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Question DetailsAsked on 5/19/2017

I want to change a breaker from 15 to 20 amps to handle a sauna, do I change all the outlets in the room to 20?

The room is currently running with 15 amp outlets and the one the sauna is plugged into is taking a beating, showing minor burn and heat scars. I want to change the rooms breaker to 20 amps, the outlet for the sauna will also be changed to 20 amps. Do I need to change all the other outlets in the room to 20 as well, even though they will not be used for the sauna?

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No go - sorry. As it is you have a very dangerous situation which shouldnot be used again till fixed - and your proposed fix does NOT cut it.

Outlets are rated for the expected load for that type of plug configuration and normal devices/appliances attached - normal 110/120V 2 or 3-wire plug that fits in a normal outlet should generally not exceed 15 Amps demand, the outlet should be rated at 15A (standard ones today are), and the wiring should be rated for that much or more. The breaker is rated for the maximum safe limit of the amperage the wiring can handle - varies a bit between normal sheathed wiring like Romex or NM (normal types found in modern houses) and in-conduit wiring for rigid metal conduit like THHN/THWN, or in flex metal BX conduit in older houses - but generally with houses in the last 20 or more years a 15A capacity circuit would use #14 wire, and have a 15A slow blow breaker. A 20A circuit would have #12 wiring and a 20A breaker - generally one wiring size larger in conduit but not always.

And don't forget the power needed for ventilation, assuming this is an enclosed rather than open-air sauna (which is more a steam hot tub than suana).

So - the outlet is sized for the load expected to be carried by it, and the wiring and breaker have to be rated to handle that load. Changing the other outlets to 20A outlets would work or be necessary only if:

1) the circuit was designed for 20A, including the wire size, AND

2) the breaker was changed to 20A, AND

3) the outlets were 20A pass-through outlets, where the "live" wire in the circuit comes to the outlet, through it, and out of it and on to the next outlet in the circuit (as opposed to the outlets being individually pigtailed off the circuit with the main circuit load not going through the outlets other than for devices plugged into it) - and in that case all outlets between the sauna and the breaker wouldalso have to be upgraded,, not just in that room, AND

4) the overall circuit would not be overloaded by the sauna andany other loads connected to it. This last one in general kicks the sauna off general convenience outlet circuits entirely - because it is not a convenience consumer table/floor lamp or consumer device, it is considered a permanent appliance, which is supposed to have its own dedicated circuit.

The existing outlet should be considered (because of the overheating damage and scars) to be fried (and should be replaced, and the sauna not used till properly wired) because you have overloaded it - dangerously so. It is likely the sauna cord plug end has also been damaged because of the overheating. In addition, the wiring throughout the circuit should be inspected at each exposed location and each box for signs of damage from excessive load in the past.

By code, the sauna should be hardwired into a dedicated circuit (not plug-in) unless it is some sort of portable sauna like the little K-Tel type portable sauna booths from the 70's. It must also be connected through either a GFCI outlet or a GFCI breaker to protect against shock. [A breaker protects the circuit against overloads which can melt insulation and cause shorts, it does NOT protect against shocks.] The hard-wired requirement is waived IF the device comes as a UL (underwriter's Lab) approved consumer-type device with plug cord (like range, washer, dryer, etc) AND the cord is not more than 6 feet long (as I recall) - but allowable length is determined by UL standards and varies by device and amperage draw.

Also by code, again unless a truly portable sauna, there must be a shutoff switch clearly labelled close by the sauna - exact location determined by your exact configuration but roughly 3-6 feet away from the door and in plain sight. Some designs and in some states it requires an emergency shutoff switch inside the sauna, in others it may NOT be inside - different code authorities vary on the danger of a shutoff switch inside the sauna. Some areas allow or require it inside but it has to bean air-activated (pneumatic) type which has no electricity to the interior switch itself, to avoid electrocution hazard and ste4am condensation in the switch.

Many areas, and as I recall the general International Residential Code in effect in most areas, also requires an automatic overtemp shutoff switch and alarm on the heating unit. Could not find the code place section off the hand to check if the requirement for a panic alarm/emergency shutoff applies to residential saunas or only for commercial ones, but certainly a good idea to have one in case of aheart attack/stroke/heat stroke to someone in the sauna.

So - no you cannot just change outlets and make all good - that will not alleviate circuit overloading, unless the circuit just happened to have upsized wiring - and you still have several safety measures to incorporate.

Generally, and particularly since the question you asked shows you are not household wiring savvy, you should have an Electrician look into this for you.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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