'Tis the season - Christmas light question

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Old 11-26-07, 10:47 AM
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Unhappy 'Tis the season - Christmas light question

I had a near mis-hap last year with my lights - long story that ends with me installing a dedicated 15amp breaker for my lights.

The fist thing in line is an in-wall timer (rated 1800 Watts - made the mistake of a lower watt one first - oops!) it goes to a CFI and then on to three other outlets on the front of the house. Wire is 14-2 All outlets are in metal water-proof in-use boxes. The boxes have a bead of silicone seal where they meet the brick. When powered up the GFI has a light that says it is wired OK and they all test and trip OK.

Christmas lights are connected by 50 and 25 ft 16 or 14 Gauge extention cords (only one per plug) with no more than 3-5 strings of lights per plug.

It all worked great - until it rained. The GFI tripped.

OK - go play find the water. Funny thing is, no matter what extention cord I pull it lets me re-set. It stays on for 5-10 minutes then trips again. Pull two cords and it will stay on longer. I can find no one "string" that seems to have the issue. But they seem to stay on when I reduce the load. I did not thing a GFI was made to trip on load, just a fault.
 
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Old 11-26-07, 10:54 AM
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Originally Posted by ddarpel View Post
I did not think a GFI was made to trip on load, just a fault.
Your absolutely correct, it isnt. Its made to detect current "Leakage" or Imbalanced Potential between hot and neutral. In your case, the more plugged in, the more leakage. When they dry out you should be fine.
 
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Old 11-26-07, 11:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Unclediezel View Post
Your absolutely correct, it isnt. Its made to detect current "Leakage" or Imbalanced Potential between hot and neutral. In your case, the more plugged in, the more leakage. When they dry out you should be fine.
Thanks for the reponse. But does that mean I have to accept re-setting the GFI after every rain? Is there some suggestion on how to troubleshoot where the issue is in "system."
 
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Old 11-26-07, 11:27 AM
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Are the extension cords sitting in puddles of water (the plug ends)? Are the outdoor extension cords? Are the cords intact (no nicks or cuts)?

Are the lights outdoor lights? Are the connections sitting in water? Are the cords intact (no nicks or cuts)?
 
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Old 11-26-07, 11:28 AM
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Originally Posted by ddarpel View Post
Thanks for the reponse. But does that mean I have to accept re-setting the GFI after every rain? Is there some suggestion on how to troubleshoot where the issue is in "system."
The issue isnt in the system, Its in the RAIN. The system is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.In theory- A spray bottle along the strings will reveal any weak spots in the system, but INTENTIONALLY spraying water on electrical wiring isnt the most wise thing to do. Make absolutely sure no water has penetrated the outlet boxes. Other than that, unless you can stop the rain, You are condemned to resseting the GFCI's
 
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Old 11-26-07, 11:40 AM
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In theory you could toss your lights into a bucket of water and not trip a GFCI. There's gotta be a path to ground for this leakage current.

Any lights literally sitting on the ground? Strung through a wet tree? Around a metal decoration?

Definitely pay attention to the plug ends as racraft mentioned. And see if any insulation has been worn away by whatever means you used to attach the lights. I can see a nick in a string attached to a metal gutter causing this no problem.

As far as troubleshooting goes, sounds like you were doing the right things, eliminating runs and seeing if the GFCI still tripped. You may just need to be a bit more patient, only one wire plugged in at a time, and see if it trips at all. Experiements which lead to observations like "seems to stay on longer" are not useful. This is a yes/no type deal.

You may need to go out there and attack the receptacles and/or plug ends with a hair dryer.

-core
 
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Old 11-26-07, 11:45 AM
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Had a friend with the same problem. Had her test with one string of lights disconnected at a time and all others connected. That isolated the bad string. Replacing that string fixed the tripping. Lets face it Christmas lights are cheap usually made in places where quality control is suspect at best.
 
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Old 11-26-07, 12:04 PM
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WOW - thank you all for the replies.

Sounds like I have a plan:

1. double check all lights are outdoor, good cords and up high and dry - I think these are all OK, but a second or third look can't hurt.

2. One strand at a time for testing and be more patient.

3. Lights are on ground, in wet trees and on metal. I'll try to limit that or at least check those areas the most closely.

Thanks again for the quick replies. I'll post back if I find anything - I'm betting lots of folks are seeing these issues this time of year!
 
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Old 11-27-07, 08:51 AM
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I'm now very frustrated. I worked in a light rain yesterday ( I know electricity and water don't mix, but when it rains is when I have the issue so...). I was trying everything to figure out which lights, extension cords etc. were causing my problems. I even went so far as to connect everything to another circuit/GFI and it still tripped.

I'm down to where I think one set of strands is causing an issue on a regular basis. It sits on low bushes and hits the ground as it travels from bush to bush. Even with that set unplugged I still trip the GFI fairly easily and can not seem to tell which strand does it. I can plug one in and have it trip and then turn around and plug it back in after removing another and it will work. So I think that there are several strands with issues depending on where the water goes.

I have to tell this story becasue it is just plain funny. I had been working for an hour or so and the rain was just about stopped. I had the "bad" set of lights out and everything working. I let it sit for a few minutes while I warmed up in the house and was telling my wife how good I was. As I went back outside the dog came out with me (he is not typically allowed out front). I was explaing things to my wife who was politely nodding even though she didn't care, the dog relieved himself on a bush. "CLICK" all the lights go out. I don't think he was shocked, he just finished up and looked at me like "what do you want?" I think my wife is still laughing.

I am down to acceptance of the fact that with so many cords, plugs ad lights it is just too easy for water to get in during a rain storm. Once the rain stopped I could plug everything in and it was fine - not really any dry time. Now I'm wishing I had wired the GFI outlet somewhere more easily accessible - like inside the warm, dry house!

My next step is to try to get everything up off the ground a bit more and try to limit where water can hit connections. Other than that (and barring any additional suggestions) I give up!

Thanks for the help, lets just hope for a dry Christmas Season in Cincinnati!

Thanks again.
 
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Old 11-28-07, 07:56 PM
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After confirming all the connections are high and dry, you may want to consider a new brand of lights. It sounds like you just got a cheap set (aren't they all) which were just more prone to this than any others. Thousands of other people connect their lights to GFIs, and unless yours is particularly old (which it sounds like it isn't), it's gotta be the lights.

It's probably not what you wanted to hear, but $50 in new lights might be worth it over a few more hours of troubleshooting.
 
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