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Where to start?

*We bought a new house on a day's notice, and now I have to sell this 1885 Victorian. I'd like to minimize the scope of a home inspector's report. *The house is mostly the original 2-wire, but has a modern breaker box. *I replaced every 2-prong outlet with 3-prong outlets, so it's not to code. *I'm an EE, but I'm stumped here...

So I just replaced the breaker for the entire upstairs (4bd/1ba) with an Eaton model# BRLAFGF115CS AFCI/GFCI breaker and planned to add the requisite stickers to each of the un-grounded outlets to meet NEC 2014 code requirements. Upon installation, I performed the initial diagnostics and received an error code on the red LED with 5 blinks, indicating a "ground fault."

This is weird, because even though the breaker indicates a ground fault on this ancient cloth-insulated wiring that must be 1000 feet long in total, this apparent ground fault is not enough to actually trip the GFCI. I mean, does that suggest it's less than 6mA? Given all the mouse hair and dust and other debris I pulled out of those boxes I entered, I'd have been surprised if I didn't have a good deal of ground leakage. The arc and GF test button does trip the breaker, but the 5-blink "ground fault" code seems to not be bad enough to actually trip the GFCI.

Of course, I unplugged everything on the circuit and turned off all the lights, retested, but I still get the 5-blink code. Eaton is no help. I wonder if the GFCI circuit is seeing leakage of less than 6mA and just letting me know, but it's not enough to trip the GFCI? I want the darn blinking to go away, but I don't want to open up 50 boxes and clean all the mouse turds and hair out of those and not solve the problem. Any thoughts? What would you do? I'm on the circuit right now -- at my computer -- so the breaker's holding just fine -- even with a few inductive/resistive loads like fans and space heaters. Weird. I'd like to get this house on the market ASAP, but I don't want to cause alarm and start smashing all this lovely 1885 plaster. This house is 99% original. My plan was to install this one breaker as a test, and then replace all the rest of the breakers that service un-grounded outlets... Also, I can't find a place to buy all those stickers I need.

Thanks in advance!

-Doogan

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  • I'm wondering if this is a case of a blown trip solenoid. Can you force the breaker to trip by loading it with the load neutral mislanded? (Simply turn it off, remove the load neutral from the breaker and land it on the neutral busbar, then try to turn it back on with some load on the circuit) Also, can you provide us with closeup photos of the installation? (The most common cause of a trip solenoid failure in a breaker-type interrupter device is backfeeding the thing...) Dec 5, 2017 at 4:57
  • 1
    The trip solenoid is working just fine. Using the test button for both the arc and GF features trips the breaker immediately and consistently. I wrote: "The arc and GF test button does trip the breaker, but the 5-blink "ground fault" code seems to not be bad enough to actually trip the GFCI."
    – doogan78
    Dec 5, 2017 at 5:34

3 Answers 3

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You may not have a ground-fault at all. The diagnostic LED displays the last recorded trip code, not any current conditions. Reading through the Eaton documentation, it turns out that it may be reporting a fault that was caused during factory testing.

Upon installation, if the breaker has not experienced a trip that records a code, it will display the last trip code recorded from tests performed at the factory.

So if the breaker is not tripping, there's likely no problem at all. When you run the diagnostic (by turning on the breaker, or holding the TEST button), the LED will display the last recorded trip code for 30 iterations. It is NOT displaying any current circuit information, only the most recent recorded trip code.


Trip Codes

  • 1 Blink = Series Arc
  • 2 Blinks = Parallel Arc
  • 3 Blinks = Short delay
  • 4 Blinks = Overvoltage
  • 5 Blinks = Ground Fault
  • 6 Blinks = Self Test Failure

NOTE: The breaker does not record short-circuit, or overcurrent trips, nor does it record trips caused by pressing the TEST button, or manually switching the breaker off.

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  • Wow. Amazing! I didn't read that bit because it was listed under the "No code reported" section of the Trip Codes. If I'd written that sheet, I would have put a note on all recordable codes that said "See note 1" to get that very, very important information. Thanks, Tester101!
    – doogan78
    Dec 5, 2017 at 15:32
  • Good answer. I just installed a new breaker to replace a broken one, and I ask "Why am I getting 5 blinks on this thing?" Factory fresh explains it. Thank you. BUT WAIT! Be SURE to read the answer below from Aaron6xxx that provides MORE info about reading codes.
    – dogatonic
    Jul 10, 2022 at 16:53
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I can't comment yet, not enough reputation points. But I have an issue with he answer from Tester101, it gets one of the details correct but doesn't continue in the documentation to the next critical detail about the status lights.

Yes, the 1-6 flash status code holds the "last" failure. And for a brand new one that would be the "failure" from the factory test.

The problem is that the instructions go onto say that after using the steps:

"To obtain the (last) trip code"

  1. Turn the breaker off
  2. Depress and hold the TEST button
  3. etc...

That it will flash the code for 30 iterations, starting after 3 seconds. All good.

But then it says:

Note: The trip code will reset two hours after the recall procedure is performed. Please make a note of the displayed code because it will not be there in the future.

And based on OP's description of troubleshooting I would expect that more than 2 hours elapsed between the start of testing and the times that the failure code was "recalled". Thus it is likely that a persistent failure code lasting more than 2 hours is actually a new code being generated locally, not the "last code from the factory test".

I don't see that Note in the Eaton docs I can find online, like: https://www.eaton.com/content/dam/eaton/products/low-voltage-power-distribution-controls-systems/circuit-breakers/br-circuit-breakers/br-and-qb-dual-purpose-arc-fault-ground-fault-circuit-interrupters-td003011en.pdf

This is a snapshot of the instructions of my Eaton fuse. I suspect the 2 hour reset is an industry standard as much as the 1-6 codes are. It would be bad to leave the "last" code there forever. It wouldn't be possible to tell new v. old issues.

That is all. I'm not an EE or in any way an expert on this topic. Just my reading of the documents while going through some problems with Eaton breakers.

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I had similar issues. I wired a new barn with AFCI/GFCI arc faults 15 and 20 amps. These were the extra long AFCI/GFCI breakers labeled as Gen 2. Randomly all the units failed with fault code 5 ground fault and the breaker would be tripped. This would occur every couple days randomly on different breaker or 2. After about 2 years of turning breakers back on, I got tired of it. I went back to the store and bought 2 replacements to try. These were newer models and the standard BR breaker size(not the oversized. I installed both and the Fault code 5 went away and the breakers have not tripped since then(3 years). I contacted Eaton regarding replacements due to the lifetime warranty. They sent me 2 replacements. These were the standard sized BR AFCI/GFCI breakers as well. I am presuming that the batch of breakers I had from 6 years ago (Gen 2 over sized) has design issues with the fault detection circuits. As of today, I have swapped out 2 more breakers with the smaller AFCI/GFCI breakers Eaton sent me a few years back.

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