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Replacing 2 prong outlets with GFCIs, now they're popping all the time...

Replacing 2 prong outlets with GFCIs, now they're popping all the time...


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Old 01-12-14, 04:32 PM
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Replacing 2 prong outlets with GFCIs, now they're popping all the time...

I just bought my first home; a house from the late 1940s and it has old romex with no ground wire. I started replacing 2 prong outlets with GFCIs to add safety and get 3 prong usage. I was told by an electrician that this was the only way to bring the house up to code and get 3 prong usage without rewiring. I figured that was simple enough that I could handle replacing the outlets.

Now some of the GFCIs are popping in different rooms (bedroom, living room) when a light/fan fixture in the bathroom is switched on. These GFCIs are killing power in all my bedrooms, half my bathroom, AND half my living room when they trip. I have had to tape the switches to the light/fan fixture in the off position so no one accidentally kills the power in half my house.

I've thought about trying to re-wire the house myself but I'm most afraid of trying to fish the wire through the walls. This old romex is so stiff and rigid i am not sure if it will work to tie the new romex to the old and just pulling it through. Also, someone told me the old might even be stapled to the studs, so the pull through strategy might be useless.

My novice abilities are nearly exhausted but I am terrified what the cost would be to have a whole house re-wire by an electrician. The house is a 1300 sq ft ranch. Approximately 20 outlets house-wide including the basement.

Can anyone give me some guidance? I'd love to hear a cost estimate if I do go the professional route and anything I can do myself to make the whole thing as affordable as possible. The GFCI strategy failure was really unexpected and disappointing.
 
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Old 01-12-14, 04:43 PM
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Welcome to the forums.

I've been involved in rewiring houses and you are sort of lucky with a ranch as you can usually run wiring from the basement fairly easily. It's not a one man job though. Wiring down from the attic is also a possibility.

The chances of pulling the new wiring in with the old is pretty slim. Normally the old wiring would be abandoned in the wall.

Cost estimate is kind of tough without actually seeing the house. Most electricians would give you an estimate but some would treat this as time and material which can get costly.
 
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Old 01-12-14, 05:07 PM
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hey @pjmax

thanks for welcoming me and replying. I have been going over the re-wiring in my head. some of the outlets go straight through the walls but i was thinking i could just drill straight down into the floor and the basement so I can basically go from outlet to outlet by coming up from the floor, then down into basement, over to the next outlet in the room, and doing that over and over. do i get the gist? but how do I drill at that angle? I dont have the clearance in any outlet box to stick my drill in there and drill straight down.
 
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Old 01-12-14, 05:44 PM
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A D-versa bit will help. It has a flexible shaft so it can be inserted in the hole for the box and then drilled.

You will need running boards to run the cables on or drill holes in the joists.
 
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Old 01-12-14, 06:12 PM
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You should be able to drill up from the basement on an angle.
Try to find a wire installed like that so you can see the angle it's on.

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(a little large and not to scale)
 
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Old 01-12-14, 06:27 PM
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I started replacing 2 prong outlets with GFCIs to add safety and get 3 prong usage. I was told by an electrician that this was the only way to bring the house up to code and get 3 prong usage without rewiring.
Wait a minute! If you think you are bringing the house up to code by installing GFCI receptacles you are mistaken. This does not bring the house to today's code, but it will allow you to install 3 prong devices if they are labelled "No Equipment Ground". Now, are you replacing all the existing 2 prong outlets, one for one, with GFCI receptacles? That's what you have basically said. If that is correct, you are incurring a huge unnecessary expense. All you really need is one GFCI device at the first outlet on each circuit and then the rest of the receptacles can be duplex 3 prong duplex receptacles and wired to the LOAD side of that first device. In a 1940s house of that size, you probably don't need over 4 or 5 total GFCI devices. IF you are replacing each and every duplex receptacle with a GFCI device and they are each wired from the LOAD side of the previous GFCI receptacle, than you have a nuisance trip problem and do not necessarily need to do any rewiring at this time.
 
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Old 01-12-14, 07:06 PM
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@casualjoe, thats not what i was told. My community has adopted the NEC for one-family residencies and my understanding is the NEC says if there is no equipment ground available, there are a few options. The receptacle can be a two-prong non grounding receptacle (like i have now) or protect the circuit with a GFCI. A GFCI does not need the ground to do its job, any leaking of current out of the circuit will trip the gfi. It just needs to be marked "NO EQUIPMENT GROUND". If thats true it does bring me up to code. I guess im just checking as to whether i need to put the GFCI on every outlet with no ground or just the first in the circuit.
 
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Old 01-12-14, 07:11 PM
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The GFI upstream can protect the downstream receptacles if they are wired from the LOAD side terminals.

Spacing requirements, switching and other things may have changed since you house was built so your house still might not be up to code on all aspects. The GFI protection simply allows for 3 prong receptacles to be used. This still will not satisfy some requirements that certain equipment be used only in grounded receptacles.
 
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Old 01-12-14, 07:16 PM
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@pcboss considering my GFCIs are tripping on me in different rooms and killing the power in more rooms do you think rewiring is my best option moving forward or should I keep replacing the first outlet on every circuit with a GFCI and try to troubleshoot from there?
 
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Old 01-13-14, 02:00 AM
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If I'm understanding this correctly your bath fan/light is responsible for all the GFCI trips, and this causes multiple GFCIs in different rooms to trip at times? It sounds to me like you have replaced regular receptacles with GFCIs and wired them all downstreamed on the load side from the previous one and the bathroom is near the end of the circuit. The affected stuff is all on the _same_ circuit, correct?

Rewiring the entire house seems like big time overkill to me. The cleanest/quickest solution in my mind (if you're willing to fish just one run) is to run a new circuit for the bathroom only. Since that's current code anyway. You wouldn't even need to do that much to resolve your problem, but for me it would be quicker to run that circuit than opening up all the boxes again and coming up with a different solution. Other options... Removing the redundant GFCIs may or may not clear up the nuisance trips. But there's already too much on there for one GFCI in my opinion. If there's somewhere on the circuit where it branches out in two different directions I'd protect each branch with a different GFCI and rewire the upstream ones. A couple extra $15 GFCIs is nothing compared to doing tons of rewiring. Plus sounds like you will have some spares shortly anyway.

Have you pulled open the bathroom wiring to make sure there isn't a legit reason for these to be tripping?
 
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Old 01-13-14, 04:37 AM
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@core

Thank you for your idea; that makes a lot of sense. You are correct that I am/was replacing all outlets with gfci even if some were downstream from a previous one. That's as my interpretation of the NEC requirement. Even if it is redundant.

The bathroom seems to be split between 2 different circuits: one that goes down my hallway and through my 3 bedrooms and one that goes through one half of my living room (which shares a wall with my bathroom).

The bathroom light/fan seems to be on the very end of the bedroom circuit. The vanity lights and outlet seem to be on the end of the living room circuit. Here is the kicker; turning on the light/fan fixture in the bathroom makes it so both gfcis from the different circuits trip and as long as the fan is on, only one will stay untripped. I can reset the living room but then when I reset the bedroom, the living room one instantly trips again as long as the fan/light fixture switch is in the on position and the same if I reset them in the opposite order. I don't understand how these 2 gfcis can be causing each other to trip if they are on different circuits unless the fan is somehow connect to BOTH circuits. If that's the case... Rewriting seems necessary.

Help!
 
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Old 01-13-14, 04:53 AM
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And let me guess, the switch for the vanity lights is in the same box as the switch for the fan/light fixture? You may get lucky and not have to replace anything. If I had to guess I'd say at one point somebody was doing some work in the bathroom and connected the neutrals together for the two circuits. "All the whites always go together, right?" (No.)

If the fan/light and vanity lights are on different circuits like you say, then the neutrals need to remain separate for them in the box. That's where I'd focus my efforts. Figuring out which neutral is which at this point may take some doing.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 05:48 AM
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You are correct that I am/was replacing all outlets with gfci even if some were downstream from a previous one. That's as my interpretation of the NEC requirement. Even if it is redundant.
As I was saying, that is a big part of your problem. GFCI devices should not be installed in a redundant fashion or you'll get nuisance trips.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 05:53 AM
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@casualjoe, thats not what i was told. My community has adopted the NEC for one-family residencies and my understanding is the NEC says if there is no equipment ground available, there are a few options.
True, the NEC does offer an allowance to use grounding type receptacles when no ground is available, but some equipment is required by it's instructions to be connected to a grounded circuit. The GFCI device does not create a ground. Just because the NEC allows you to do this doesn't mean that the fix meets current code requirements. Try installing ungrounded circuits in a new house, but with GFCI protection and see how far you would get.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 06:01 AM
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GFCI/code issues aside, crowner123 has a serious problem with the bathroom wiring if one load is causing GFCI trips on two different circuits. The fix could be a simple as moving a single connection.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 06:17 AM
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GFCI/code issues aside, crowner123 has a serious problem with the bathroom wiring if one load is causing GFCI trips on two different circuits. The fix could be a simple as moving a single connection.
I would agree with that. .............
 
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Old 01-13-14, 10:35 AM
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hey everyone,

thank you for your help. @casualjoe i understand you are correct and that to bring the house up to full and current code would take tons of repairs and my goal is simply to find a fix that is as compliant as possible without completely rewiring. stupid question, but why does the NEC allow GFCIs in succession if they just create nuisance trips? is that just because they are the least of all evils?

@core thank you for your neutral deduction! You are correct that all 3 switches (vanity light, fan, fan light) are on the same switch box & panel in the wall. So you would recommend I take that off the wall and see if there are "white" wires that have been spliced together? Any more instruction on this would be really helpful because im not positive what i should be looking for.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 11:48 AM
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I am not an electrician but have done some wiring off and on and most recently within the last month I wired my bathroom. Some people get the wires confused a red wire for instance is a hot wire just like a black wire is. So knowing your wires is important to getting things wired right. In my bathroom I fed electricity to a GFCI which in turn fed electricity through a switch to a new exhaust fan for my bathroom. There is a guide to wire colors right here which is good here is the link Understanding Electrical Outlet Wire Colors | DoItYourself.com.

I have wired GFCI outlets wrong and they will work but also trip real often too especially if not wired correctly with the neutral and hot. As I say though I am not an electrician and there are those here who know more and all I can speak of is my own experience.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 12:36 PM
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so when i open up this face plate and pull the 3 switches out, am i going to see white wires from the switches that are taped together? or what should things look like so i know if it is correct and this is not the issue?
 
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Old 01-13-14, 01:00 PM
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What you will/should find depends on whether the power runs to the fan fixture first or the switch box. Ditto with the vanity lights. One could be one way and the other another. Do you happen to have mapped this out already? You can take out the 3 switches and make a note of the cables that are entering the box, all the wire colors from each cable and what they connect to, and report back. Maybe with pictures. It might help to know what's going on in that fixture depending on how things are wired. If that's easier to get into and look inside maybe start there first.

Do the GFCIs only trip when the fan is on, only when the fan light is on, or either of them? You mentioned separate switches for each. I'm wondering if someone didn't do something "creative" when separating out the switch functionality for the fan&light. Like take the hot from the switch box, run the 2 switched legs up the single 12-2 cable to the fixture and 'grab a neutral' up in the fixture, which in this case turned out to be a different circuit. Anything's possible.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 05:27 PM
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If you can take some pictures of the electric box that will help a great deal as then we can see how it was wired. It sounds like a case of wrong wiring which is easy enough to do with GFIC plugs. I have probably wired about 15 or so in my lifetime and haven't always wired them right and had to redo them.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 05:30 PM
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hey guys. It looks pretty funky inside there, but i honestly don't know what I'm looking for. It definitely looks like the dual switches for the fan are tied into the switch for the vanity lights. I've attached some poor photos to start but any direction anyone can give me would be really helpful.

also, the photos are sideways... not sure how to fix that...
 
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Old 01-13-14, 06:06 PM
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Size:  31.8 KBI flipped your first photo for you but not your other photo as it shows the wiring better. It looks like the lower switch is wired wrong is that the switch that is causing the problem?

I really believe that the white wire should not be on the lower screw and instead a black wire should be there. That though isn't always the case so I hand that off to the more experienced here like PJmax who are electricians. That is my first impression though from looking at the switches.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 06:47 PM
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why does the NEC allow GFCIs in succession if they just create nuisance trips?
The nuisance trips are from incorrect wiring. When you install multiple GFCI devices on a single circuit each device must be wired to the "Line" terminals and the "Load" terminals are not used. The only time the "Load" terminals are used is when you want to use ONE GFCI DEVICE to protect the remainder of the downstream devices on that circuit. The correct thing to do would be at each box where a GFCI device will be located, pigtail the wires and attach only those pigtails to the "Line" terminals on that device, do not use the "Load" terminals at all. All the GFCI devices on that circuit will be wired that same way.

You never mentioned having any problems before you started replacing the existing duplex receptacles with all GFCI devices so my best guess is you have wired the GFCI devices each from the upstream "Load" terminals of that upstream GFCI device. This will cause nuisance trips.

My next best guess at another problem is as Core suggested, someone may have connected the neutral conductors of two different circuits at the bathroom fan and light switches. This will cause nuisance trips.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 06:56 PM
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@casualjoe that makes sense; thank you for explaining it to me. you are correct i have been using the load terminals. these old wires are so rigid and stiff that adding a pigtail in these boxes would be damn-near impossible.

but i have not put any GFCIs in succession yet. the 4 GFCIs i have installed have actually been on 4 different circuits. i didn't do that intentionally, but through troubleshooting this issue I have discovered that's what I've done thus far.
 
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Old 01-13-14, 07:28 PM
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As I suspected, this appears to have been a kludge to get the fan/light on separate switches. All I can make out from the photos is that the white and black wires that are connected to the brass screws on the duplex stack switch go into the same white cable in the upper right, and that cable presumably goes up to the fan. This is wrong but was the only way they could make it work without running wire.

I cannot make out any of the other connections just from that photo.

What on earth is connected to the silver colored screw on that same side? At first glance it looked like the bare grounding conductor but I may see a little black insulation on it now that I look more closely.

I can't tell what is connected to the left side of that stack switch because it's covered with tape. Is it just one black wire? What's it connected to, the vanity light switch you say? I thought these were on separate circuits?

Right away I can tell you that the only code-compliant solution is going to involve either 1) Running new cable from the switch to the fan/light, or 2) losing the ability to independently switch the fan and light. Unless there's a second parallel cable running next to the first one up to the fan. I would doubt it, but I can't tell from the pictures.
 
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Old 01-14-14, 05:45 AM
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@core the silver screw does have a bare grounding conductor that is then simply connected to the metal box. on the left side there is one black wire that i believe is connected to the vanity switch right next to it. I will pull it all apart again tonight and post more photos. and yes, they are on different circuits so i dont know what is going on in there.

i didnt see any parallel cable inside the box but i will look again. and you are saying that if I just got rid of the double switch for fan and light and just put in a 2nd single switch which would turn on both the fan and light simultaneously, then my issues might be solved?

and lastly... how hard is it to run wire? i dont even know how I would go about it without tearing up my walls and ceiling.

thank you all again, for all your help thus far.
 
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Old 01-14-14, 06:21 AM
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i believe is connected to the vanity switch right next to it
If it's on a completely separate circuit from the vanity lights then it cannot be connected to that vanity light switch. If it was connected, then turning off the fan circuit breaker wouldn't turn it off. So it can't be that way.

you are saying that if I just got rid of the double switch for fan and light and just put in a 2nd single switch which would turn on both the fan and light simultaneously, then my issues might be solved?
Yes they would definitely be solved, but it would also require small wiring changes up in the fixture so don't just replace that switch. It would also get rid of some EMF if you're into that sort of thing. There has to be power coming in at the fixture for that approach, and I would bet that there is. If you opened it up (and you're going to have to anyway if you're not just going to leave things as-is), I believe you will see at least 2 cables. The other end of that white cable we see in the photo, and some incoming power. If there are more or less than that, then that is important.

I'm still not seeing how the hots can be on two different circuits if they did what I think they did. There would have to be two incoming power cables to that box and the box didn't look busy enough for that.

and lastly... how hard is it to run wire? i dont even know how I would go about it without tearing up my walls and ceiling.
It just depends. If you're lucky, that white cable isn't stapled down and you can use it to pull some new cable in. I thought I saw some older wires in that box so this might actually be the case. Otherwise you would have to cut a small hole in the wall near the ceiling and one in the ceiling. There are also long flexible drill bits that can be used without making additional holes but you run the risk of hitting something you didn't know was there. This all may be more work than it's worth if your only complaint is the tripping GFCI.
 
 

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