The kitchen at the house that I rent is wired funky: the fridge receptacle does't have a GFCI button, but it's on the same circuit as a countertop receptacle that does have a GFCI button, so that button controls both receptacles.

Recently, my (5 year old) refrigerator started tripping the GFCI. I called a repairman; he tells me that

  1. The compressor is shorting out and I need a new one.
  2. GFCI circuits ruin refrigerator compressors over time and I shouldn't plug the refrigerator into that circuit.

Does this sound right? I've seen a number of posts here discussing about how it is not necessary to plug a fridge into a GFCI circuit; I have yet to see someone say "Don't plug a fridge into a GFCI circuit unless you want to ruin it". Seems like the sort of thing that would be quite well known if it was as true as this guy claims it is?


3 Answers 3


GFCIs don't kill refrigerators. A certain percentage of refrigerators will develop leakage currents over time whether they are plugged into a GFCI protected circuit or not.

All of the refrigerators with this defect that are plugged into GFCI protected circuits will eventually start tripping the GFCI, but the ones that are not on protected circuits will show no sign of trouble -- possibly for many years -- until they either give you a nasty tingle or fail to a dead short and blow the breaker.

So to a refrigerator repairman, it seems like most of the refrigerators with "compressors shorting out" are plugged into GFCI circuits because those are the ones that give an early warning of leakage current and are amenable to repair before total failure. As JimmyJames points out in comments, I'm suggesting that the repairman's belief is an example of "survivorship bias".

In the best of all worlds, a refrigerator should be on its own GFCI outlet so that nuisance trips from other outlets will not cause the refrigerator to lose power.

  • So to a refrigerator repairman, it seems like, or in other words, correlation is not causation Aug 3, 2021 at 20:45
  • 2
    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact Yes but it seems more like a survivorship bias argument is being made here.
    – JimmyJames
    Aug 3, 2021 at 21:09
  • In Canada. It's code to be on a dedicated circuit
    – Mark
    Aug 3, 2021 at 23:24
  • 2
    This is why whenever a trades person says they never/always see issues out of a particular brand you should internally ask yourself what proportion of the neighborhood has that vs the competing brand. In other words if they say 80% of their calls are for XYZ brand, it could very well be that 80% of the service area has XYZ brand and it's just as good as some less popular (seemingly more reliable) model. Aug 4, 2021 at 13:00

He's right about the GFCI ruining it only if they trip often and you reset it without pause; it could re-start a hot compressor, which is bad for it. The same as with a window AC unit it says "wait 5 mins before restarting".

Aside from that, an GFCI/RCD outlet is a rather plain outlet, either on or off, nothing special about the electricity that comes out of it.

I don't know that a tripping GFCI is a sure-fire sign the compressor is failing. I also don't know what he meant by "shorting out" either. GFCI's don't protect against over loading the circuit, circuit breakers do, but that's not your issue.

I would get a 2nd opinion from someone more articulate.

  • 2
    A GFCI is important near the kitchen sink because the sink is a good ground increasing the shock hazard. You are unlikely to touch the sink and refrigerator at the same time. In many houses, it will be physically impossible. A large appliance such as a refrigerator is more likely to cause nuisance trips, which will spoil your food if you aren't around to reset it.
    – Mattman944
    Aug 3, 2021 at 14:10
  • 2
    The repairman is confused about why you don't want to put a refrigerator on a GFI. Refrigerators are known to trip GFI receptacles. Clothes washing machines can too. The standard solution is to run a separate circuit with no GFI to a single outlet behind the refrigerator. See this question for more: diy.stackexchange.com/questions/185451/…
    – David42
    Aug 3, 2021 at 15:28
  • @Mattman944, I'd have to question your statement about "You are unlikely to touch the sink and refrigerator at the same time...." I've lived in and visited several places/homes where the fridge was right next to the sink. Sure, in my current house, the fridge is too far from the sink to touch, but I don't think there's any kind of statistical or other real data we can get from building plans, other than what people prefer for a floor plan. With as many fridges next to sinks I've seen, I doubt there's any kind of related Code. Also, the GFCI is to protect touching the outlet, not the appliance. Aug 4, 2021 at 16:47
  • A kitchen sink is no better of a ground than any appliance with a grounded metal enclosure, such as fridge/stove/dishwasher. The nexus between GFCI's and sinks is bogus.
    – kreemoweet
    Jan 20 at 14:16

The only issue I can think of is very old refrigerators that will allow you start the compressor immediately after it is stopped. Most, if not all, new refrigerators have protection circuits/devices that prevent restarting the compressor without a delay since last being stopped.
It is not the GFCI outlet or breaker itself that damages appliances. If it trips without an actual ground fault, it needs to be replaced. Old GFCI receptacles from the 1980s have two issues that have since been addressed.

  1. They would trip at high current even if there was no ground fault.
  2. They will not trip for an extremely low current ground fault.
    Your skin is not an insulator, but a poor conductor (high resistance.) The current must get past the skin to get to the low resistance bodily fluids. Very high resistance results in very low current (but still higher current than the brain's electrical impulses.) Modern GFCI's will trip at 4 - 6 mA. In other words, your body will not trip an old GFCI device, but it will trip a new one almost instantly.
  • A little formatting and a few line breaks never hurt anybody.
    – FreeMan
    Mar 30, 2022 at 13:02
  • Thank you. I actually know that, but sometimes combine what should be separate paragraphs anyway. I try not to make it too long. It's the nature of my profession (electrician/electronic repair tech,) Now I just do service and installations. I get into mounting equipment to walls or ceilings, which has led me to always abide by my motto, which is "Overkill is always sufficient." (If I install it, it will remain until the building collapses around it.)
    – user148424
    Jan 20 at 8:35

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