Need Help Locating a Ground Fault

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Old 08-03-14, 12:33 AM
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Need Help Locating a Ground Fault

A few nights ago an electrical storm sent a surge into my house. It was apparently significant as it damaged or destroyed electrical equipment all over the house. Multiple breakers were tripped. I was able to reset all but one. Thinking that the breaker might have gone bad I replaced it - same problem.

The affected breaker controls the master bedroom/master bath/master closet. I then unplugged everything from the wall outlets and turned off all wall switches. Now I was able to reset the breaker without it tripping. However I noticed that the new breaker I installed had a built-in diagnostic and immediately started to flash a pattern that indicated a ground fault was present. I then discovered that turning on ANY wall switch in the circuit caused the breaker to trip. If I turned on ANY light I saw the light come on for about a second and then the breaker would trip.

I reset the breaker again with no load on it. I then used an outlet tester on all the affected wall outlets. All of them tested good. I took a cell phone charger and plugged it into every outlet. I was able to charge a cell phone without tripping the breaker on every outlet. I then took an electric hair trimmer (the kind that require you to plug into an outlet) and tested the outlets with it. Strangely enough I was able to power it on the 2 outlets in the master bath (both labeled as GFCI Protected but no test or reset switches on them) but plugging into any other outlet caused the breaker to trip.

Here is the layout: the master bedroom has a ceiling fan/light kit controlled by 2 wall switches (one for the light and one for the fan) and 6 wall outlets, the master bath has 5 light fixtures and 2 exhaust fans controlled by 5 wall switches (3 of the light fixtures are on 1 wall switch) and 2 wall outlets (both labeled GFCI Protected but no test/reset switches), the master closet has a fluorescent light fixture and 1 outlet.

If anyone has some advice on how to proceed from here I would greatly appreciate it! I am very comfortable with doing electrical work and I am trying to avoid calling an electrician out.

Thanks!
 
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Old 08-03-14, 06:17 AM
CasualJoe's Avatar
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I noticed that the new breaker I installed had a built-in diagnostic and immediately started to flash a pattern that indicated a ground fault was present.
What kind of breaker is that? I am not familiar with a breaker that has that function.

If I turned on ANY light I saw the light come on for about a second and then the breaker would trip.
I believe I would start by pulling the switches (not removing them) and inspecting them for burnt connections or devices. Next I would start looking at the ceiling fan, fluorescent closet light fixture/ballast and bath exhaust fans. Basically I'd want to see/inspect/disconnect anything that is connected other than a regular incandescent light and reset/test the breaker again. If I haven't found the problem yet I'd proceed to incandescent fixtures and test again.
 
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Old 08-03-14, 06:38 AM
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Welcome to the forums!

Are you sure it is a ground fault breaker? It sounds like it is an arc fault breaker to me.

How old is your house? Many times the bathroom and bedrooms are on their own circuits.
 
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Old 08-03-14, 08:28 AM
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Thanks for the replies!

The house is about 4 years old.

One mystery solved: apparently the bathroom outlets and one of the master bedroom outlets are on a different circuit. I used the outlet tester while the breaker was tripped and I get a reading on those 3. I had just assumed they were on the same circuit as the bathroom lights (which are controlled by the offending breaker). That explains why nothing trips when I plug into those outlets.

The new breaker I installed is an EaToN Combination AFCI Type CH. So yes it is a Arc Fault breaker. It is 15 amps. The model number is CHFCAF115CS. The diagnostic LED seems to be a really cool feature.

I will pull the switches out and inspect them probably later today. I will post my findings.

Thanks to all!
 
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Old 08-03-14, 09:38 AM
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That all makes more sense, thank you!

A common reason for AFCI's to trip after a load is put on them is a ground touching a neutral wire. Continue with what you are doing and remove the devices, but don't remove any wires. Inspect all the wires and see if there is any wires touching each other or the screws on the devices.

If you can't find anything wrong, you might have some damaged wires behind the wall. You may have an insurance claim since this was caused by a lightning strike.
 
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