Should I GFI my clothes washer ?
Lately my 120-Volt Kenmore clothes washer has been intermittently tripping the 20-Amp GFI breaker. I've read in this forum that these breakers may fail this way with age. This one is 25 years old. So I figured replacing the original would be a quick and relatively inexpensive way to go.
Even if the original was OK, I think buying another one would still be a good idea. You see...the well pump is fed by the same breaker as the clothes washer. I'm pretty sure this is not to code. It was wired this way since before we bought the house. I want to add another breaker and wiring so the well pump and washer are on different circuits.
So my wife and I went to the local Orange Box and found the breaker. Unfortunately the Square-D that fits the panel cost 60 bucks. I asked my wife, Why does this cost so much more than the other brands?" A nearby shopper did not recognize my musing as a rhetorical question, so he answered, "Because Square-D is the Cadillac of circuit breakers". This guy was picking out a bunch of parts, himself, and spoke with the authority of an electrician.
The stranger went on to ask why I was buying a breaker in the first place. After I told him, he informed me that using a GFI with a washing machine is not a good idea. He said that the breaker would trip from time to time just like the old one. When I told him that the clothes-washer had run this way for four years, he said that this is not unusual. He went on to say that the Neutral and Ground lines are bonded within the washer, so he was surprised that
the breaker started tripping sooner.
So I asked him what would happen if the soapy water got past insulation on the Hot line and energized a part of the washer I was likely to touch. Not a dead short to Ground that would trip a standard breaker, but enough leakage to get you in bare feet when you touched it. He said that the copper pipes in the house would carry the voltage to earth ground.
So I told him the flexible inlet and drain pipes from the washer are rubber and plastic. That would break the circuit. He said that was no problem because the water in those pipes would complete the circuit, instead.
We left the store with more questions than answers. So here are the questions...
- Should a GFI be used for a clothes-washer. This sounds like the safest route to me.
- Are Ground and Neutral connected together within my clothes-washer, or is this seriously outdated (or just plain wrong) information? If they are bonded, the GFI would have tripped immediately on day one, right?
- Could the "electrician" have been thinking about a 220-Volt clothes-washer instead? My 220V dryer has a common Neutral/Ground. It and the electric stove are both three-wire 220V grandfathered from when the house was built.
- Do clothes-washers rely on copper pipes - or water-filled plastic ones - to bleed leakage current to the ground rod? This sounds so wrong. What if the failure occurs when it's neither filling nor draining?
I'm hoping that insulation within the washer itself is not starting to fail. That could be more trouble to fix than an over-sensitive GFI breaker.