smart electrician once taped the Cutler breaker instructions in a Square D panel, where he had added the Cutler Hammer. It said the breaker/panel were compatible.

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Hi,

When I find them I usually check the label on the panel for the breaker type, not the brand, and then look at the label on the breaker to see what type it is. For instance there's that type HOM breaker that seems to be made by Square D, Bryant and Cutler Hammer. If the breaker type matches the label, regardless of brand name, I don't write it up.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Originally posted by Richard Moore

Even in Mississippi, I can't believe that 90% figure...unless breaker-swapping parties are a big thing in dem der southern regions?

Nah, no parties, although that's about all the excuse we would need for one. [:-party]

It comes mostly from either electrical contractors mixing thier supplies (leftovers from other jobs, cheap breakers bought somewhere other than where the panel came from, etc.) or people having added a breaker or two since moving in. Nobody worries about brand here, as long as it plugs in right it flies.

I'll qualify my estimate for you Richard. 90% of the panels I see over 5 years old have more than one brand of breaker. Better?

Brian G.

Breaker-Breaker Good Buddy

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I'd advise treading carefully when condemning off-brand breakers. Sometimes, it's not a violation.

If a breaker manufacturer pays for it, Underwriters Laboratories will test and *classify* one manufacturer's breakers for use in another manufacturer's panel. These breakers are known, not surprisingly, as "classified breakers."? From both a safety and a code perspective, these breakers are perfectly acceptable to use in the panels for which they're listed. When you buy them, the breakers come with a long list of panels that are acceptable to put them in.

Check out the UL guide for these breakers at http://database.ul.com/cgi-bin/XYV/template/LISEXT/1FRAME/showpage.html?name=DIXF.GuideInfo&ccnshorttitle=Circuit+Breakers,+Molded-case,+Classified+for+Use+in+Specified+Equipment&objid=1074081964&cfgid=1073741824&version=versionless&parent_id=1073

Cutler Hammer, for instance, makes some particular classified breakers that UL says are acceptable to put in GE, Siemens, Murray, Thomas & Betts, Square D (both Homeline and QO) and Crouse Hinds panels. (Note to Chris: Not all Cutler Hammer breakers are classified as compatible with Square D, only some of them.) Check them out at http://www.eatonelectrical.com/unsecure ... 04001E.PDF

As for warranties, every panel manufacturer, it seems, has similar language warning of the dire consequences that will result if another manufacturer's breaker is used in their panel. The most curious of these is Cutler Hammer. (We make breakers that are classified for use in practically every other panel out there, but if you use someone else's breaker in our panel, our warranty is void!) Talk about cheeky. The thing about all of this warranty voiding is that it may not be legal. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Acthttp://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/warranty.htm#Magnuson-Moss specifically prohibits a manufacturer from requiring the use of their own replacement parts when safe and effective alternatives are available from other manufacturers. I suppose that, to know for sure, this will someday have to be tested in court. I'm not holding my breath.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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  • 10 years later...

From a Forensic Electrical Engineer and Electrical Contractor perspective, here's the background:

The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires that all equipment installed in a building electrical system be "listed" and marked by an appropriate certifying agency, usually UL or CSA.

To get listed, a manufacturer submits some sample products with their specifications to the agency who then performs some standard tests for overheating, etc. For breakers, the tests for the listing include installation in a specific panel, so the listing applies to certain breaker-panel combinations, thus the list of acceptable breakers stuck to the panel cover. Then that manufacturer and model number, of circuit breaker/panel in our case, becomes listed, for purposes of that NEC requirement.

A jurisdiction, city, county, state, incorporates codes, like the NEC (plumbing, building, safety, etc) into their body of law. The NEC is only applicable and enforceable if adopted by an "authority having jurisdiction," known as the AHJ in the NEC. To you and I, that's the (city) building or electrical inspector, and per the NEC, s/he has the final interpretation of the relevant code. S/he requires that the circuit breakers be listed, meaning that their model number be found on the label of the panel in which they have been installed.

Of course, each manufacturer only pays for the test for their panel- breaker combinations. Even though the breakers might be readily interchanged physically (and may even be exactly the same mechanically and electrically), the testing agency will only certify those whose names match up, and for which they have been paid.

What with manufacturers buying each other, the advent of the big box depot, and efficiency of space usage, some manufacturers have paid to have their breakers tested in the panels of several others, and can then offer that breaker to a chain to solve all replacement requirements of its customers in less display space. (Some breakers are physically incompatible and no test protocol will make them fit. Obviously its the ITE, Bryant, GE, Eaton, Westinghouse, Cutler Hammer, SquareD HOM, etc style that we find most often swapped. Zinsco, ITE/Bulldog, FPE/Stablok are all physically unique and not candidates for interchangeability.)

Just because one manufacturer buys another and their breakers physically interchange doesn't automatically mean that they are now code acceptable. You may find that the inspector rejects, for example, an older ITE (not labeled properly for interchange) and accepts a newer ITE (which, if labeled for other brand panels, implies that it has been tested for those panels, even if, in fact, there has been no manufacturing or specification changes!) Is this fair? The inspector has reasonable assurance of a safe installation if he follows the protocols of the NEC.

As we see in other posts, there may be an acceptable interchangeability chart that can be pasted into an old panel that will satisfy the inspector, and perhaps we should all keep some of those around.

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...

A jurisdiction, city, county, state, incorporates codes, like the NEC (plumbing, building, safety, etc) into their body of law. The NEC is only applicable and enforceable if adopted by an "authority having jurisdiction," known as the AHJ in the NEC. To you and I, that's the (city) building or electrical inspector, and per the NEC, s/he has the final interpretation of the relevant code. S/he requires that the circuit breakers be listed, meaning that their model number be found on the label of the panel in which they have been installed.

...

Good post. Useful info.

In Louisiana, Codes are adopted by the state. The AHJs of the local municipalities or parishes just enforce it. They're allowed to exceed it if they wish and there is a bill currently before our legislature that proposes to allow local municipalities and parishes to submit a local alternate solution to a given citation should that citation present a hardship or creates a problem for some reason in that locality.

Marc

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The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires that all equipment installed in a building electrical system be "listed" and marked by an appropriate certifying agency, usually UL or CSA.

This generalization might be a bit broad. The NEC requires a listing on some, not all, components of an electrical system. For instance, metallic wireways and auxiliary gutters don't require listing, whereas nonmetallic gutters and wireways do require listing. Motors don't have a UL listing, and luminaires weren't required to be listed until the 2008 edition of the NEC.

To the topic at hand here, I once saw a Murray panel that had a specific list of the breaker model numbers that were acceptable in that panel. The contractor had a Murray breaker that was not on that list, and a close examination of the breaker jaws showed that it only seated about 50% of the area of the jaws on the bus stab. Sometimes even the correct brand is still not the correct model. Home inspectors often see older panels with no labels or instructions, and in such cases do not have a sufficient amount of information for certainty about the compatibility of the breakers and the panel.

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Well said Doug and others,

I'm currently advising that if there is any doubt or issue, just get a breaker that matches those listed on the panel.

If they're no longer available because the panel is old, then some research is necessary to see if anyone has solved that particular problem. It can't hurt to ask the AHJ what will work for them - you might even get a constructive answer. Google has a huge list of images of substitution charts which I haven't reviewed.

It appears that this will forever be a bit of a sticky wicket.

I have learned from this thread of some less that obvious incompatibilities to watch for.

As I've now read through a lot of info on this issue, I'm thinking that a private inspector should always mention the odd breakers as a possible code violation with a caveat that relevant incompatibilities might exist and the parties should consult a licensed electrician, thereby passing off the responsibility to others hopefully more knowledgeable and again hopefully avoiding a lawsuit should a fire or other event occur.

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