Service Panel Quiz?

I ran across the service panel in the picture and honestly thought it might be a test at first. The listing agent was proud that the owner had JUST (week before) had “new 200 amp electrical service installed” to the 1966 house. Outside it looked great; new meter and everything fine. Inside, new service panel; I plugged my 3 light GFCI tester into the outlet and saw hot/neutral reversed, got gunshy and really carefully opened the panel. I’m not an electrician but just looking at this, I got sick. It took me a while to sort out why so many colors but eventually it sort of made sense (sort of). I wrote the GFCI up as being a hazard and said the panel seemed to have some problems like wiring and the double tap neutrals and it needed to be evaluated; told the agent to get the electrical contractor (there was indeed a contractor’s sticker on the dead front) back asap; I was a little flustered at the time and that was all I could think of saying. Question in case I ever run into a disaster like this again: those red/black combinations: the wires looked like old Romex 3 conductor using one common for two breakers. Has that ever been legal; even back in the dark ages??

Hi to all,

Harry, your image is a bit too grainy to really see the detail, do you have another shot, or can you crop the image down but maintain the size so we get more detail?



Has been a way to run two circuits on a 3 conductor wire and has been legal for a long time…but the red and black must be on different poles (240 volts across red/black) of the supply…if not the current in the neutral conductor will be additive and possibly heat up by carrying too much currnet for its rating. (e.g. a piece of 14-3 wire with 8 and 12 amps on the individual circuits will cause 20 amps to flow in the neutral!!!; wired properly, 4 amps will flow in the neutral)

A “split” receptacle in a kitchen is a special case of this. If you test between both small (hot) blade holes, you should get 240 volts. The circuit breakers protecting a split receptacle circuit must be “double pole” ; 15 amps in the case of #14 wire.

Harry, are you looking at the same panel as me? Disaster? While not super clean that panel does not look that bad.

What you describe is called a multi-wire circuit, and has been in use just about forever. In fact, the service coming in to just about every home in North America is basically one big multi-wire circuit.
I am VERY surprised you are not familar with them.


I can’t see a whole lot in the picture because like Gerry stated…it gets too grainy when I try to see it close up. The concept of a " Common Neutral " is very legal as brian stated…I don’t happen to like the application because lets say that " Doubled Up Neutral " you were talking about happens to be for one of those “Common Neutral” circuits and someone removes it…then you have a 240V Series circuit on a circuit that was to be 120V and things start to smoke easy…

Now…remember to test those GFCI’s by the button on the device versus just the 3 light tester now…using a SureTest on that GFCI next to the panel will more than likely give you some weird readings…but alas you did not use a suretest…so…

The only other comment I have is the apparent allowance of SE Cable to run furthur inside the house than I would like…The NEC leaves that up to the local AHJ in regards to distance it is allowed to run once it enters the building…but I get the weird feeling this one goes back to the left more than 3’ from entering the building…so obviously your local AHJ allows it to be more than that…to each his own…but I dont like it over 3’ but then again who am I…

AS brian said…make sure those multiwire branch circuits ( the old romex 3 wire you spoke of ) is on a double pole breaker or (2) singles with a approved handle tie which ensures they are on different lines of the panel.

Also…never forget to check for proper bonding…and ensure a Grounding Electrode Conductor is present and connected to an electrode…I am assuming that is the black insulated wire leaving the top left but then again I cant see alot in the picture…make sure the main bonding jumper is present and properly installed…and all that jazz.


I’m not sure what you got “sick” about either.
Thanks Paul, Speedy and Brian, I thought maybe I was going blind bind.:wink:

Please come back Harry and post a clearer picture and tell us what thing bothered you.