Ground Fault Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping

Old 11-29-05, 05:42 AM
Tom in MN
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Ground Fault Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping

I have a 15amp ground fault circuit for my bathroom outlets that keeps switching off. The house is 30 years old. I unplugged everthing from the three outlets controlled by the circuit but it still won't stay on. I flip it to the "on" position and it clicks right off.

I don't know anything about these things i.e. the different types of breakers; but I thought the first thing I should do is to shut off the power, pull out the breaker, and replace the circuit breaker with a new one. Does this sound like an appropriate first step?

If there's something different I should do, all advice is appreciated!

Peace and grace,

Tom in MN
Old 11-29-05, 05:52 AM
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Is this a GFCI circuit breaker or a GFCI receptacle.

If this is a GFCI breaker I would disconnect the load (at the breaker or at the first receptacle) and see if the breaker still trips. If it doesn't then I would narrow the problem down to a specific receptacle or length of cable.
Old 11-29-05, 06:00 AM
Tom in MN
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Breaker vs. Receptacle

First, let me apologize for my lack of knowledge. I have three bathroom outlets that I think are on the GFI circuit. One of them has a reset and test button on it. This receptacle reset button stays in.

In the breaker box, I have a breaker that is labeled GFI that has a test button on it. The breaker switch is what does not stay set on.

Instructions to me need to be pretty detailed as I don't know much about electrical/plumbing/heating/etc.

I appreciate your help!
Old 11-29-05, 06:34 AM
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After 30 years, it's possible that the breaker is bad. But I don't consider this the most likely answer.

The solution is to divide and conquer. First, find everything controlled by this breaker. You have mentioned three outlets, but make sure that there aren't more. Check every unfinished and outdoor outlet. This includes the basement, garage, front porch, back porch, etc. Many people have outlets in their garage that they don't even know are there because they've put storage in front of them and haven't seen them for 20 years.

Once you find all the outlets, the thing to suspect is moisture. The moisture may have come from rain or snow, the shower, tub, spashed sink water, the hose, etc. After making sure the breaker is off, take the cover plate off each outlet and see if it is 100% dry inside.

Next you might suspect any recent nails or screws. Have you recently hung a picture? Mounted a bookshelf? Had the house resided? Stuff like that.

If all that fails, you need to start disconnecting things. Start with the outlets. With the outlet in place, examine the wiring carefully with a flashlight. See if there might be any accidental contact between a bare grounding wire and a screw, or between any part of the outlet and the electrical box (if metal). Now gently pull the outlet out of the box and examine it again. Then, after very carefully recording the connections, remove the outlet from the wall and disconnect all the wires. Separate the wires from each other, and then see if you can turn the breaker back on. Do this one outlet at a time.

After you've done this to all the outlets, it's time to suspect the breaker. However, I would never suggest to an electrical novice that they remove the cover of their electrical panel. So you may want to call in help at this point.
Old 11-29-05, 06:39 AM
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Having both a GFCI breaker and a GFCI receptacle is overkill and causes problems with sorting out a fault. One may trip of they both may trip.

I suspect that you have a ground fault at one of the receptacles, possibly from water getting splashed into the receptacle. You need to determine where the ground fault is.

Disconnect the hot wire from the GFCI breaker and then see if the breaker can be turned on. If it cannot then replace the breaker. If it can then move on to the first receptacle, most likely the GFCI receptacle. Report back on how the GFCI receptacle is wired.
Old 11-29-05, 07:34 AM
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"I have three bathroom outlets that I think are on the GFI circuit." was Tom's statement. I've read back through this and don't see where it was determined positively that the GFCI receptacle was definitely on the same circuit as the GFCI breaker. Could it be that they are not? Bob has mentioned overkill by having both on the same circuit.

The assumption is that the 3 outlets in the bathroom are not working, but I don't see where Tom actually states that. He just states that the breaker is tripping (with the assumption that both GFCIs are on the same circuit).

I don't mean to cause confusion... but only to understand myself and provide a little input.

Thanks... and I'll be watching for the outcome to this one.
Old 11-29-05, 03:03 PM
Tom in MN
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The GFI receptacle and GFI breaker are on the same circuit. I reset the breaker a couple times and it caught (stayed reset). I then checked the receptacle and found that it was tripped. No, I don't have power at the 3 outlets.

I've decided to call an electrician. I don't think I'm equipped to deal with it.

Thanks, everybody, for your advice. I think this website is absolutely wonderful. If I can't fix it myself, at least it makes me aware of the scope of the problem. I think the moderators are GREAT!
Old 11-29-05, 03:27 PM
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Did you ask him in advance what he charges and what he thinks this might entail? What if he goes, "That'll be $397."
Old 11-30-05, 12:13 PM
Tom in MN
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We've used the electrician before...he's a good and honest.

He came out this morning. Turns out that one of my outside receptacles is also on the GFI circuit and my wife had attached a bird bath water heater to it. She also just plugged the heater into an extension cord laying on the ground, which is now under 3" of snow (Duh!)

Electrician also installed a light fixture so the trip (and expense) wasn't entirely wasted. On the other hand, I'm really happy that that's all it was...a short that was easily remedied.

Thanks for all the advice!
Old 11-30-05, 01:50 PM
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Now for your lecture.

You should have known that this outside receptacle was on the same circuit. It would have saved you (and us) countless hours wasted. You should know what is on each and every circuit. The information helps when there are problems, but it could aslo save your life.
Old 12-01-05, 05:28 PM
Tom in MN
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My Lecture

Originally Posted by racraft
Now for your lecture.

You should have known that this outside receptacle was on the same circuit. It would have saved you (and us) countless hours wasted. You should know what is on each and every circuit. The information helps when there are problems, but it could aslo save your life.
Gosh, Bob, I apologize for having you waste countless hours on my question. I'm really sorry I don't know what is on each and every circuit in my house. Perhaps you should use your delete key more often rather than reading messages/lists from people who want to waste your countless hours?
Old 12-02-05, 04:18 AM
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Bob repeats this lecture to everyone.

I'm sure that the 'stern lecture' part is tongue fully in cheek.

Bob repeats this advice because it is _very_ good advice.

Taking the time _now_ when everything is working, to map out what each circuit is connected to, will save you valuable time later when something breaks.

Old 03-23-13, 05:48 PM
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Through NO fault of Bob and Winnie (who seems to think that Bob is joking), I found out my problem, as it was similar. Thanks for sharing your experience and sorry you had to be hassled by the "know it alls" on this site.
I had a similar experience and I have a question for MR know-it-all BOB.
How are we (the common home owner) supposed to know which receptacles are on which circuit? I don't know what you get with a brand new home, but my home was built 25 years ago, and I did not get a nice Visio chart from the contractor showing which receptacle was on which circuit. And yes, I can go thru the trouble of turning each one off and figuring out what they are connected to, but I really don't need to do that unless I want to make sure I don't upset you on this site.
And to Winnie, you may want to tell your buddy Bob, that his attempt at humor is totally lost on the rest of us.

Grow up Bob. I work with computers. How would you like it if I said that "everyone should know what version of the operating system (including which Service Pack you are on), which browser they use, the processor speed, how much RAM they have, the memory on the video card and if the OS is 32 or 64 bit". Yeah, that's pretty boring and irrelavant to most people, except I know that it is. I realize that electrical information is more important, but I am not really sure how it could save you life, unless someone is messing with the electrical setup themselves and if they do that without knowing what they are doing, that is on them. Just like the guy who started this thread, he decided to have a professional work in it.
If you want to monitor these threads and help, you may want to help and not treat it like a place to show people how smart you are be condescending.
Old 03-23-13, 06:12 PM
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BB, this thread is over 7 years dead.

If your panel wasn't labeled you need to take the time and figure it out for your safety and convenience should you need to turn something off to work on it or in case of an emergency.
Old 03-23-13, 06:42 PM
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For several years after Racraft left (and it is a great loss to this forum) I would repeat his "sermon" to new homeowners. The National Electrical Code requires that a circuit directory list all the circuits in a house but it is probably the single most ignored requirement in the entire code. Very few electrical contractors do any but the most cursory of directories. It is also quite rare that any work done after the initial construction is properly documented n the circuit directory, even though it is required.

Any homeowner can, and should do their own directory, no matter how complete the existing directory seems to be. It is a fairly simple job and unless you live in a mansion it won't take but a few hours. Make a sketch of each room and indicate each fixed lamp, switch and receptacle in that room. Do this for every room in the house. Then, check each and every point to see if it operates. Next, turn off a branch circuit breaker and see which "outlets" (lamps and receptacles) no longer work and label these on the sketch with the number of the circuit breaker. Do this for every circuit breaker in the panel.

After this I make up a Word document listing each circuit breaker and what it controls. Keeping both the Word doc and the sketch together at the panel makes any electrical job in the future much easier. Be sure to update the directory if any changes are made.

Another tip that works well for me is to label each switch, lamp and receptacle with the circuit breaker number. I use a P-Touch labeler with clear label tape. Smaller labels are quite unobtrusive but make life so much easier when you have to work on the system.
Old 03-23-13, 07:26 PM
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It really is amazing how a little time up front can save alot of time in the future. Really, a homeowner should know their mechanical and electrical systems and make a list of this information as well as know where the valves for their plumbing and gas are located. I did this for the house I live in and even thought it had a schedule that was made when the hosue was built, the original schedule was incorrect. Now I know which circuits are in which panel and it has come in handy. My mother was at the house one time and triped a breaker, but it was hard to tell which breaker had triped because it only moved slightly to the center, but since the panel was properly labeled she found it without having to call me. Too many homeowners neglect the basic managment of their mechanical and plumbing systems, and then they are unprepared for when trouble occurs and it costs alot more to fix it when you dont know how it was supposed to work to begin with!

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