Can A Double Pole Breaker Be Used As A Single Pole?

can a double pole breaker be used as a single pole

If you need a new single-pole breaker, your friends may encourage you to invest in a double-pole breaker. But is that a good idea? Will it work? What is the difference between a double pole and a single-pole breaker? You shouldn’t make any decisions until you answer these questions and more.

Can A Double Pole Breaker Be Used As A Single Pole?

I don’t suggest using a double pole breaker as a single-pole because

  • First of all, the practice will probably violate your local code.
  • Secondly, the procedure is dangerous to you and your equipment because tying two single-pole breakers together means that only one breaker will trip. As a result, the circuit won’t get the electricity it needs, and the connected appliances will suffer. If you hire an electrician, they may tamper with the circuits without realizing that one of them is still energized. If that happens, they may receive a fatal shock.

This is a good question that won’t make sense if you don’t know what the terms ‘Double Pole’ and ‘Single Pole’ mean in relation to breakers. Single-pole breakers are easy enough to identify. Single-pole breakers have narrow switches. They occupy a single space in the panel.

You use them to accommodate regular household equipment like DVD players, TVs, lights, and fans, to mention but a few. A single-pole breaker works just like every other breaker.

It protects the wires. You don’t want the conductors in your house to carry more current than their rating permits. If that happens, they will melt and start a fire. But if you have a single-pole breaker with a suitable rating, it will trip before the current can exceed advisable levels, cutting the power and saving the wires.

To understand how a single-pole breaker differs from its double-pole counterpart, you have to remember that single-pole breakers work with 120V, 15A, and 20A circuits.

Double-pole breakers are somewhat superior because they work with 240V power supplies, which is why electricians pair them with dryers, ranges, and other heavy-duty devices.

If you did not know, the main panel has two hot bus bars that bring 120 volts each into your home. The single-pole breaker will connect to just one of these poles. The Double-pole breaker connects to both poles.

It has two hot wires that connect to a neutral wire. When a malfunction occurs, both halves of the breaker will trip, disrupting the connection to both poles.

What does this tell you about the double-pole breaker’s ability to operate as a single-pole breaker?

  • A double-pole breaker can serve one 240V volt circuit.
  • A double-pole breaker can also serve two independent 120V circuits.

Rather than connecting two independent 120V circuits to a double-pole breaker, you can use one 120V circuit. Connect it to one side of the double-pole breaker.

A single-pole load can work with a double-pole breaker because a double-pole breaker is basically two single-pole breakers that a manufacturer connected.

However, if a malfunction occurs on any leg, both legs will trip, depriving the connected circuit of power. If you are willing to take this risk, feel free to use a double-pole breaker as a single-pole breaker.

But don’t do the reverse.

The Spruce has introduced another option called a tandem breaker.

Tandem breakers are technically double-pole breakers. However, unlike double-pole breakers, tandem breakers occupy the same space as single-pole breakers. Electricians use them to meet the needs of two 120V circuits.

They cannot supply electricity to a 240V circuit. If you have more than one 240V circuit, you don’t have to buy multiple double-pole breakers. Get a quad breaker. It serves two 240V circuits.

There’s a third type of breaker called the three-pole breaker. You find this type in facilities with a 3-phase supply. They are three times as wide as single-pole breakers

Regardless of what you choose to do, hire a professional electrician. Let them scrutinize your property to determine whether a double-pole breaker is an appropriate solution. They can also check the local code and NEC. You don’t want to break the law.

How Can You Wire It?

  • The process of installing a single-pole breaker is pretty straightforward. You connect the ground wire to the ground bus and the neutral wire to the neutral bus.
  • Snap the breaker onto the hot bus and run the live wire to the breaker lug. Fine home building has pictures that provide clarification for the layperson. A single-pole breaker serves one 120V circuit.
  • On the other hand, the double-pole breaker works with two 120V lugs. If you want the double-pole breaker to act as a single-pole breaker, use one lug instead of two.

When Should You Wire It?

Your needs will determine your selection. For instance, if you want to run a 240V circuit, a double-pole breaker is the only suitable option. But if you have a 110V circuit that runs ordinary 110V appliances, a single-pole breaker is enough.

A double-pole breaker is a waste of space for a 110V circuit. You could add one if you have plans to upgrade your circuit and its appliances. Ultimately, a double-pole breaker won’t harm the devices on a 110V circuit. But it is unnecessary.

Ask an electrician. Tell them what you want to do and why. They will advise you accordingly. You cannot trust a layperson to make this decision, even if that layperson is you.

Pros and Cons of Using A Double-Pole Breaker As A Single Pole

There is no advantage to using a double-pole breaker as a single-pole breaker. Think about it for a second. A single-pole breaker serves 120V circuits. Therefore, if you want to use a double-pole breaker as a single-pole breaker, you are probably trying to accommodate a 120V circuit.

As such, you don’t get any significant benefit out of using a double-pole breaker as a single-pole breaker. A double-pole breaker has room for two independent circuits.

But if you want it to act as a single-pole breaker, that particular attribute doesn’t matter to you. On the flip side, double-pole breakers don’t have disadvantages.

The only notable con is the fact that they take up more space. Otherwise, you don’t gain or lose anything by using a double-pole breaker as a single-pole.

Single Pole Vs Double Pole Breaker Differences

  • A single-pole breaker works with 120V circuits while a double-pole breaker supplies 240V circuits.
  • A single-pole breaker has one hot wire and one neutral wire. A double-pole breaker has two hot wires that share a neutral wire.
  • Single-pole breakers can accommodate 15 to 20 amps. Their double-pole counterparts are associated with 60 amps. 
  • Single-pole breakers operate ordinary 110V appliances like computers, radios, and blow dryers. Double-pole breakers run heavier items like electric ranges and air conditioners.
  • A single-pole breaker occupies one slot. Double-pole breakers occupy two spaces.

Things To Remember Before Wiring Double Pole Breaker As A Single Pole

Are you trying to use a double-pole breaker in the place of a single-pole breaker? You should take these factors into account before you proceed:

1). Single Phase VS Three Phase

Do you know the difference between single-phase and three-phase power? Single-phase power is called residential voltage because you find it in residential settings. It can run every device in your home.

Three-phase power runs larger loads. You find it in commercial settings. If you have three-phase power in your home for some reason, you need a three-phase circuit breaker.

2). Voltage

This has to be your first consideration. Do you even require a double-pole breaker? It doesn’t offer any significant benefits. People use double-pole breakers because they want to operate a 240V circuit.

If this applies to your home, a double-pole breaker makes sense. But if you want to run a simple 120V circuit, you don’t need a double-pole breaker. Stick with the single-pole option.

You can use the double-pole breaker if you want to accommodate two independent 120V circuits. But if your appliances run on a single 120V circuit, double-pole breakers are unnecessary. You don’t need them.

3). Code

What does your local code say? Does it permit homeowners to use double-pole breakers on circuits that require a single-pole breaker? You cannot base your decision on the NEC’s rulings.

Many local codes have adopted the NEC’s regulations, but they don’t have to. If the local code prohibits this practice, you should obey, especially if you want to use the double-pole breaker in a commercial setting. You have less leeway in commercial settings.

4). Amp Rating

The amp rating is just as crucial to a double-pole breaker as it is to a single-pole breaker. How many appliances do you want to operate? What is their total wattage? Is the size of the double-pole breaker suitable for the load?

5). Gauge

If you want to replace a single-pole breaker, the gauge of the wires supporting the single-pole breaker should fit the size of the double-pole breaker. Otherwise, the wires may overheat because they are too small for the double-pole breaker’s amperage.

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