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The 2014 NEC requires AFCI protection for refrigerators. I've read that one shouldn't use GFCI protection for a refrigerator, but I know that AFCI breakers do include ground-fault protection (at a 30mA threshold, as opposed the 6mA threshold for GFCI breakers or AFCI/GFCI dual breakers).

Are nuisance trips a problem when using an AFCI breaker on an individual branch circuit for a refrigerator?

And if so, I'd be curious - are the nuisance trips typically due to false-positive ground faults (difference between line and neutral current - as a GFCI breaker would detect), or false-positive arc faults (series arcing or line-to-neutral arcing)? I believe most of the AFCI circuit breakers on the market will distinguish between those two, in order to help diagnose the wiring problem.

Some good info about GFCI and refrigerators here: Why is GFCI tripping on refrigerator circuit?

  • Just some background: I'm a homeowner, getting some electrical work done and doing some of it myself. I understand the whys for the GFCI requirements in the NEC, but some of the AFCI requirements have me scratching my head - in particular, the refrigerator requirement. I certainly like the idea of AFCI protection, but my sense is that electricians haven't come to consensus that the benefits outweigh the cost (in terms of price and hassle). I'm willing to give AFCI's a shot, but... on a refrigerator? Hm. – PhilPDX Jan 3 '17 at 19:11
  • Where is your lication? I see PDX and think Portland Oregon, if that is the case no GFCI or AFCI is required behind things like refrigerators odbc table 1E , GFCI'S Deffinately have problems with fridges and some of the new fridges don't do well with AFCI'S – Ed Beal Nov 13 '17 at 23:02
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The question presumes something I do not believe.

I don't believe all AFCIs also do GFCI at 30ma level.

This answer here is a very well-informed and interesting exposition on how early AFCIs were given a GFCI function, but this quickly turned into a complete disaster, and so they were removed.

If you have an AFCI which also performs a GFCI function, into the trash it goes -- no seriously, mark it and save it for some other application where it would actually protect equipment.

Remember, 30ma protection is inadequate for kitchens, garages, basements or anywhere else NEC requires GFCIs.

Some people believe AFCIs are required everywhere GFCIs are not. The NEC does not say that. If your local inspector says so, you need to have the discussion with them. You can fight city hall, but it's cheaper to just replace that problematic fridge.

Refrigerators are not the use-case for AFCI or GFCI

GFCI is to protect people from shocks, typically from lightly insulated plastic gadgets getting broken or wet, or the user having contact with an energized part of a 2-prong tool. This is absolutely irrelevant to an immovable box with a steel chassis, all the 120VAC gear inaccessible at the bottom rear, and a fully plastic inner lining. It would be nigh impossible for a consumer to contact anything 120V if they were trying.

AFCI is to prevent fires from wiring faults either in house wiring or in plastic, flammable devices. Being entirely contained inside an all-steel box, it's nigh impossible for a wiring fault inside the fridge to start a fire without also pulling enough current to trip the breaker. Yes, the cord, receptacle or in-wall wiring could have a problem; but consider the same logic that is applied to the NEMA 10 receptacle: this is fixed equipment with a typically inaccessible receptacle, which is rarely unplugged or moved.

Sometimes, a ground fault trip is a ground fault

I do see a lot of forum posts like

My old fridge never tripped the GFCI before. Now suddenly it's tripping the GFCI a lot. Why do fridges need GFCI protection anyway? Can I remove the GFCI protection?"

Sometimes, a GFCI trip is exactly what it says on the tin -- "working as intended" genuine trip caused by faulty machinery. Often cleared by a good cleaning, but sometimes, you just need a new fridge. Insulation failure is one way machines fail.

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    Your Code cite is a swing and a miss -- 210.12(A) is the correct section, and kitchens are a new addition to it in the 2014 NEC. Also, the only AFCIs I know of to have dropped the GFPE (30mA ground fault trip) function are the latest gen GE ones (the Eaton, Square-D, and Siemens designs still all do it) – ThreePhaseEel Jan 3 '17 at 12:47
  • I can dig up some stuff from an Eaton engineer later that argues that the GFPE requirement is actually superior fire protection to the "series arc" tests UL came up with – ThreePhaseEel Jan 3 '17 at 12:49
  • Can you point to the code section that "suspend(s) GFCI requirements in locations where everything else must be GFCI, such as a garage or basement."? – Tester101 Jan 3 '17 at 15:22
  • 210.12 Arc-Fault Circuit-Interrupter Protection. (A) Dwelling Units. All 120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere branch circuits supplying outlets or devices installed in dwelling unit kitchens... shall be protected by any of the means described in 210.12(A)(1) through (6): AFCI protection is required for a refrigerator. – Tester101 Jan 3 '17 at 15:31
  • I had it, Tester. I had it in my hand... Nope, both my Google-Fu and my browser history is letting me down. I cannot find the reference for my 210.12 claim. Further digging DID reveal my claim of specific exemption for fridges in garages/basements was removed in 2008. So it appears I need to check dates a lot more closely, and capture links. – Harper Jan 3 '17 at 18:55

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