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Every now and then, a bathroom GFCI (nothing plugged in) randomly trips, and also sometimes (<5% of the time) when I turn on the light switch in that bathroom. The bathroom has a GFCI in one box, and two switches (in one box) for light and exhaust fan (not above shower). I assume the light and exhaust fan are not downstream from the GFCI since they remain on when the GFCI has tripped. I also assume all components are around 17 years old.

That GFCI seems to have a downstream connection to another GFCI in another bathroom. I assume that second GFCI just needs to be a regular receptacle, but that is another question :). A GFCI tester indicates correct wiring for both GFCIs.

  • If the GFCI is in fact 17 years old, then the first step is to replace it. It may be the GFCI is going bad. – Tyson Jan 13 '18 at 18:33
  • @Tyson I actually had purchased a new GFCI but didn't install it yet because I was worried I would just be hiding a problem. If you think there is nothing to worry about, then I will just replace the GFCI. – jordan Jan 13 '18 at 19:09
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    Replace it. The GFCI is either the problem, or replacing it will have no change, or it will make it worse. It won't mask a problem. – Tyson Jan 13 '18 at 19:11
  • Is anything connected to the LOAD terminals of the GFCI? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 13 '18 at 20:09
  • @Harper the GFCI that trips has it's LOAD terminals connected to what I believe is the GFCI in another bathroom. I am assuming this because when I press the test button on the GFCI in that other bathroom, that GFCI does not trip but this GFCI does trip. – jordan Jan 13 '18 at 20:46
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You need to map the circuit more carefully. Slapping in a tester doesn't really tell you if it's wired correctly. Noting what goes out when it trips is an incomplete mapping effort.

A GFCI+receptacle combo can be tripped by any of the following:

  • A device plugged into one of its sockets, which has a ground fault. Presumably either this device has a 3-prong cord, or energy is leaking to something grounded (e.g. the apocryphal dropping the hair dryer in a sink of water).
  • Something wired into the LOAD terminals has a ground fault, and the GFCI is correctly detecting it.
  • The GFCI device itself is malfunctioning.

Nothing is plugged in, so we can check that off the list. You have no idea what is attached to the LOAD terminals, so that's a big fuzzy question mark. Then of course the GFCI device itself could be failing.

Now you say you think the LOAD terminals feed another GFCI device. Ohhhhh...kay. You can do that, but you're basically playing a "Yo dawg" joke on yourself. The protection is entirely redundant. The downline GFCI adds no additional protection. Further, if there is a ground fault downline of both GFCIs, both of them will trip. Some GFCIs can be "peculiar" about the sequence they are reset in. This can drive you nuts. I would eliminate that arrangement if it's feasible to do so.

All receptacles protected by an upstream GFCI should have a "GFCI Protected" sticker or label.

Some people have a big problem with the idea of simply removing a load from the LOAD terminals without knowing exactly what it is. I somewhat agree, but I would say that if you didn't know it was protected (and there was no label), where's the loss? If you really want to, you can get a GFCI tester and do an exhaustive search of every outlet that loses power when that breaker is turned off, and see whether it loses GFCI protection if you remove it from the LOAD terminals.

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