GFCI troubleshooting.

hydrogeo99August 16, 2010

I have a circuit in my house that provides power to 5 receptacles in my living room. The receptacles are all wired in series...that is, when I look at the wiring under my house, I can see where the power comes out of the breaker box to the first receptacle, and then from the first to the second, and second to third, etc etc. on to the last.

A few years ago, I needed to add an additional receptacle outside, so I added a GFCI receptacle to that circuit by cutting the line between the second and third inside receptacles. On occasion, the outdoor GFCI receptacle would trip (usually during times of heavy rain...which I attributed to some water getting into the GFCI outlet box) and naturally all of the "downstream" receptacles would then go out as well (i.e. #'s 3, 4 and 5). After a few hours of drying time, I could just go outside and reset the GFCI and all would be well.

A couple weeks ago, the GFCI tripped and I have not been able to get it to reset even though it has had plenty of time to dry. Not having the time to look into it right away, I just went under the house and took it out of the circuit so I could restore power to all of the downstream indoor receptacles that had lost power.

Yesterday afternoon I finally had enough time to try and tackle the problem. Thinking maybe the GFCI receptacle had just gone bad, I replaced it with a brand new one; then went under the house and wired it back into the circuit as before. When I turned the breaker back on, the new GFCI outlet the problem was not the receptacle itself. I then undid the wiring from the load terminals of the GFCI outlet and threw the breaker back on...I had power to the GFCI without it I thought maybe the wiring from the load terminals to the downstream receptacles had a fault in it somewhere. I then completely replaced both the line and load wiring to and from the GFCI just to be sure. Turned breaker on and GFCI tripped again. I then swapped the line and load wires to/from the GFCI under the house just to make sure I had not mixed them up; turned breaker on and had power to GFCI but not the downstream receptacles. Frustrated, I then took the GFCI out of the circuit by re-wiring indoor receptacle 2 to 3 as they had originally been wired.

There is a fault somewhere in the circuit that is causing the GFCI to I correct to assume it is either in the wiring or a receptacle that is downstream of the GFCI...or would it be in the up-stream wiring/receptacles? Seems like if it was upstream then the GFCI would trip regardless if it was the #3 outlet in a series of 6 or the last outlet in a series of 3, so that's why I'm thinking the problem is downstream of the GFCI. What is the best way to find out where the fault is? I suppose I could remove each receptacle and somehow check them and then go on to check the wiring between receptacles if they check out OK? Thanks,


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The problem is in a downstream receptacle or in something that is plugged in to a downstream receptacle. Try unplugging everything. If it still trips, then check for contact between a neutral (white) wire and the bare ground wire.
Do you really need GFCI protection on the downstream receptacles? You could just connect both sets of wires to the LINE side of the GFCI.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 5:19PM
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I don't need protection (at least I don't think I do) downstream of the if I take the downstream wires off the LOAD side of the GFCI and put them on the LINE side (with the upstream wires), I should regain power to the downstream receptacles as well as have power to the GFCI receptacle? I'll try that first...thanks.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 5:36PM
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Thanks normel...your solution worked like a charm!

    Bookmark   August 16, 2010 at 6:37PM
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Do not connect the downstream receptacles to the LOAD terminals. Pigtail the wires and connect them to the LINE terminals. You don't need GFCI for the inside receptacles.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2010 at 9:05AM
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OTOH, something is not right, downstream from that GFCI. There is a high resistance short circuit that was causing a difference in the hot and neutral legs of the cable. GFCI protection not being required is not the same as the fault being no problem.
Perhaps a nail has gone through the cable at some point, some arcing inside one of the receptacles has degraded its condition or a device that is plugged in has an internal fault.
I'd recommend that you look for that problem before it manifests itself in a more shocking manner.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 3:25PM
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Ron Natalie

Actually with no load plugged into the downstream receptacles, my money is on there being an inadvertant ground-to-neutral connection.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2010 at 6:22PM
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