GFI Breaker Trips With No Load

tprisherDecember 6, 2013

I'm having problems with a GFI circuit that was installed five years ago. The GFI breaker is installed in the panel box and controls seven outlets. The circuit worked fine until a few days ago when it started tripping off. I thought I had a bad lamp or other appliance plugged into the circuit. So I started unplugging each appliance one at a time. I unplugged everything and the GFI tripped with no load on the circuit. With no load I can turn the GFI on and in 30min to one hour it will trip off. It doesn't trip immediately. This continued for a day and a half. Then today for no apparent reason the breaker stayed on and has been on for 10 hours. Do I have a bad GFI breaker, bad outlet or bad wire? Any help would be appreciated.

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Ron Natalie

It could be any of those. Usually when it trips no load, then most likely the problem (barring a bad GFCI) is that there is a GROUND-to-NEUTRAL fault somewhere.

If a cursory inspection of the devices on this circuit don't show anything, the only real way is a divide and conquer. Take the wires out of the GFCI and see if it trips with nothing connected to it (that would surely be the sign of a bad breaker). Reconnect it and try opening the circuit at progressive (or if you're mathematically inclined you can do a binary search) points until you can find when the problem does occur and when it doesn't which should point you to the problem.

However, the time delay with no apparent load isn't the usual sign of a ground fault. That usually indicates a marginal over current or a bad device. Usually I don't recommend people start by replacing the GFCI, but in this case I might.

One more thing... before we get started ... are you sure this is GFCI and not an AFCI? Whole different slew of things in that case.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2013 at 9:43AM
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Had that problem with an outdoor receptacle that would trip in rainy or damp conditions.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2013 at 11:42AM
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Thanks for the replies. As I said in my original post, the circuit mysteriously started working and continues to work. I plugged the original load back into the receptacles and the circuit continues to work properly. I have no idea what could have happened to cause the circuit and the GFI to start working. The only change is the weather which has turned cold and wet. ????

Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   December 7, 2013 at 8:21AM
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Ron Natalie

Wet could definitely do it. Check the covers on outside receptacles. If you regularly have things plugged into them (or you wish to comply with the current codes), make sure they are equipped with in-use style covers. Make sure any gasketing on the box and cover is in good shape so water is not infiltrating.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2013 at 9:00AM
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Well I'm back again. Same problem with the same circuit. This circuit provides service to seven outlets on an inclosed porch. GFI started tripping again. Disconnected all load. GFI trips with no load but not immediately. I'll turn GFI on and it stays on for 10-24 hours then trips. Repeated this 5-6 days in a row with same results. Three days ago I turned GFI on and it has stayed on. Any help or suggestions would be appreciated..

    Bookmark   December 27, 2014 at 10:12AM
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Ron Natalie

What do you mean by disconnected "all load?" Did you remove the wires from the breaker or do you just mean you unplugged everything from the circuit? Still likely you have a ground fault somewhere...wet box, intermittant inappropriate conductors touching, something. If examining each outlet on the circuit doesn't find it you can divide the problem by taking half the receptacles off the circuit and see if it still goes....etc...

    Bookmark   December 27, 2014 at 1:34PM
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The tripping could be caused by very small ground faults at more than one point. The cumulative effect could be the thing that causes the tripping. Diagnosis as explained above is the solution.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2014 at 1:59PM
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Does it rain every time the GFCI trips? If so, moisture is gettin into the system at some point. I had a customer "disconnect all of the loads" but leave an extension cord plugged in to an exterior receptacle. The end of it was just laying in the wet grass. No wonder it tripped every time it rained.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2014 at 5:12PM
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I unplugged everything from the circuit. I did not disconnect any wiring. The GFI trips are random. Sometimes it raining sometimes it sunny and dry. The last few days it has been rainy and wet and the GFI has not tripped off, The circuit has been energized with no GFI trips. The trips are so random I really don't know how check for the problem. If the circuit would trip off and stay off I could do some trouble shooting.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2014 at 10:35PM
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you could remove all outlets on the circuit, wire nut them and try it for a half a day or so. if it trips more than likely a breaker. if not, then replace every outlet with new and you will probably never have any more issues. i agree with a damp outlet. over time outside outlets all seem to get moisture in them. another thing is that when you said that you removed all things plugged in, did you include Surge Suppressors with multiple outlets, like for computers? many times those things will trip a gfi because they are shot.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2015 at 12:51PM
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