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Why does GFCI keep tripping?

Hi all,

I have been having a peculiar issue with one of the GFCI outlets i have in my house. this one is located in the upstairs hallway bathroom and is located right next to the sink. From seeing it trip, I know that the outlets it affects are the ones outside at the front of the house, and the one outlet that is in the basement also towards the front of the house. There have been 5 times it has tripped in the past 2 months:

1) Right after my wife vacuumed, she had it plugged into this GFCI outlet for some reason, and after she unplugged it when she was done, it tripped
2, 3, 4) All happened within 4 hours on the same day, there was a windy rainstorm we had and i noticed the Christmas lights went out and lo and behold the outlet had tripped each time (nothing was plugged into the outlet)
5) I was shaving and have an old electric razor that needs to be plugged in, after i was done I unplugged it from the GFCI outlet, and it tripped.

There have been other times where this outlet is used and it doesn't trip, but i don't understand why this has been doing this lately. My main cause of concern for this to trip is that on the basement outlet that this affects, I have my router and FIOS box plugged in, so when this trips, my Internet goes out which greatly affects when I work from home. I do eventually intend to install more outlets down there and have a dedicated switch in the box for that area, but for now, it has been working well until lately.

Does anyone have any insight on what could be causing this to trip? Thank you!
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Posted 2016-01-06T15:08:36+0000  by mknabster mknabster
Tracking down an intermittent problem like the one you describe can be challenging and there doesn't seem to be any kind of pattern to the tripping.  I might suggest starting by replacing the GFCI receptacle.  It's not hard to do and a new receptacle is about $15.  If you are going to do it yourself, make sure you turn off the power to the circuit at the service panel.  Take a couple of pictures of the receptacle (with the wires attached) for reference and then just switch wire for wire to the new receptacle.

If that doesn't solve your problem, we can talk about more troubleshooting.
Posted 2016-01-07T12:15:56+0000  by Adam444
These problems are common around the holidays, as many homes have all the homes GFCI breakers wired to the same circuit. These circuits are often used this time of year for Christmas lights outside and space heaters in bathrooms. When problems like this crop up, I ask myself, "what has changed?". Christmas lights, space heaters, hair dryers and Irons pull a lot of amps and all it takes to start tripping these outlets is the addition of one. Turn off the Christmas lights or whatever wasn't there before the problem and lets see if the problem goes away. If not, Do exactly what Adam444 recommended.
Posted 2016-01-07T14:11:21+0000  by Ingar_HD_ATL
Hi mknabster,

Historically, I had a similar problem.

I DIYed the main GFCI receptacle and also replaced each of the outlets on the circuit until I discovered an outlet on which the ceramic had been fractured.

Apparently a plug had been removed from the outlet by snatching the chord and the sideways force fractured the ceramic base.

Had I not gone through each outlet on the circuit, my problem would have continued.

If you do not find the source through simple DIY techniques, locate a reputable electrician.

As with all electrical repairs, turn off the breaker for that circuit while replacing receptacles.

If you enlist an electrician, consider adding dedicated circuits for your router and power tools.
Posted 2016-01-07T14:15:14+0000  by Pat_HD_ATL

Just to clarify, GFCI receptacles don't provide over current protection, that's the job of a circuit breaker or fuse.  Simplified, GFCIs work by measuring the current flowing in and out of the receptacle and when that it senses an imbalance, it trips.  Usually it takes 5 milliamps (5/1000 of an amp) or less of imbalance to trip the device.  There's a pretty good article on how GFCIs work at the EC&M website.

Posted 2016-01-08T11:29:24+0000  by Adam444
Hello mknabster.

By all means, replace your GFCI outlet with a new one.

These outlets are designed to protect additional standard outlets when they are wired downstream to the GFCI on the "load" side.  There are limits as to how many additional outlets can be wired this way without having problems with tripping.  More outlets, long wire runs and older, more voltage leak prone hot leads will cause the problems you are having.  GFCI outlets become more sensitive to tripping, not less, as additional circuitry is added on the load side.  If simply replacing the GFCI does not work, then you will need to start examining the downstream outlets and wiring for poor connections and wire quality. 

Your instance #'s 1 and 5 indicate a trip AFTER successfully using the power, and it happened upon unplugging the items.  I can't account for why this would happen beyond a loose wiring connection and a spark somewhere as the plug came out.  Instances 2, 3 and 4 sound like the rain got into you lights somehow and shorted out the circuit.  Keep in mind that it takes very little imbalance between hot and neutral lines to trip a GFCI.  Wrapping outside holiday light plugs in electrical tape can help to minimize these leaks.


Posted 2016-01-08T16:31:02+0000  by Chris_HD_CHI
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