non-gfc downstream outlet

The above picture is the backside of a non-GFCI downstream outlet. I would like to plug a refrigerator into this outlet. However, when I do the circuit gets tripped due to the surge of the motor coming on.

The outlet is in my garage at about 4 feet off ground level.

My question is this: Can I do something to this outlet so that I can plug a refrigerator in without tripping the circuit?

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    So this outlet is downstream from a GFCI, and that GFCI is tripped by the fridge whenever the fridge's compressor tries to kick on? How old is said fridge? Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 19:35
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    Don't use those "backstab" connectors for wiring the outlet. They loosen over time and can cause arcs leading to fires. Pull the wires (a small screwdriver in the "press to release" slot), strip them a little further, and properly affix them under the screws. Also, it's a tad unusual to have 3 white wires, are you sure that outlet works properly when anything is plugged into it?
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 19:40
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    Refrigerator is probably ten years old, but in great shape as I haven't used it in 5 years. Outlet was install by licensed contractor and is working properly
    – AT Spencer
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 19:54
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    Yes, the frig works fine as I've plugged into an extension cord that is plugged into a non-gfci circuit outlet. Any electrical "items" work. In fact I plugged a clock into the second receptacle when the frig was plugged in and was able to ascertain that the circuit shuts off after about 7 hours. What you can't see in the picture is that the electrician colored the "hot" wire with black marks. Don't know why he didn't use black wire, but again, the plug work like it should as a GFCI circuit outlet.
    – AT Spencer
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 20:21
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    OK. Then that confirms that the receptacle is likely wired correctly (electrically if not visually, and albeit with backstabs which for one lousy outlet would have taken < 1 minute extra to use the screws). Key you just gave us is after about 7 hours. That makes me think not the motor (the motor would have been on from the beginning) but the defrost cycle. Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 20:25

2 Answers 2


Defrost Cycle

As discussed in comments, this problem does not happen immediately but appears to be related to the defrost cycle - in one test it took 7 hours until the breaker tripped. Assuming this is the GFCI tripping, which appears to be the case though that hasn't been stated clearly, that points to one of two possible problems:

  • The defrost mechanism itself is leaking current somehow, causing an imbalance which trips the GFCI
  • Water from the defrost cycle leaks to someplace that causes a ground fault. Exactly the kind of thing that a GFCI is designed to protect against.

So the question becomes: Is this the beginning of a potentially dangerous fault, in which case the GFCI may have saved someone from serious, even fatal, electrocution, or is this truly a minor issue, possibly even a design flaw, where the electrical leakage is so small and so hidden that it would never actually present a danger.

As Harper frequently points out, GFCI trips on refrigerators generally have far more risk of causing food poisoning and/or loss of food due to undetected problems than they do of benefit by preventing electrocution. So if the situation really is "not a real problem, just poor design that leads to GFCI trips every defrost cycle but safe to use" then the solution is to wire up a refrigerator-only receptacle off the LINE side of the GFCI instead of the LOAD side.

If, on the other hand, this problem is actually a sign of a potentially dangerous situation - perhaps caused by damage during the 5 years that the refrigerator sat unused - then fixing the underlying problem is a much better course of action.

No random person on the internet can make this potential life-safety decision for you.

(If it were me, I'd see if I could isolate the components of the defrost circuit to see if there was repairable damage. But that's me. And it is likely a non-trivial project to do that.)

  • I think i understand your comments, and I now know that my elementary way of explaining a problem requires much more specificity. How do I "wiree up a refrigerator-only receptacle off the LINE side of the GFCI instead of the LOAD side? And as I type this and think about the question it sounds like I have to do something to the first, or origin, of the circuit. Said another way, go upstream to the GFCI receptacle and do something.
    – AT Spencer
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 22:23
  • Correct. Right now you have (based on the problem description): Power from the panel to GFCI "line side", then from the GFCI "load side" on to other receptacles, including this one. You would put both sets of wires onto the line side, though the way to do that is with pigtails, not literally putting both sets of wires on one set of screws. Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 22:35
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    Thanks again for your patience and instruction. Through words and my examination I now understand the functions of the GFCI outlet. Though I may have overlooked other posts and videos, I must admit that there was not the kind of information I was looking for to guide me in my project.
    – AT Spencer
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 21:51
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    In my case, I'm wanting to bypass the GFCI protection due to the DEFROST CYCLE of my refrigerator kicking on and tripping the GFCI. Therefore, I would disconnect the LOAD wires as well as the LINE wires on the back of the GFCI receptacle. Then I would create two pigtails (one white and one black) install one end of each into the LINE connection of the GFCI, pair them with the same color wires from the incoming wires from the power source and the same color wires that were previously connected to the LOAD connections.
    – AT Spencer
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 22:18
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    Wire nut them together and close the box and label the receptacles "NOT PROTECTED". At a later point in time that I don't want the refrigerator in my garage, I can go back and reverse what I did and have a GFCI protected circuit. -- See anything wrong with this, manasshkatz... ?
    – AT Spencer
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 22:18

To answer your direct question, the outlet itself is unlikely related to the tripping unless it's a bad outlet (already identified wiring issues notwithstanding).

Your breaker is tripping either for overload (I'm guessing it's a 15-A breaker), or for a ground fault if the breaker is a GFI breaker (going to assume it's not AFI - arc fault interrupter). If the overload is low (e.g, 16 A on a 15-A breaker), it can take a long time to trip (7 hours unlikely, though). Higher overloads trip faster.

Typically, motor startup/inrush (for something small like a fridge) does not last long enough to trip a breaker. If the breaker is old/weak, it might trip too soon. If the fridge compressor bogs down for long periods, the breaker may eventually trip. If the circuit has a lot of other load and the fridge pushes the load over the breaker's capacity, normal startup could cause a trip. Lots of possible scenarios for troubleshooting.

If you can find the compressor nameplate, a rating of LRA (Locked-Rotor Amps), "Starting Current", or "Max Current" or the like will give you an idea of the current draw as the compressor starts. You can compare that value to the breaker's rating (adding other loads that might contribute to the "peak" when the compressor starts).

  • I'm going to assume that when you say "breaker" you are referring to the dedicated switch in the main breaker box. If I am assuming correctly, that's not what is happening. The circuit I am referring to that trips is the GFCI receptacle upstream. Have I misunderstood your response?
    – AT Spencer
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 22:26
  • No, I misunderstood your original meaning of "non-GFC downstream outlet"; sorry! The theory in my answer is valid about breakers. Since the upstream GFI is tripping, there is either imbalance between the current out and the current back in at the GFI or the GFI itself is faulty.
    – pdtcaskey
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 9:56
  • When a motor starts, there is an imbalance in current as the rotor is magnetized. Normally not enough to trip a GFI, but again, if GFI has problems it's possible. You might try swapping the GFI...
    – pdtcaskey
    Commented Jun 10, 2020 at 10:06

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