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GFI breakers, are they really needed?

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by babalu87, Sep 25, 2007.

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  1. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    Now that I have more readership with the scary title ;)

    What is the life expectancy of a GFI outlet? Ours are a little over 10 years old.
    I have two that failed within a few months of each other????????

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  2. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    You are talking about the GFI plugs? or pannel Breakers the plugs may have worn out due to a little moisture getting there

    10 years I don't know Seems like mine lasted longer. They are made to be sensitive
  3. titan

    titan Minister of Fire

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    Bab,10 years doesn't seem all that long but if I doubted their performance at all, I'd replace them.They certainly aren't cheap but they'll keep the wife from cashing in a life insurance policy!
  4. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    They are the GFI plugs above the counter top, oddly neither of these locations is in a place where moisture would be an issue ( IE near the sink) however , one died about two months back so I switched the microwave to the other GFI plug. Now that GFI plug is gone, the microwave wasnt being used in either case.

    The second one took out the whole series of plugs above the counter top so it looks like one is dedicated and the other is tied in with the kitchen counter outlets????????? I have to investigate this a little more though, two white/blacks wires on the one I already replaced. I need to see whats up with the other one.

    I did nearly have an OOOOPS moment though, I shut off the circuit that said GFI KITCHEN and went about my merry way swapping that breaker out, well, while loosening the black wires I saw a little of that lovely blue light, WHOA! WTF was that?
    Off to the basement to shut the whole first floor down when I notice another break that says KITCHEN COUNTER, as my 2 year old daughter would say OOOPSEY!
    Not quit a Darwin moment as my electrician friend taught me how to work on electric using the one hand method ;)
  5. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    'Code requires any plug within 6" either direction of that sink to be ground fault protection What is usually done it one plug is feed the GFI plug then others tied into it which become ground fault protected Or there exist a GFI panel breaker The cheaper way is using the plug and not the panel breaker saves using extra wiring loops

    Btw counter plugs are usually 20 amps so the sparks are a little more intense for those little opphs that can occur
  6. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    What I find odd is TWO GFI plugs, the one next to the fridge went out and it took nothing else with it, the next one over went out and took out the other two "regular" outlets.

    Some time with a lamp is in order after I replace the one in the kitchen and the one in the bathroom that I pirated for the one in the kitchen.

    Attached Files:

  7. jjbaer

    jjbaer New Member

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    GFI's do fail, problem is that they can appear to operate but the "interrupt" part of it fails and you don't know it. I think newer ones have a light or something to tell you if the GFI is working.

    The reason there may be multiple GFI's is that a GFI is usually placed on the plug in a chain of outlets that is closest to the breaker (not physically closest but the outlet that is encountered first when tracing the wire from the breaker box). This way, the GFI acts as a "gate keeper" for all the other outlets further upstream so that if there's ever a short or power draw from them that is interpreted as current flowing to ground, the "gate keeper" opens the circuit at the GFI and thus stops the current flow. So, you may have several GFI's in the kitchen if the outlets are on different branch circuits because a GFI only protects the outlets on it's branch, not on other branches (unless of course, you have a whole-house GFI on your service panel). That might explain why you have two GFI's next to the fridge and none on the other two (because the GFI's you do have are on the same branch as the other two non-GFI outlets and they therefore protect them as though they also had GFI's). One way to test this is to get a GFI tester at Lowes ($5 or so). You plug it into the non-GFI outlets, push the button (which mimics a ground short) and if there's a GFI on that branch, it should kill the power to the outlet. NOTE: just because it kills the power, you need to make sure the breaker at the service panel wasn't the one that killed it because that's not good enough protection. You can verify this by looking for a popped breaker or resetting the GFI's that you have and see if it re-energizes the outlet. If the outlet is still live it means that 1) there's no GFI protection on that branch or 2) there may be protection but the GFI isn't working. You can also use the tester directly on the GFI outlets and they should "pop" and cut the current flow.

    Also, I believe that for older houses that have no ground wire, that placing GFI's on each branch circuit is a code-approved method of meeting the grounding requirement. Someone may want to verify this though.
  8. jjbaer

    jjbaer New Member

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    After shutting off a breaker, I always use two independent probes or meters (one is a volt meter and the other is a small LED light with two probes you plug into the outlet) before I work on anything.....life's too short to trust even one meter.....especially with a meter with a dial with multiple functions. I used one of these and thought it was on "volts" but it was on another setting and showed nothing, then I used the LED probe and saw power. It turned out I had the multimeter on resistance or something else that indicated "zero" and the second test instrument (LED) showed there that the outlet was still energized. NEVER trust a breaker!

    Also, in the rare event that someone "cross wired" branch circuits when they wired the home, the outlet could still be hot because it's fed from another branch. Worse yet, you check and verify it's dead and work on it and then someone turns on a light switch on another branch and the light switch had been tied into the outlet you're working on (even though the outlet and the light switch are on separate branch circuits) and you get shocked. This can be a real killer and all the precautions in the world won't prevent it unless you shut down the entire service panel.............
  9. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    Yeah the wife yelled at me to "just turn off the whole damn house will you!"

    I know the GFI's are set up daisy chained so they protect the other plugs, I just dont understand why two are right next to each other unless some Mass code requires two GFI's per kitchen or so many feet of counter space?

    The first GFI to go didnt take any outlets with it, the second one (on the top looking at my above sketch) took out the two "regular" outlets. What is puzzling is the first GFI has TWO black and white leads on it???????? Like I said I will look into that, thanks for the tip on the GFI tester, I will grab one when I pick up the plugs.

    There is another plug behind the fridge but that was fine, its on a separate circuit.

    The house is 10 years old and when I finished the upstairs ( 5 years ago ) me and my electrician friend wired the whole thing, I wish I knew as much about the downstairs as I do the upstairs :)

    I could have went to him with this but figured having a discussion here could only help someone else down the road.
  10. GVA

    GVA Minister of Fire

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    Make sure that those leads are on the right term
    ie:LINE = FEED
    LOAD= anything you want protected by the GFCI
    If both black and white wires are on the line side then the GFCI wont shut anything else off (except itself)
    If both black and white wires are on the load side then the GFCI wont protect you
    for 2 GFCI's on the same circuit on the same counter they would be wired
    breaker to line on GFCI 1
    From line on GFCI 1 to line on GFCI 2 .
    this setup keeps both separate if one trips the other should stay energized

    1 GFCI protecting non GFCI's
    breaker to line on GFCI
    load from GFCI to next duplex rect in line and so on
    Ground fault in any of these outlets will trip GFCI.

    Also fridge should be on it's own breaker anyway, not sure of code change but don't believe these need GFCI protection. But I doubt it... perhaps the compressor cycling took its toll of the GFCI.

    Also watch out for shared neutrals tied in with GFCI's or breakers these will cause thins to trip out ..

    EDIT
    and the code I believe (and let keyman verify) is the kitchen requires a minimum of 2 separate circuits not necessarily GFCI but 2 20 amp circuits due to the # of high load appliances we tend to plug in, The GFCIs are for close to sinks and islands.
    this in addition to the fridge being on it's own circuit.
  11. Hogwildz

    Hogwildz Minister of Fire

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    Some wiring is set up that the refrigerator has its own circuit. I don't know if this is the case in your kitchen, but may be a possibility.
    Might also be the reason it doesn't take out any other outlets with it.
  12. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    Well GVA already said a lot of what I was going to say... attaboy!

    "TWO 20 amp 'small appliance branch circuits' SHALL be provided for all residential dwelling units"... It's "cemented" into the code...has to figured in load calcs and be installed for all dwelling units. Generally, (and if your friend 'hooked you up'..) three circuits are provided to the kitchen area... the third (and very important...electrician needs to know EXACTLY where the fridge is going) circuit is usually dedicated to the fridge...CODE (remember 'code' is the MINIMUM standard for a safe installation) does permit having only two SABC's for a kitchen...and the fridge can be on one of the two.
    Ten years ago (1996 NEC) was right on the 'cusp' of code changes...as Elk pointed out "Within six feet of the sink (1984NEC)" had been a general rule... Today??? Basically anything "at counter top level" is GFCI protected no matter how close to the sink it is (1999NEC).

    So that should explain the TWO GFI's... Next question? Did your Dining room outlets also go "Dead" when you shut off the kitchen circuits??? Reason being... Dining room outlets "have long been required to be on a 20 amp circuit...and they are ALSO permitted to be on the kitchen SABC's..."

    I don't write the code... jut interpret and follow it. Don't ask me why the logic of putting the kitchen and dining room on the same circuits... I think it harkens back to the days of people actually using crock pots, toasters and coffee makers... and having electric 'warming trays' in the dining room... Times change but the code likes to keep 'ancient reasoning'...
  13. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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  14. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    Life expectancy??? Just about forever...or until the first 'lightning glance'...whichever comes first.

    All depends on which REVision they were manufactured under...REv 1,2, or 3.

    Rev 1's would 'fail' but not interupt. I.E. if it failed and you didn't know about it??? You could end up "lighting up like a christmas tree"...

    Rev 2's would fail (interupt the current but the buttons would 'freeze')...Bottom line they worked and if they failed...you were somewhat safe.

    ...They had a neat little feature though. If LINE and LOAD were 'switched' (wired 'backwards') the buttons would work as designed...push the test buttton, it tripped...reset and it worked again.

    Only problem was ONLY THE BUTTONS WORKED a 'real' ground fault wouldn't trip it.

    So they made the next ones (REV 3) 'idiot-proof'...

    They "took away" an 'ace in the hole'... Don't know "How many guys" purposely wired them backwards in certain circumstances (Plugs for Block Heaters for example...living proof the writers of the NEC have no clue when it comes to 'common sense' IMHO)

    But yes Rev 3 is current...And if you reverse line and load...and try to push the buttons "they just chatter"
  15. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    ...Got a few funny stories in regards to those type of situations..but I'll save that for a separate DIY thread...
  16. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    "Made some popcorn did ya'..." (very distinct sound...sounds like a popcorn maker)

    "Yeah...it's called a BLIVIT..."lol

    BLIVIT (adj) Term used to describe the accidental, un-intentional, short circuiting of "working anything live". Common evidence of a blivit includes large burn holes in metal tools, sunburn of the hands and small pock marks on the skin that have come into contact with molten copper. Proper use eyewear or turning ones head at the precise moment of the bolted fault lessens the chance of retina burn...Having a blivit on any circuit backed by FPE breakers usually does not clear until all molten metal has blown free from the arc...

    FPE 'no trip' circuit breakers (AKA 'Barn Burners')...See also Single Pole Switch lol
  17. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    WHY TEST??? (And How to)

    As per manufacturers' instructions "The end user should press the test and reset buttons at least monthly" YEAH RIGHT! How many folks have that on their "to do list"???

    I do tell folks (especially with hot tubs and swimming pools) that they should, especially after every lightning storm. GFI (outlets or circuit breakers) do not take lightning surges very well. If you have ever "smashed one apart" it is "the worlds smallest car stereo" there are tons of electronic components inside that outlet.

    So back to your original question babs...if you think back a bit, chances are there was a recent lightning strike.

    For those "More mechanically inclined" testing with a 'wiggy' is the best method... Test from the hot slot (smallest of the two slots) to the ground slot or screw...if it trips it works as designed.
  18. keyman512us

    keyman512us Member

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    Bab...
    My bet ....What else go you have in the kitchen??? Micro over the stove?? Pig (garbage dispos-all)?? Dishwasher???

    Maybe the pig got GFI'ied???
  19. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    What I have and use when checking outlets is a combination outlet tester and GFCI popper - Very useful "idiot proof" tool, almost... The tool is basically a three prong "dummy plug" with three LED's on it, two yellow one red. If the plug is live and wired right, the yellows light up and the red doesn't. Other combos show up if you are live and miswired. The one I use also has a button on it that will pop the GFCI if you plug into a GFCI protected outlet and push the test button. Only minor flaw is the button is to exposed, makes it easy to press by accident while plugging in or removing it.

    I use it to test for correct wiring before plugging in electronics (actually I'll do the entire house at once so I don't have to worry about it later...) and whenever working on an electric circuit to verify if it's live or dead.

    Because the "test buttons" can be fooled if the outlets aren't wired right, I like this tester because it is actually verifying the function of the GFCI by simulating the exact type of short that the GFCI is intended to protect you against.

    Can't be hooked up wrong, very reliable indication, cost was under $5.00, what's not to like? I figure it's one of those "belongs in every toolbox" type items...

    Gooserider.
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