Kitchen GFCI keeps tripping/melting

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Old 01-05-14, 08:04 AM
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Kitchen GFCI keeps tripping/melting

I have had this issue for the last month or so that is driving me crazy. My electrical knowledge is pretty limited so I will try to describe as best as II can what I tried and any advice will be greatly appreciated:

About a month ago, one of the GFCI outlets in the kitchen started tripping. This GFCI is on a line with 6 plugs including itself. At least all the 6 are connected to the same fuse in the basement. However only one of the plugs shuts off when the GFCI trips. The others are still on after that. There is just one GFCI on that line. When it first started to trip, the line had a microwave, a toaster, a refridgerator, and a set of indoor christmas lights plugged in. I thought it got overloaded. I could not reset it so I replaced the entire GFCI plus the plug next to it that was shutting off along with the GFCI.

This is pretty much as far as I can go when it comes to electricity.

Things started to work and were fine for 2 weeks when the GFCI tripped again. This time however was more severe and I think the GFCI melted because it had this distinct smell inside. This time I called an electrician. $100 later he did exactly the same thing I did and replaced the GFCI again and said he sees nothing wrong anywhere else.

Things worked again for 2 weeks and this morning the GFCI tripped and melted again (has the smell again). This time the only thing that was on the line was the refridgerator still and a power supply for a laptop.

I am at loss on what to do? First, can I just leave the GFCI in the state that it is in at the moment which is tripped and off along with the one next to it or do I have to shut off the entire line? Can a fire start the way things are right now?

Second, what causes this? Could it be a random plug somewhere else on the same line? I noticed that the plug which is at the end of the line where the christmas lights were plugged (which is when everything started) also had the laptop plugged in this morning and the GFCI started tripping almost right at the same time. It was the first time in a few weeks that something was plugged in this one. Could it be something wrong with that one and should I try to replace it? Or could it be the refridgerator?

Like I said, any help would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!
 
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Old 01-05-14, 08:13 AM
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Melting is a sign of too much heat. Heat can be caused by loose connections. I think you need to check connections upstream of the GFI.

GFIs do not trip from overloads.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 08:18 AM
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Thanks pcboss!

When you say upstream from the GFI, did you mean check the wiring on all the plugs that are on the same line as the GFI?

Thanks again!
 
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Old 01-05-14, 08:29 AM
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How old is the house? It may predate 1993 when small appliance requirements were codified. You must have two (2) 20 amp circuits providing power to the countertop, and they must be GFCI protected. I surmise this GFCI was placed there to placate a sales requirement as it is wired incorrectly if it does not deactivate all the receptacles on the countertop.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 08:34 AM
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Welcome to the forums!

First off a tripping GFCI had nothing to do with overload. Circuit breakers/fuses protect from overload, GFCIs protect from ground faults (current leakage to ground). GFCIs are MUCH more sensitive than a fuse and will trip when it detects leakage of 4-6 milliamps. Leakage occurs when things get wet, when appliances start to fail at the end of their life, or when there some other path to ground. Fuses on the other hand won't trip until the current reaches it rating, IE; a 15 amps will not blow until current reaches 15 amps.

Something is tripping your GFCI. Is there any time that it trips or is it random? If it is random, I would suspect the refrigerator first. Move that to another circuit and see what happens.

Did your electrician check voltage? Can you see evidence of the melting or just the smell? Did your electrician check to why the others did not turn off? That tells me that either they are not protected by this GFCI, or they are on another circuit.

(Edit: Wow, you go feed the horses and you get passed by. )
 
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Old 01-05-14, 08:35 AM
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Thanks chandler!

It is actually a pretty new house - 2004. But yes, like I explained previously the GFI only powers off on additional plug and leaves the other ones running, not sure why.

My biggest concern at the moment is whether I have to turn off the entire curcuit now that the GFI is tripped/melted until I find the issue or I can leave things the way they are at the moment?
 
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Old 01-05-14, 08:42 AM
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Thanks! No, everything that the electrician did was replace the GFCI. He actually did check voltage and did not find a concern. No, I don't see evidence of melting, just the smell.

When I say they are on the same curcuit, all I mean is that the same fuse down in the basement powers off all of them. I don't know if that means they are on the same curcuit or not (this is how much I know about electricity )

As far as tripping, the first and second time it tripped, there were multiple appliances plugged in. However it never started happening until we had these indoor christmas lights plugged in. And after the second time it tripped we never plugged those again. Today we plugged in the laptop in the same plug where the lights were in and it caused the tripping almost immediately. So this is why I am wondering if it can be something in that particular plug?
 
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Old 01-05-14, 08:59 AM
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2004 you are going to have very new wiring and you will likely have breakers, not fuses. The ones that keep running are likely on another circuit.

As far as the smell, lots of devices are made in China and will have kind of an off smell. If the device resets, it is likely not a concern.

So this is why I am wondering if it can be something in that particular plug?
That would be a good place to look. Turn off the power at the breaker, remove the device with out disconnecting any wires. Look to see if there is a ground wire touching one of the neutral (silver) screws.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 09:01 AM
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As Tolyn said, a GFCI trips on ground fault and not overload. However some compressor setups like on a refrigerator will cause nuisance trips. Take the refrigerator out of the picture and see what happens. 2004 should have incorporated the code requirements for two separate circuit. You have breakers, not fuses. Do you have the ability to measure voltage? An inexpensive ($10) multimeter will help. Is there only one breaker that controls all the countertop receptacles and only one GFCI. Just reassuring.

Edit : and I don't have horses!
 
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Old 01-05-14, 10:46 AM
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I am confused as to what my setup looks like. The part that confuses me is that the breaker at the basement controls 6 plugs, one of which is the GFI. However, when the GFI trips, it only powers off the plug next to it. The remaining 4 are still on. So are all 6 on one curcuit or are they on 2 different curcuits? If they are on 2 curcuits, then how come one breaker shuts off all of them?

I opened all 6 plugs that this one breaker controls. Some of them have the ground copper wire and some only have the black and white wires. I don't know if that matters or not? I inspected the wiring on all 6 and everything seemed okay. The GFI however won't reset anymore after it severily tripped this morning and I think I need to replace it again for a third time.

Finally as to the question if all countertop plugs are on the same breaker, the answer is no. There's a second breaker that controls the remaining 4-5. There is a second GFI on this line. I haven't had problems with this line yet.

Someone also asked if I tried plugging the refridgerator at another curcuit and I remember that I did that for 4-5 days while I was waiting for the electrician. It was plugged on that second line and it never caused any issue.

So I am not sure what else to try at this point? And then I am still pretty confused about my setup... Thanks a lot everyone. Any other suggestions will be appreciated.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 11:02 AM
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If shutting off the breaker kills the receptacles they are on one circuit. When the GFI trips and another receptacle looses power it is because it is downstream from the GFI.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 11:10 AM
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Some of them have the ground copper wire and some only have the black and white wires. I don't know if that matters or not?
That is not consistent with a house built in 2004. Is this a single family house, mobile home, or apartment, or other?

Are all the outlets on that circuit serving the kitchen counter?

Perhaps a picture of your electrical panel and the outlets that are on this circuit would be helpful.

I am starting to wondering of we have a multi-wire issue here.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 11:12 AM
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Thank you! Now I think I understand better what's going on. What I will try is replace the GFI again and then I will monitor if it starts tripping again with only the refredgerator plugged on this curcuit. If it does then it must be the fridge. If it doesn't, then it was probably caused by the one plug that had the christmas lights and the laptop this morning.

This one is on the inside of the side of the house. It doesn't have a ground (copper wire, I think it's called ground) wire. Could it be that some moisture from the side of the house can be causing this? I live in Michigan and there's plenty of ice/snow etc all the time this year. I looked at the wiring inside and it seemed okay. Will you recommend me to replace the entire plug or do anything else about it at this point? Or just stop using it for now?
 
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Old 01-05-14, 11:16 AM
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Tolyn Ironhand, thanks!

It is a single family 2 story house and it also has a basement. There are actually 7 plugs on that curcuit.

2 of them are on the wall on the inside of the side of the house. Another one is also on the wall by the patio door. One is behind the fridge also on the wall. 2 are at the counter top (including the one that's a GFI) and finally there's one on the kitchen island (that I just realized is also off from the tripped GFI) An incosistency that I noticed and I previously described which I don't known if it matters or not is that the countertop plugs, the one on the kitchen island and the one behind the fridge have a copper wire along with the black and white ones. The ones on the wall don't have that and I don't know why.

Thanks!
 
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Old 01-05-14, 11:17 AM
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Do you have metallic wiring? (Metal pipe or metal jacketed cable?)
 
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Old 01-05-14, 11:23 AM
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The one plug on the kitchen island has its wires coming out of a metal pipe that's inside the island. I haven't noticed metallic wiring anywhere else.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 12:02 PM
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Can you post some pictures?
 
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Old 01-05-14, 12:10 PM
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In re-reading the posts, my conclusion is the downstream receptacles on this one circuit are wired incorrectly to the LINE side, where they should be on the LOAD side. That will be the only way the GFCI will deenergize all the receptacles on that circuit. If taking the fridge out of the loop ceased the tripping you have your villan. Your electrician needs to wire the GFCI properly.

That's how I am seeing it, but all the suggestions are spot on.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 01:54 PM
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I replaced the GFCI and things are now working okay as I expected. I am still not sure of course what's causing the problem but it could be something that you are suggesting.
Chandler, I didn't see any miswiring in any of the other plugs where LOAD and LINE were switched. If that was the case, woudln't the plug be unusable? Because all of them are functional...

I only have the refridgerator on the line at the moment. If it trips again I will know it is coming from it.

Thanks a lot for everyone's help. I learned a lot from your posts!
 
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Old 01-05-14, 02:09 PM
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If it trips again I will know it is coming from it.
Likely true, but I would take it one step farther and plug the fridge in someplace else and reset the GFCI and see if it trips again.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 03:27 PM
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All your downstream receptacles are to be connected to the LOAD terminals of the GFCI. Only the hot cable should be on the LINE terminals. When you trip the GFCI with its button do the associated receptacles go dead.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 05:33 PM
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Just as a test with everything working like it is now hit the test button on both of your GFCI receptacles. With both of them tripped all of the plugs in your kitchen should be off. There is a code requirement that all receptacles in the kitchen be on a GFCI circuit. If some of them are still on with both of the GFCI receptacles tripped you have a wiring problem and to call an electrician. This probably isn't what is causing your original problem but it's definitely a problem.
 
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Old 01-05-14, 05:48 PM
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Regular receptacles do not have a line or load.
 
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