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I have a house with a Square D QO Load center breaker box, circa 1973.

Over the years there's been some remodeling done and some circuits added. Everything was done to whatever code was in effect at the time.

What I have now is the following - every breaker in the panel is 20A (and yes all of the electrical wiring in the house is 12ga) except for 2 that are going to the most recent remodel bit which is a finished basement bedroom (those are 15A)

At some point the garage breaker was replaced with a Square D "yellow test button" GFCI breaker most likely because a prior owner moved the washer and dryer from an upstairs closet (which obviously housed a stacked unit) to the garage. I am not unhappy with this as I prefer standard appliances not weird small stacked stuff that had super expensive repair parts. In addition to the washer and dryer there is a refrigerator on the garage circuit along with an APC UPS that feeds networking gear used for the internet connection and wifi in the house.

The two 15a breakers going to the basement bedroom are "green test button" AFCI breakers

All other breakers are standard breakers.

The only other 2 GFCI outlets in the home are in the kitchen next to the sink.

This is a vacation house in a resort community and we rent it out. We visit it at least once a month. When we were out there last week I discovered one of the GFCI outlets had failed, and a secondary outlet that comes off that outlet was also dead. (mechanical failure of the test button causing the outlet to be dead)

I was unable to find a new replacement GFCI outlet of the correct color and amperage for what passes for hardware stores there. And after driving 30 minutes to the closest Home Depot I discover they are out of stock as well. This kind of thing is not uncommon out there and it is typical that I have to buy parts in advance from the city I live in before visiting. So I replaced the outlet with a standard outlet.

Now I am trying to decide how best to repair this setup. The first obvious answer is to replace the outlet with a GFCI. But I really dislike that because my experience with GFCI outlets is that they are cheaply made mass-market devices that sometimes nuisance trip, and they introduce additional mechanical failure points.

The next obvious answer is to replace the breaker with the outlet is on with a modern GFCI/AFCI combo breaker (purple test button). My concern with that, however, is that the kitchen refrigerator is on that circuit, as well as a natural gas range. There is also a microwave oven but that is on a separate circuit, as is a dishwasher. The advantage of leaving the breaker as is, is that if the GFCI in the wall triggers it won't kill the power to the refrigerator and range.

I'm also wondering if I should take the opportunity to while at the same time as replacing that breaker I would replace the existing "yellow test button" breaker with a combo "purple button" breaker. It has nuisance tripped on me a few times during power outages (for whatever reason the utility - Pacific Power - seems to really have terrible power quality on recovery from power outages) however it is feeding garage outlets that have motors on them (refrigerator compressor, washer/dryer, hand drill, weed wacker and a couple of other 1/4hp inductive motors that run a bench grinder and buffing wheel.)

And yes I have read all of the propaganda that the breaker companies have fixed all of the problems with nuisance tripping but it is very difficult to find testimonials and field feedback that are current. That's really what I'm asking about.

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  • You might want to consider a main panel connected surge suppressor and/or surge capacitor as a possible mitigation for some of the power restoration garbage. Won't fix everything, but it might help, typically for under $100. – Ecnerwal Nov 20 '20 at 14:50
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    That is a great idea! I did not realize until after reading your post here that they had gotten so cheap but it looks as though I can buy a QO 22.5 kA 2-Pole Surgebreaker Surge Protective Device for under $50 that will go into the panel. Since one of the first things that I did was replace the range with a gas range, I now have an unused 50A 220v line. I could pull the 50A breaker out of that slot and replace it with this. – Ted Mittelstaedt Nov 20 '20 at 16:26
  • Economies of scale. Rather than being a boutique product, they are now mandatory in ALL new panels as of NEC 2020. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 20 '20 at 20:04
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This is a vacation house in a resort community and we rent it out. We visit it at least once a month.

FYI that means you can't do your own electrical work and must hire an electrician, in nearly all jurisdictions. Many will allow "trivial" work to be done by landlord or tenant, such as swapping receptacles or switches for aesthetic/GFCI reasons, or changing light fixtures. (although this forum is thick with cases where those tasks were not trivial at all, lol!)

I was unable to find a new replacement GFCI outlet of the correct color and amperage

For amperage, 15A receps are fine on 20A circuits as long as there are 2 or more sockets on the circuit. NEC 210.21(B).

This is notched into Code for precisely this reason - to reduce the SKUs a store or electrician must carry. You only need a 20A recep if you have an appliance with sideways neutral, which means it's too big to use a 15A circuit. We're talking BIG microwaves or really old window A/C's. For a tenant, tough beans.

for what passes for hardware stores there. And after driving 30 minutes to the closest Home Depot I discover they are out of stock as well. This kind of thing is not uncommon out there and it is typical that I have to buy parts in advance from the city I live in before visiting. So I replaced the outlet with a standard outlet.

Wow. Well, avoid the daylights out of amazon.com. It's thick with counterfeits.

Downgrading the protection means you absorb all the liability if an injury occurs. Your insurer will probably even back out on those grounds.

Now I am trying to decide how best to repair this setup. The first obvious answer is to replace the outlet with a GFCI. But I really dislike that because my experience with GFCI outlets is that they are cheaply made mass-market devices that sometimes nuisance trip, and they introduce additional mechanical failure points.

Well, aside from the blatant counterfeits on Amazon, you generally have 2 tiers: "builder grade" and "Spec grade". Builder grade is for when it only has to work until you clear escrow :) Spec grade are for when it's your building and you'll be responsible for total life-cycle costs.

You can guess which one we like around here.

A GFCI recep has exactly the same failure points as a GFCI breaker. Point for the breaker, they tend to be made by Tier 1 manufacturers like Schneider, GE, Siemens. Point against them, the breaker is a rather small package, especially a 3/4" wide QO.

I have a "QO" GFCI breaker I am ripping out, because the darn thing won't tell me if it was a GFCI or overcurrent trip. (the newest ones can, but their UI is very, very balky). For half again the price of anyone else's breaker they oughta be able to afford a 1 cent LED.

The advantage of leaving the breaker as is, is that if the GFCI in the wall triggers it won't kill the power to the refrigerator and range.

Yup, exactly. You should do everything in your power to keep refrigerators off of GFCI and AFCI. I'm a huge fan of EMT metal conduit, which basically moots AFCI; and grounded fridges do not benefit from GFCI in any way. That's a tough sell for a fridge in a garage or basement because all receps there are required to be GFCI, but your AHJ is able to grant a variance for a dedicated 1-socket/simplex "Fridge only" outlet.

If it's a dedicated circuit for the fridge, that's ideal; however if a circuit has only one socket, socket and breaker must match.

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  • "FYI that means you can't do your own electrical work and must hire an electrician, in nearly all jurisdictions." Trivial repairs are permitted (replace like with like) in this jurisdiction. Interestingly, the city ordinance does not allow VR if owner electrical had been done in the prior 6 months. So basically what that means is if a VR owner wants to do some major wiring themselves, they have to stop renting it, do their wiring, then wait 6 months then they can start renting it again. Code IS different for long term rentals, though. – Ted Mittelstaedt Nov 21 '20 at 5:13
  • Well, avoid the daylights out of amazon.com. It's thick with counterfeits." The fact is that AZ is -more expensive- than Home Depot for breakers or any power products that I have looked at so I'm not sure what the draw is of buying power products from AZ is. The cheapest for the breaker, part QO120DFC on Amazon is $54 - while Lowes has it -on-the-shelf- for $51. "You should do everything in your power to keep refrigerators off of GFCI and AFCI" Not according to Square D, I called their support line on this today. In fact my garage fridge HAS NEVER tripped the garage GFCI breaker. – Ted Mittelstaedt Nov 21 '20 at 5:22
  • "For half again the price of anyone else's breaker they oughta be able to afford a 1 cent LED." That's crazy talk! You miss out on selling the customer an entirely new panel with all new breakers! What's wrong with you??? :-) – Ted Mittelstaedt Nov 21 '20 at 5:28
  • Interesting about vacation rental rules @TedMittelstaedt. Yeah, mail order just doesn't make sense with electrical gear since most of it is low-value and heavy. However Amazon/eBay is cheaper when the items are counterfeit, we had a question yesterday about a QA problem with $8 GFCIs. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 22 '20 at 0:12
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Based on what I've read here from the electricians, I believe you'd be best served by replacing the GFCI outlet with a new GFCI outlet and not putting a GFCI breaker on a circuit that serves the refrigerator. If you get a nuisance trip on that breaker, your fridge is now without power and any food in it begins the long, slow trip to spoilage. Sure the fridge will keep food cold for 24 hours or so w/o power, but you don't know what your renters will do, so better safe than sorry.

If you're concerned with "cheaply made mass-market devices", then spend a few extra dollars on a "commercial grade" or even "industrial grade" device. Do some research and find a brand and model that is highly rated. Or, accept that an electronic device will fail every 5-10 years (how long did your last cell phone last you?) and that they will need to be replaced. Bear in mind that they do, generally, improve in quality and capability while price, generally, decreases over time, so the next one you have to buy will be better and, likely, cheaper than this one.

I agree that trips on a power restoration are a nuisance. Even if power outages are reasonably common, since that's on the power company, there's not a lot you can do about it, so personally, I'd toss that into the "annoying but lump it" pile.

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  • The fridge on that breaker is in the renters space - which means that any food in it is thrown in the garbage (or taken home) by the housekeepers in between stays. (they are very strict on that) If there was a nuisance trip on that circuit and the renter didn't feel comfortable resetting it they could call the property manager. The truth is I was a bit surprised to find the failed GFCI outlet hadn't been reported although guests are notoriously poor at reporting something broken. (I think they figure the housekeepers must test out everything in the house in between stays...LOL) – Ted Mittelstaedt Nov 20 '20 at 16:42
  • From what I've read @TedMittelstaedt, you'll end up with even more nuisance trips of a GFCI breaker with a fridge on it than you're having now. – FreeMan Nov 20 '20 at 16:49
  • That's why I posted the question in the first place. Unfortunately, nobody (except for myself) has posted their direct experience. – Ted Mittelstaedt Nov 20 '20 at 16:57
  • Actually I think that I'm going to go with the combo breaker. The catalyst was your suggestion to research good GFCI outlets so I started reading reviews on the different models and manufacturers out there - unbelievably awful for all of them, even the ones electricians "like." 5-10 year lifespan is normal, apparently. The garage fridge has not caused a nuisance trip on the GFCI breaker it's on and apparently code is now requiring CFGI or AFCI breakers on -new- panels so the GFCI outlets are ultimately headed into oblivion. If it doesn't work out I can always switch back to the outlet GFCI. – Ted Mittelstaedt Nov 20 '20 at 17:10
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    Just got off the phone with Schneider/Square D asking about breaker part# QO120DFC - they said the current model does not nuisance trip on refrigerators (older models did) - so we'll have to see! Check back on SE a few months from now and I'll post a followup. – Ted Mittelstaedt Nov 20 '20 at 20:10

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