tripping gfci

Nuisance Tripping of GFCI’s and ARC Faults – Progress or Politics?

Written By: Dave Smith, Dave Smith Appliance Services

An appliance technician is dispatched to a service call with the appliance tripping the ground fault. The technician’s thought process goes something like this: Arr… this is not one of my favorite calls to run! Are we really going to have an appliance problem and what could that possibly be, or is it going to be a faulty GFCI device or wiring problem requiring an electrician? Why can’t we just put a regular outlet there instead???

As technicians and owners of companies that work with specific diagnoses for a living, we desire concrete answers and solutions to problems. Then, we have a conversation with our customer about how to best repair it and what those costs would be. After we thoroughly check the appliance and find no problem, how do we handle this situation? If the problem is other than the appliance itself, these conversations can get a bit awkward and complicated. The electrician is now called in and states there is nothing wrong with the GFCI, or the wiring, so it must be the appliance! This is where the finger-pointing can begin, and usually does… so how do we determine who is right?

Very often, both the appliance tech and the electrician can be right at the same time! It seems that we have a conflict between physics and technology vs. safety and regulation. Unfortunately, there is currently no incentive to solve the issue. Electrical device manufacturers sell tons of their receptacles to the electrical industry, and safety sells!

Electricians are mandated to work within the applicable code for their jurisdiction, and there are few exceptions. The intentions of the electrical code are good ones, to keep people safe from shocks and prevent property damage due to shorts. It is hard to argue against making people safer, nor should we. But sometimes good intentions can go too far and can actually do more harm. The problem is that these devices are being used to shut down appliances that heat and cool resulting in harm from the inoperation of the appliance. Jurisdictions have enacted GFCI requirements on HVAC equipment, then rolled them back after determining a high potential of deaths from nuisance trips. Refrigerators and freezers may shut down, resulting in food spoilage. These are real dangers in addition to the inconvenience of having a laundry or cooking appliance randomly shut down.

The appliance manufacturers are doing what they can to comply with UL requirements. Without getting too technical modern appliances are now using high-frequency variable speed motors, switching power supplies, LED drivers and other technologies that add to normal minimal current loss. This current loss is normal, minute, and not proven to be a safety hazard. This loss can also cause a GFCI to nuisance trip.

This issue is likely going to get much worse before it gets better. The 2017 NEC and 2020 NEC (National Electric Code) regulates when, where, and how electrical safety devices are used…and coming soon… 2023 NEC with even more stringent restrictions and an increased call for added devices.

 So, what are some solutions going forward?

  1. The technician must do the diligence of checking the appliance thoroughly for water leaks, safety or electrical problems and not assume a problem doesn’t exist.
  2. Contact the appliance manufacturer for a GFCI modification kit or procedure if available.
  3. Contact the device manufacturer to supply a different GFCI model.
  4. Make sure the device supplying the appliance is on a dedicated circuit, or move the receptacle to a location that does not require a GFCI. Check to see if the jurisdiction will permit using the older, less strict NEC.
  5. Join, or make proposals to your state electrical board.
  6. Spread the word to your electrician friends in your community.
  7. Report nuisance GFCI tripping to AHAM

To report GFCI tripping:

  • Go to: aham.org/aham/gfci or scan the QR code.
  • Reports will be sent to appliance manufacturers.
  • Reports will be used to better understand nuisance tripping.

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