General Question

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Why does our GFCI breaker keep tripping?

Asked by DrasticDreamer (23996points) February 8th, 2016

Twice tonight the GFCI breaker has tripped and absolutely nothing is out of the ordinary. What could be causing this?

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29 Answers

Pachy's avatar

More details, please. What appliances are connected to the outlet(s) on this circuit?

Bill1939's avatar

Like everything else, GFCI breakers age and wear out. I expect that the problem will disappear when you change it. They are not very expensive and are easy to replace (power off, of course). I have replaced two of mine over the last few years. They were around ten-years-old. If the problem still exists then you may need an electrician to solve it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

How’s the weather? Damp conditions? Has it been raining?

Have you plugged in a different device recently? It might have a loose internal connection. If possible, flip the plug around.

filmfann's avatar

Also, in many homes, a GFI circuit will support other plugs along the same wall. You may have a problem further down the line.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

They are cheap enough. It’s usually easier to replace one and see if the problem goes away. If it does not then it’s likely doing its job.

JLeslie's avatar

Probably replace it like others have said.

Have you plugged in anything additional on the same group of GFI connected outlets? Any chance any of the outlets connected to that GFI is getting water in it somehow?

Tropical_Willie's avatar

I would replace it, I had one with nothing plugged into the circuit that would repeatedly trip.

Electrician came out and fixed it; had him do another electrical job, just to get the minimum charge to something reasonable (less than an hour). They wear out, mine was only 4 years old.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

It was replaced about a year ago, so I don’t think that’s the issue. But the electrical here kind of makes me paranoid in general, because there have always been various issues with it, even though everything is to code. There’s definitely no chance that water is getting into anything, but we have been getting (finally, there was a bad drought and long dry spell) a lot of rain recently, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Pachy's avatar

Again I ask for more info. Is there any appliance attached to any of the outlets on the GFC circuit that might be going bad? Last year I had something plugged in that I didn’t realize was on a GFC circuit. The appliance was damaged and kept tripping the circuit but I didn’t realize that was the problem till I unplugged it. Just a thought.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I don’t know a ton about it, but I know most of the outlets in the bedrooms are connected to it, as well as some outlets in the living room. Those are the areas that went black. The TV stayed on, but all the lights went out and the ac/heat also stayed on. The only thing I can possibly think of is that we got another light for the living room about a week ago, and that’s the only new power draw.

JLeslie's avatar

Usually, a GFI has a limit of 6? That’s the code I think nowadays.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@JLeslie Hm… If that’s true, then it’s definitely something that needs to be looked into. :-/ I’m going to go look into it now, see if I can figure stuff out.

JLeslie's avatar

I’m no electrician, and the code I’m sure varies from state to state. Even county to county.

Even if you have more outlets than there should be on that GFI, it still doesn’t change that it was fine before and now all of a sudden it isn’t.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Well… now I’m not even sure of what the problem in general is. The last time a company was out here installing the heating/cooling stuff, they mislabeled the electrical box. Sooo… yeah. Now a test will have to be done at some point to figure it out and correctly label everything again. SIGH

JLeslie's avatar

I hate electrical stuff. My last house the electrician wired some stuff wrong, there was evidence there had been a fire in the fuse box. Then they supposedly had fixed everything, and I paid an inspector to check it, and when my inspector came back to test it again sparks flew.

Unbelievable.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Definitely frustrating, and a bit scary if the “professionals” don’t do it right.

JLeslie's avatar

I googled a little and it looks like maybe it isn’t a code thing. I’m really unsure now. One place it said the GFI manufacturer makes recommendations, another it was a electrician just saying the standard he uses. I know on my house it was 6, because the electrician mentioned it. I don’t know if it was 6 plus the one main one, or 6 total.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Oooo! Does the lamp have a polarized plug? If not unplug it , reverse it and plug it in again. Give that a try.
You know me. I don’t replace stuff unless the wheels are falling off, the zipper is gone and the food smells rotten. And even then I can overlook the rotten if it gets cooked. :-)

Does the GFI have a test button? Most do. Push it and reset it a couple of times. Note which outlets turn off. It is very possible one appliance is marginal and humidity is pushing it over the edge. Try reversing the plug if you can.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@LuckyGuy I read the Q as “Circuit Breaker with GFI” in the panel.

jerv's avatar

I’ve been a few places where the GFI in the bathroom could (and did) shut off things in other rooms simply because they were on the same circuit. Not entirely unlike your living room lights, actually. I’m thinking that something on the circuit went tits-up and that is why the GFI keeps tripping.

” There‚Äôs definitely no chance that water is getting into anything, but we have been getting… a lot of rain recently, so maybe that has something to do with it.”

Air tends to have water in it even if you can’t see mist or clouds and it doesn’t form into droplets. Rain is often the result of the air being super-saturated with water and the excess water falling out of the air. I seriously doubt your entire electrical system is hermetically sealed either. Put those together and there most definitely is a chance water got in there.

When I had DSL, we had issues with our internet connection every time we got a good rain (less common in Seattle than rumor suggests) because the moisture messed with the underground cables. It’s not entirely out of he realm of possibility that you have something subtly and weirdly wrong with your home wiring or an appliance that only becomes an issue when it’s damp.

@DrasticDreamer There are two types of electricians; those who only work on stuff that they wired themselves, and those who spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out what the person who wired the place originally were smoking, usually embellished with references to the previous electrician’s mother’s sex life and a few interesting dietary suggestions for whoever wired the place. Even when a professional does it right, it’s kind of scary, sometimes even to professional electricians.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@LuckyGuy I’m not sure if the plug is polarized, but I’ll check. And yeah, there’s a test button on what’s labeled as the GFI.

@jerv Yeah, after the heating/cooling people were here, we had to have the city make sure everything was to code and he said they screwed something up badly, and so did another electrician who came out. Originally, the city said it was fine, but our usual electrician urged us to contact them again and push for someone else to come out and take a look, because he said something was a fire hazard. Sure enough, on the second inspection with another city worker, he said it had to be changed. And now, like I mentioned above, we’re positive things aren’t labeled correctly because of what the heating/cooling electrician did.

jerv's avatar

@DrasticDreamer My first ship was that way too. Even worse, they used fuses everywhere instead of breakers. S.O.P. was to shove a screwdriver into the outlet/fixture, and tag out whichever fuse(s) blew regardless of label since you’d always pull the the wrong fuses doing it in the officially sanctioned manner.

Think about what I just wrote there and you might get a little insight into what type of people electricians are.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@jerv Arrrg! You’re killing me! :-)
I am so far in the opposite direction. I have a signal injector which I used to identify every single outlet and switch plate in my house! Every one! Including basement, attic, garage, and barn. It took me about half a day but I’ve used that chart for well over 30 years. One copy is taped to the breaker box door. The other is in my “house” file.
About 10 years ago I retyped it in excel and reprinted it with updates. So handy!
I even labelled which phase each was on so if I were to backfeed from one outlet I know which one is connected to my sump pump and freezer.
(But I would never backfeed my 1.1 kW generator into an outlet because we know that is unsafe and not allowed ) ;-)

I’d like to think ships had the same rigor…. but I know better.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@LuckyGuy I’m glad you don’t backfeed into a single outlet, I just have this 240 V 40 AMP outlet below my outside main disconnect (on the house side of disconnect). The plug matches the pigtail from my generator.;>) .

jerv's avatar

@LuckyGuy You misunderstand. Some electricians (myself included) will map out the wiring like that, even if only because they are lazy enough to want it easier when they are forced to work on it later rather than out of any desire to “do things right”. My seconds boat was accurately labelled.
However, that has no relevance to my actual point that the majority of electricians I’ve known do things that are “unsafe and not allowed” all the time, whether it’s stick a screwdriver in an outlet because they don’t want to walk the the panel or hook a megger to the tongue stud of their buddy who is sleeping with their mouth open and give them 500 volts of Reveille.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Tropical_Willie I would never connect my 4.4kW 220 generator in my barn to any outlet that might happen to fit a welder. Why, that would be unsafe. ;

The single phase 120 volt 1.1kW generator is light and portable and fits nicely on the porch. And it runs forever on not much fuel. I keep it in my garage. That is the first thing I start. It is a PIA to go out to the barn to fire up the 4.4kW if there is deep snow .

Paradox25's avatar

GFCIs are extremely sensitive to even the slightest current fluctuations. This is why they’re used in areas like bathrooms or kitchens: areas where there’s a danger of water getting inside the loads they’re providing power to.

GFCIs can also be used in series with regular outlets. This type of setup would also affect your GFCI if one of your loads plugged into your other outlets is the cause of it opening the circuit. Most house circuits are protected by breakers with the same amperage rating the GFCI is rated for (along with regular outlets).

However, like I wrote above, GFCIs are meant to open the circuit when there’s a drastic and sudden current change, unlike with your breaker feeding the GFCI. GFCIs have an inductor inside of them that senses these changes (example: dropping a radio in your bathtub). Your breaker or power strip on the other hand will trip when its maximum amperage rating is exceeded. Obviously, depending on regular current protection will not save you when it takes only milliamps to electrocute you.

I have two guesses here due to limited details. My first hunch would be one of your loads on the GFCI is causing it to trip. Many times inductive loads with motors can wreck havoc with GFCIs. One of your loads could also be faulty. What I would do here is unplug one load at a time, and see if it still trips.

My other guess is that excess moisture or humidity could be causing the GFCI to trip. Sometimes GFCIs themselves go bad after time or with excessive use. You had stated you’d replaced the GFCI, but it’s still possible it could be faulty. The latter situation is the least likely culprit in my opinion, but possible.

jerv's avatar

@Paradox25 True, which is why it’s good to have things with motors (say, a refrigerator) or transformers on a circuit with slow-blow fuses or a breaker that will handle the short amperage spike on startup.

Most regular breakers have a “surge” rating that is considerably higher than the listed capacity for just that reason; they won’t trip instantly every time the [insert load here] turns on/starts up. GFCI and surge strips are pretty much the polar opposite of regular breakers in that regard.

Umm… don’t CFLs have a transformer (of sorts) in them? Just enough to maybe cause a little amperage surge? Last I checked, fluorescent lights were usually started by the inductive kick of a magnetic field collapsing in the ballast to strike an arc through the mercury vapors…

Paradox25's avatar

At one food plant I was an electrician at, we had a problem with conveyor motors tripping their respective breakers due to the initial current surge from the motors being energized. There were several motors on each circuit.

The cheapest way I was allowed to get around this was to use time-on delay relays energizing each motor contactor. Yes, slow-blow fuses for motors and quick-blow fuses for non-inductive loads. Different situation here, but the general concept is still the same as you’d mentioned.

CFL’s are the same as your standard fluorescent fixtures (as I suspect you know). The transformer is just a part of a ballast that serves other functions as well, like with frequency. Many types of lighting use the same concept of a collapsing electric field to generate an arc (sodium, mercury vapor, halide, etc). Reminds me of the old days of repairing lights on boom lifts.

I was also thinking there’s maybe a wiring problem with the GFCI. I’ve never ran into a GFCI that was wired wrong (yet). As a result I don’t know if the line and load side was wired wrong, and if it was, whether it could cause the problem mentioned in the OP or not. I’ve ran into plenty of situations where three and four-way switches were wired wrong though (another topic).

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