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I have a 12 year old GE Fridge in my garage that stopped freezing & cooling a few weeks ago. I diagnosed it as a bad relay and replaced it. Things ran normally for about 2 weeks and then one day I opened the fridge and discovered it was off and my GFI was tripped in the garage.

Now the GFI trips immediately when I plug in the fridge but if I disconnect the relay connection to the compressor and plug it in then it will stay on but this means I don't get any cooling and I'm basically back to where I started.

What could be wrong here? Bad compressor or what further diagnosis/troubleshooting can I do?

I'd like to also add that I ordered another relay thinking the initial one went bad and that didn't fix it. I also ordered a new capacitor for the relay but that didn't fix it either.

Model - GSH25JSXBSS

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    If you're really wanting to go down the rabbit hole, ask your friendly neighborhood HVAC tech to megger the fridge's compressor Feb 3, 2022 at 2:22
  • Won’t try to gelding winded but with tee compressor off I would check things like the crank case heater or the compressor defrost heater a part of the system that heats and can cause ground faults if it fails.
    – Ed Beal
    Feb 3, 2022 at 2:55

2 Answers 2

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That is, unfortunately, a classic problem with refrigerators and GFCIs. (many things with motors). When the motor cycles off, if it interrupts at certain parts of the AC cycle, a large inductive "kick" is generated across the - well gosh, across the control relay, actually. That kick will raise voltage until it finds a way to jump insulation and reach either neutral or ground. If it goes to ground, that's a ground fault. I suspect your original relay had features designed to deal with this, and your replacement relay does not.

I cannot recommend trying to "freestyle construct" some sort of snubbing circuit because AC works very differently than DC. I would focus on making sure the repair has been done to factory spec, as the factory (obviously) had an answer to this problem.

Hold on though. Is the motor actually intact? What if the motor failed, and that took out the relay? I would plug this into a non-GFCI outlet and make sure the fridge works normally, before putting any more time into it. If the motor has a problem, that is 100% unrepairable and enjoy your new fridge.

Is GFCI protection even appropriate?

GFCIs are not an arbitrary requirement. They are required for very good reasons, and those reasons are a complete misfit for what a (properly grounded) refrigerator is. You won't be waving it around in the yard and cut its own cord with it, and you aren't likely to drop it in the sink. As such, GFCI protection isn't even required on refrigerators in kitchens, because food safety is more important.

However, in garages and basements, this collides head-on with recent requirements for GFCI in those locations. Make sure the fridge is properly grounded, then do your best to remove the refrigerator from GFCI protection.

If the circuit was built under an NEC edition that requires GFCI there, go to the building inspector and ask for a waiver for a non-GFCI outlet at the fridge for the fridge ONLY. If you used a GFCI outlet at the front of the circuit, you can get this by putting GFCI outlets at every outlet before the fridge and not using the Load terminals. And a GFCI outlet at the first outlet after the fridge (and do use Load normally there).

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If you are grandfathered under old rules and and you optionally installed the GFCI for safety, remove it at once! And then do the above - use GFCI outlets without use of Load terminals to place GFCI protection on all the outlets except the fridge.

If you cannot escape the GFCI requirement, then still do all the above tricks with multiple GFCI receptacles, to the goal of isolating the fridge so no other garage tool can trip the fridge's GFCI. Now, plug in an isolation transformer and plug the fridge into that. As long as the isolation transformer doesn't trip the GFCI, the fridge won't. Since the fridge's hot-neutral are totally isolated, the fridge can't hurt anyone. Best of all worlds, and done with listed COTS products that insurance will stand behind. (unlike electronics hacks).

Should you still be running a 12-year-old fridge?

Efficiency has gotten leaps and bounds better. I would plug the refrigerator into a "Kill-a-Watt" home energy monitor and let it go for a few days. Then read out of the Kill-a-Watt the total hours of runtime, and the total KWH used. Divide KWH by hours and get average watts.

A new fridge will average 30-45 watts. If yours is significantly higher, you can crunch some numbers about whether it's cheaper to replace it, or spend the $ on electricity.

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This is too long , and maybe also too important for a comment to Harper's answer:

Maybe there is a big difference in the statistics, but in Europe the most important/most frequent cases where a GFCI/RCD is saving lives and/or damages to the health (and also to property) is by preventing big fires.

F.e., the insurers say that most domestic fires start in kitchens (though by freezers relatively seldom) - the Greenfell Tower fire in London with ca. 70 deaths and dozens of destroyed apartments has been caused by a fridge-freezer.

A refrigerator should always be fed through an GFCI, since a fire in a fridge is most likely started by electric energy.

That energyflow will be interrupted by a GFCI as soon as the burnt cable isolation or a thin soot layer on the clearance surfaces will enable/increase current to the ground above the threshold. The weakened/destroyed insulation in combination with heat increases the ground current right at the start of the fire, which will cut the electric power most likely early enough to avoid a catastrophe.

Dangers/deaths by electrocution is statistically less relevant in the context of GFCIs.

This thread reveals once more the important consequences in locations, where 5mA-GFCIs are mandatory, but 5mA-and only 5mA- GFCIs are allowed. From the opening post, it is not clear if the refrigerator is in a 5mA-only-and-no-higher-value- location, but the situation and reactions are typical.

Its about locations, where no higher ground currents are permitted. Most likely, the optimal compromise is towards higher thresholds, which is realized in the big majority of all locations/countries on this planet, f.e. 30mA@230V.

Harper's answer does exactly reflect the problem: if 5mA is too sensitive, most people will decide or even recommend to use no GFCI at all - instead of using a 10 or 20mA GFCI (which is most probably not allowed thus not offered in that location) - or instead of buying more GFCI outlets to decrease the thus separated ground currents.

An isolation transformer will not at all help to fulfill the main GFCI- task - which is to prevent big fires.

This 5mA- or-nothing- policy is dangerous, it is somehow against its very own intentions - it can be back- firing, if users do not use or do bridge or eliminate an installed GFCI.

As for using a 12 years old fridge, it is a good idea to measure it's energy consumption - a replacement is not necessarily saving money or energy.

If there is enough space, some additional insulation can be attached to the sides thus reducing noise and energy consumption. That material has to comply with local rules and codes, thus simple polystyrene foam boards won't be allowed in many places, if a fire barrier like a metal coating is missing. (Thanks for this hint from the comments)

To check the doors' sealings, it helps to put a strong battery light into each compartment and to see where light is coming out if the door is closed. The place should be pitch dark.

Edit As additional remarks and answer to comments: At least in Europe, the priority with GFCIs/RCDs (there seems to be no difference in the intended meaning of both terminus technicus) is always to save lives - and avoiding fire can save lives, see the Greenfell fire.

But there seem to be different scientific examinations and interpretations, which threshold to choose.

In Europe, the related diagrams show that significant danger for live is assumed to start above 40mA.

It seems there are no data showing or indicating that 30mA is too high. Cases where deadly accidents with those 30mA-GFCIs would have been avoided with lower values are difficult if not impossible to find.

Another point is, that the time factor plays a big role, as it does with circuit breakers. A 5mA GFCI does not mean, the maximal ground current (through a human body) is limited to 5mA.

A solution would be a sealed/disabled switch at the GFCI, which is only enabled after n real trippings (excluding test button trippings) and decreases the sensitivity to f.e. 10mA or 7.5mA or what is found to be most efficient in that compromise in order to avoid by-passing or removing that GFCI - simply as it is much more work and inconvenient compared to toggle the enabled switch.

If a reader has statistics or documents which show the advantage of 5mA@120V instead of 10mA@120V, it would be appreciated.

10mA@120V equals 20mA@240V, which is still lower then 30mA@240V, but the human body's resistance is far from being linear.

About food safety: Are there statistics about harmful unnoticed power disruptions in refrigerators/freezers causing deaths or health issues? It would be very simple and inexpensive to add an indicator in each fridge during manufacturing, but there seems to be no jurisdiction where this indicator is mandatory for household refrigerators - in the professional food industry the HACCP strategy is well established, so devices for upgrading refrigerators shouldn't be very expensive.

F.e., there are simple test stripes which change the color permanently if they are exposed to a certain temperature above a threshold.

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  • Based on model # (and other hints too, but model # confirms it), this is in the US/Canada. You do hit on a fundamental issue: while RCD and GFCI are essentially the same technology, the values chosen are for fire prevention (RCD) vs. life safety (GFCI). 30ma is too high to provide reasonably complete life protection (though it certainly helps a lot) but is high enough to avoid lots of nuisance trips (old refrigerators). 5ma provides a high degree of life safety but with enough complications that, for practical reasons, it isn't installed "everywhere". Short of actual known problems, Feb 3, 2022 at 14:06
  • the "don't put refrigerator on GFCI" advice is based on a series of "maybes" - "maybe" there will be a GFCI trip + maybe it will go unnoticed for too long. There are mitigation strategies available - e.g., monitoring temperature and alarming if it goes too high, but no solution is perfect. A similar situation is central fire/smoke alarms systems - they are exempt from AFCI/GFCI specifically to avoid a nuisance trip of AFCI/GFCI causing a real fire to go unnoticed. Feb 3, 2022 at 14:09
  • You can't have exposed polystyrene foam in the US; when it burns it releases noxious fumes, so it must be behind a 15-minute fire barrier in any living space. Even in utility-only spaces, a barrier (albeit lesser) is required. Not to mention gluing packing-grade foam to the side of your refrigerator is going to look butt-ugly and potentially leave permanent residue on the sides of your fridge when you realize, 1 day later, that you've made a horrible mistake, aesthetically.
    – TylerH
    Feb 4, 2022 at 15:05

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