Heat Tape tripping GFCI Intermitently

cut-throatAugust 15, 2013

I have 3 year old heat tape on my roof. About 150 feet of it. This spring it started tripping the GFCI after a minute of being on. It was consistently tripping the GFCI.

My plan was to wait for the weather to warm up, reproduce the tripping of the GFCI and then call the electrician. However the GFCI never tripped again. I waited until we had a soaking rain, but the heat tape worked and never tripped the GFCI all day.

What are my options besides replacing all the heat tape? (Very expensive)

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Ron Natalie

Most likely there's a ground fault in the tape or the wiring. Inspect the wiring carefully. I presume this is plugged into an external receptacle somewhere? Are you using an in-use cover? Can you see any obvious damage to the cabling such as when it passes over the sharp edge of the roof, for example?

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 2:07PM
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kudzu9

So your problem has disappeared, but you are worried it might recur? I wouldn't touch it unless it happens again.

If so, the only things I can think of are:

  1. install a new GFCI; they go bad outside with some regularity;

  2. put in a GFCI upstream in the circuit, and switch out the exterior GFCI for a regular receptacle; this is legal, will protect the GFCI from the weather, and will provide GFCI protection to the regular receptacle.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 2:08PM
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cut-throat

ronnaltalie,

Yes, we have done a lot of visual inspections. We have a cover for the outside outlet, but since the heat tape is always plugged in, it is always open. The outlet is located immediately below the eave of the garage roof, so it is protected fairly well against the elements.

kudzu,

Yes, I am thinking the problem will recur when Ice dams build again, and I need it. Finding the problem is not possible then, as you cannot get at the heat tape, as it is under Ice and Snow.

1.) The GFCI is already located in the Garage, and a regular receptacle is the one on the outside.

Can a bad GFCI behave intermittently? Like tripping in the Winter and working OK the rest of the year?

This post was edited by cut-throat on Thu, Aug 15, 13 at 14:26

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 2:15PM
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kudzu9

After reading your response, I'm more inclined to think that ronnatalie is correct about the fault being in the wiring. Unfortunately, based on your experience, this may mean that there is a small flaw, hard-to-detect flaw in the jacketing that only exposes the wires to faulting when the cable is subjected to freezing.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 3:02PM
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Ron Natalie

Yes, we have done a lot of visual inspections. We have a cover for the outside outlet, but since the heat tape is always plugged in, it is always open.

This is NOT an in-use cover then. An in-use cover remains in place, shielding the receptacle from the weather WITH THE CORD PLUGGED IN. It is now required by code on exterior receptacles.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 3:49PM
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wirenut1110

For equipment protection and de-icing equipment, etc., you only need class B protection not Class A.

You could always wire your heat tape using one of these GFI devices.

They are a little pricey however, may reduce nuisance trips.

Here is a link that might be useful: 30 ma GFI

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 6:55PM
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Ron Natalie

Of course, there's no guarantee that the 30ma GFCI will help. Absent knowing what is going on, it might not be a "nuisance" trip but a legitimate fault. However, since he has a open receptacle I'd invest in an in-use cover for under $10 or so before attempting anything else.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 8:14AM
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wirenut1110

Why not eliminate the receptacle altogether and hard wire the heat tape in the box where the receptacle is and put a blank on it since the GFI is in the garage.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 1:32PM
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cut-throat

Thanks for all the suggestions!

I installed an In-use Electrical Cover today and replaced the GFCI with a New One. There is quite a large opening in the bottom of the box for the cord . I am thinking of plugging this,otherwise it looks too attractive as a home for small animals.

I won't know if this fixes the problem until next winter, but if it doesn't, I have a pre-1971 solution for this. After all, I am a child of the 60s. No seat belts, No Air bags, First and Second hand smoke. And somehow I'm still alive.

This post was edited by cut-throat on Fri, Aug 16, 13 at 14:52

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 2:50PM
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kudzu9

Good luck. Please post back after you make it through the winter.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2013 at 3:10PM
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