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Remodeled kitchen and electrician had to install new AFCI/GFCI Seimens circuit breakers to comply with code. Now my 8 yr old Samsung 24 cu ft refrigerator trips the c/b every 12 minutes to as long as 4 days. Tried space heater on circuit and no problem. Plugged refrigerator into other AFCI/GFCI and they also trip but not as often. Refrigerator works fine on dining room non-GFCI circuit. Have spoken to appliance repair and Samsung service people and all say waste of time to come out and check refrigerator. They all say refrigerators should not be on GFCI. Spoke to city elect inspector and he said, sorry but code is code. Seems to be a catch-22 here.

  • Which light(s) on the front of the breaker are on when the breaker in question trips? – ThreePhaseEel Nov 22 '18 at 16:39
  • If this were a < 1 year old refrigerator, I would try arguing with Samsung for a fix. But due to age, the warranty is long gone. 12 minutes sounds like compressor timer cycle time. – manassehkatz Nov 22 '18 at 17:05
  • This is one area my state exempts the use of gfci and AFCI's, both have problems with motor loads, I have seen owners remove them because of this problem, the electrician can't do it because of liability and could loose his / her license. I use dedicated circuits for the frige and believe food safety in this case is more important your other option is to run an extension cord to a regular outlet , code frowns on that but the devices just don't do well with the required protection. – Ed Beal Nov 22 '18 at 17:52
  • See my answer for: Where shouldn't I use GFCI/AFCI? – Mazura Nov 22 '18 at 19:25
  • I haven't read everything but refrigerators don't need to be on GFCI's, found that out not to long ago thanks to these guys on stack, The defrost cycle for the freezer flips the breaker if it's a dated fridge. The chrome on the heating element starts to oxidize, so when water is on the oxidized part of the heating element it trips the breaker. Sounds like your freezer is trying to defrost but the GFCI breaker won't let it, remove that breaker GFCI and buy an outlet GFCI to protect the receptacles near the sink, just a suggestion :) – user70085 Nov 23 '18 at 8:51
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Harper or one of the other pros can give more details. But basically there is a conflict between "refrigerators which, depending on design, sometimes trip GFCI or AFCI" and "kitchen small appliance receptacles which for safety reasons must be protected by GFCI".

The solution, as I understand it, is to run a totally separate single-receptacle circuit for the refrigerator. That way nothing else (e.g., kitchen counter receptacles which must be GFCI protected) is sharing the circuit and by using a single receptacle, nobody can sneak behind the refrigerator and plug something else in.

Refrigerators are a different use case from almost everything else in the kitchen:

  • Not used with water (like dishwasher, disposal)
  • Not frequently plugged/unplugged (like small appliances)
  • High risk of significant safety problem due to food spoilage

If the inspector requires GFCI and/or AFCI even for a freshly installed single-receptacle circuit, install an appropriate breaker (you wouldn't use a combination GFCI/receptacle for a receptacle blocked by the refrigerator anyway). Breakers are easy to swap.

  • +1 for high risk of food spoilage problem, especially if the GFCI is shared with other appliances. Works like this: arrive back from vacation, find the Keurig won't run so reset its breaker, have no idea the fridge is also on that circuit, nobody happens to check the fridge before it recools, so they never know. Even worse if disadvantaged-person care is going on, because aides never check the food, they don't even check expiry dates, trust me, I've had to tear 2-week-gone milk out of an aide's hand, they didn't even sniff it... – Harper Nov 22 '18 at 21:57
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Kitchen counter receptacles need to be GFCI protected. Refrigerators do not, and should not.

A refrigerator is simply not what GFCIs are for, like manassehkatz says. All the electrical bits are in the bottom back, and you're not likely to knock a refrigerator into the sink!

The fridge circuit definitely does not require GFCI, however if the fridge is on a shared circuit with other outlets which need GFCI, then that does not give you a right to remove GFCI from those outlets! Your inspector is teling you the fridge needs GFCI because it's on a shared circuit with countertop receptacles, and those need GFCI. The fridge does not unless there is a local amendment to code, but it would be an awful amendment!

So the fridge should be removed from the GFCI, either by

  • running a dedicated circuit with one plug, 15A is allowable; or by
  • changing the breaker to non-GFCI and using GFCI deadfronts or receptacles in appropriate place(s) to protect the kitchen countertops, as Code requires.

The inspector has no "right" in the electrical code to compel you to use GFCI breakers particularly, though they do provide better protection.

The fridge circuit may require AFCI, but that's a different thing than GFCI and the refrigerator is less likely to have a problem with it.

The ideal setup

The ideal setup is a dedicated circuit for just the fridge, with a one-eye receptacle (not the usual twin) behind the fridge where nothing else can reach it, a breaker that exactly matches the receptacle amps (a requirement on 1-socket circuits), and a labelmaker sticker on the receptacle saying "Refrigerator only".

Even more ideal, I would also run it in EMT conduit and metal boxes, and make the case to the AHJ that the AFCI protection is not needed due to the EMT.

The nuclear option

If it is infeasible to remove the refrigerator from GFCI protection, you can remove the GFCI protection from the refrigerator! Use a Kill-a-Watt to measure how many VA the fridge uses when running (not starting), double it, and obtain an isolation transformer of that many VA.

All the GFCI will see is the primary winding of the transformer. What happens past the secondary winding, stays in Vegas. Ground is passed straight through the isolation transformer, so the fridge is still safely grounded. If the fridge has a hot-ground fault, that will do nothing at all.

Since the isolation transformer is a plug-in consumer appliance like a power strip, it is out of the inspector's jurisdiction. He can't say a thing about it.

Alternately you could use a component isolation transformer and build it into the refrigerator. Altering an appliance is not an Electrical Code matter, so again, outside his jurisdiction.

  • Fridge on a SABC is assumed to be the norm in the Code (210.52(B)(1)) -- it's Exception 2 to that section that allows the fridge to be on its own dedicated branch circuit. – ThreePhaseEel Nov 22 '18 at 18:25
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    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 – jacbec Nov 22 '18 at 18:45
  • There's only 2 exceptions to everything being either an afci or gfci, neither of which are a fridge. – Mazura Nov 22 '18 at 19:30
  • @Mazura -- Fridges are required to be AFCI, but not GFCI as the kitchen GFCI requirement only applies to kitchen countertop receptacles. In the words of NEC 210.8(A) point 6: "Kitchens — where the receptacles are installed to serve the countertop surfaces" – ThreePhaseEel Nov 22 '18 at 21:43
  • @ThreePhaseEel Yeah I see where you are right, I was reluctant to check it because I am codebook-impaired right now, my old PowerMac G4 can't really open a 900 page PDF without screaming in pain... Edited. Yes, AFCI is a different thing and your fridge is far less likely to have a problem with it. – Harper Nov 22 '18 at 21:52

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