AFCI problems after power outage?

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Old 12-19-18, 06:07 PM
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AFCI problems after power outage?

Last week a church across the street from us burned down and damaged some electrical and Spectrum stuff at the pole. They fixed it pretty quickly but all of our AFCI breakers (with outlets, we have some lights only circuits with AFCI breakers that have had no issues) have been tripping lately.

The first thing I noticed was the projector in the living room, upon turning it on the breaker would trip right away. I hooked up an extension cord and ran it to a different circuit (not AFCI) and had no issues. Then I plugged it back in at the ceiling outlet where it was and it works sort of now...it still trips the breaker eventually but lasts anywhere from 5 minutes to a couple of hours before it trips the breaker. I called an electrician and he said that it could be the bulb in the projector and to try that before doing anything else more costly if I had a spare bulb (and I did).. That circuit went 48 hours without tripping with everything plugged in but just didn't use the projector. Tripped within 10 minutes of turning it on. Replaced the bulb and tried again but it still tripped within 10 minutes.

The bedroom circuit occasionally tripped the first couple of days after turning on the bedroom TV but we have used it for days now normally without issue.

We have a dehumidifier and a fish tank on the hallway circuit that was also tripping within minutes of turning on the dehumidifier. We unplugged the dehumidifier and now it is tripping about once a day. Thew past couple days it is fine when we leave in the morning but has tripped by the time we get home from work. Then we reset it and it is still going when we leave for work the next morning but it is tripped again when we get home. So today we unplugged the fish tank and will see if it still trips. My understanding is that if it trips with nothing plugged in then it is a wiring problem in the wall or the breaker itself.

So total, 3 breakers tripping (master bedroom, living room, and hallway). This past weekend my father in law (who is an electrician, though he mostly does industrial work these days) came over and replaced the AFCI breakers for us (which cost a pretty penny I might add, lol) but still having the tripping issues as described above.

He then checked the outlets used by all these appliances and didn't see any issues. He did lots of multimeter stuff that I know nothing about but ended up saying that the only thing he can think of is that the fire caused a surge and damaged several of our appliances causing the breakers to detect an arc fault.

He spent a total of like 8 hours at our house and basically he said he had no idea why everything in the house works fine except for a handful of appliances that we have never had issues with (including one not plugged in recently) unless they were somehow damaged in a surge event and said maybe try to find an AFCI specialist.

This house is less than 5 years old (we moved into it soon after it finished construction, around November 2014). I am just really frustrated with this whole situation and financially speaking, right before Christmas is really a bad time for this to happen. Projectors aren't cheap and I can't really afford to replace it if there is nothing really wrong with it, but as I said it works flawlessly on the kitchen (GFCI) circuit. I am on the verge of just trying to talk my father in law into replacing them with standard breakers.

Any suggestions of things to try?
 
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Old 12-19-18, 07:38 PM
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This might be something that insurance/power company needs to get involved.

We know everything was fine until the fire at the church. Does your electrical service come from the same pole/transformer as well? I could easily see that your items may have been damaged if your service is from that pole/transformer. Did you lose power?

Standard breakers do not perform the same function as an AFCI breaker. Standard breakers only trip on overload. AFCI breakers detect minor arcing which can lead to fires due to poor connections. (As a side note, AFCI breakers work similar to a GFCI so you can not have a neutral and ground touching)

It sounds to me that your FiL did quite a thorough inspection of your electrical.
 
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Old 12-19-18, 10:21 PM
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Arc fault circuit breakers can be touchy. I find it an extreme coincidence between this problem and the church fire. My first thought is that you may have a neutral problem. Not a complete loss but maybe not fully at ground potential. I'm thinking that maybe you should call the power company and ask them to confirm your neutral is ok. Eliminate that. Call them on their emergency number. Explain to them your are getting unexpected problems after the church fire.

I would severely doubt your projector needs a bulb. However..... I have seen problems with projectors and arc fault breakers because the lamp is actually igniting (arcing) and that can cause a spike that will trip the breaker.
 
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Old 12-20-18, 07:19 AM
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Thanks guys. Yes we did lose power but only for like 30 seconds to a minute right about the time we heard all the sirens (the power going out and sirens is how we noticed the fire). I did call our electric company (just the regular support number) the day after the fire, they put in a ticket, and someone was at my house within an hour. Sorry I should have mentioned that. He tested some things at the electric meter but said everything was testing normal at the meter and even tested "both sides" (not really sure what that means but he said it so I am repeating it) and had me turn on the appliances to trigger the breaker to trip and didn't see any issues at the meter and said that we would need to have an electrician troubleshoot issues happening on internal circuits since there were no issues at the meter. He even checked with neighbors so he did seem to genuinely look for a problem but while all the neighbors experienced the same 30 second-ish power loss at the time of the fire nobody else was having tripping breakers. However I don't remember him saying anything at all about the neutral.

Our plan is to try to go a few days without using the 3 things that seem to be tripping the breaker (the fish tank heater/pump/light, the projector, and the dehumidifier) and if there are no trips during that time we will try using them again and if the trips resume we will pretty much know the issue is those appliances. We will contact our home owners insurance but from reading our policy we would need either the electric company or an authorized electrician to confirm the issue was caused by a surge (how would you even do that?) and then we could probably get a payout minus $500 deductible to replace the items.

All of these appliances work fine with on the bathroom or kitchen circuits which are just GFCI and not AFCI so it stinks that it looks like the only way to fix it is to replace those items. I replaced the bulb in the projector last night just in case but it still tripped.
 
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Old 12-21-18, 08:20 AM
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Well we have gone over 24 hours without any tripping by just not using those three appliances so I guess it really is just those appliances are damaged. We will be calling our homeowners insurance to find out if that would be covered.
 
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Old 01-02-19, 02:51 PM
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Sorry no post recently, been busy with Christmas, etc.

We contacted our homeowners insurance and it would be covered, but our deductible is $1000 and we could replace all of the appliances for that. We did however reach out to the manufacturer of the dehumidifier since it was only a couple months old and they agreed to send us a new one for free.

Unfortunately, the new one trips the breaker too.

For now we just ran a couple good quality extension cords to GFCI outlets to those appliances that were causing trips and have been using them normally like this without any trips since my last post on the 21st.

Called the electrician again but he says that he doesn't know what it could be if 95% of our stuff works fine and doesn't cause tripping other than those things that do cause tripping needing to be replaced but can't explain why a brand new dehumidifier would do the same thing.

I'm about fed up with this. If I could find someone to do it I would just have the AFCI breakers swapped out for standard breakers. Seems like a general consensus with most electricians I have talked to or read online that AFCI technology isn't good enough yet that it should be required.
 
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Old 01-02-19, 05:41 PM
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Changing a breaker is not a difficult job as long as the proper safety precautions are taken, such as turning off the main breaker.
Just saying.
 
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Old 01-03-19, 06:51 AM
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My only concern doing it myself is the extra wire if I am not replacing one with an identical breaker. My understanding is that with AFCI there are the same two cable spots that are on a standard breaker but also that "pigtail" cable. Is there anything special that is involved in replacing an AFCI breaker with a standard one? Do I just disconnect the "pigtail" cable and not worry about it?
 
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