11

My refrigerator is tripping the GFCI on the socket into which it is plugged. Searching about this topic seems to indicate that this is a reasonably common complaint. However, I can't find any concrete information about general causes or potential solutions other than suggestions to replace everything and hope for the best; this seems unsatisfying.

This is a new fridge and all new electrical work by licensed professionals. I believe that the electrical is installed correctly and grounded, and that there is no damage to the fridge. I believe this is a dedicated circuit from the breaker panel to the outlet for the fridge. Nothing else is on this circuit and nothing else is plugged into the other socket. Low humidity. Kitchen installation. No water, no ice-maker. This has never happened before, but now it trips the GFCI immediately after reset.

I've done the following things:

  • Reset the GFCI, then re-plugged the fridge; GFCI tripped again.
  • Plugged other things (alone) into the fridge's GFCI outlet: they work fine and GFCI does not trip.
  • Plugged refrigerator into other GFCI-protected outlet with nothing else on it; this GFCI outlet also tripped.
  • Plugged refrigerator into other non-GFCI outlet; works and doesn't trip the breaker.
  • Tested the socket wiring (using 3-lamp receptacle tester) -- it's correct.
  • Measured resistance between prongs on the refrigerator's electrical cord; ~300 kOhms between hot and neutral; no continuity to ground from either. This all seems reasonable.

EDIT: per comment below, I should also note that I called the service line for the manufacturer: they said only that, if the appliance works when plugged into a non-GFCI outlet, that there's nothing more they can do.

To me, this seems to suggest the fridge is broken -- but it's brand new! Why would my fridge be tripping the GFCI? Is this to be expected for a refrigerator? Should I just plug it into non-GFCI and ignore it "like any normal person"? ;-)

Several other questions on this site suggest solutions for other GFCI issues, but I don't see any about refrigerators and GFCI. This answer seems to suggest that refrigerators shouldn't be on GFCI in the first place. However, my electrician said it's now code to have refrigerator's on GFCI (at least locally), but there seems to be disagreement about The Rules.

Other discussions quickly devolve to inaccurate and imprecise citing of NEC, or straying from erudite matters:

  • This one that suggests it's common for older refrigerators;
  • This one that suggests certain components of the fridge that could be causing it.

Other topics about humidity, garages, other stuff, wiring, etc. don't seem to apply here.

  • Try calling the appliance manufacturer. – ben rudgers Nov 21 '14 at 13:56
  • 1
    @benrudgers - Already did that (should have mentioned). Mfgr service people simply said to plug it into non-GFCI outlet. That situation does not meet local code, and I have no non-GFCI outlets in the area. I'm looking for any other explanation for cause, and/or any other alternatives to replacing new work or new appliances... Is it really possible that current imbalance (of the ilk that could trip GFCI) should be expected? – hoc_age Nov 21 '14 at 14:07
  • 2
  • 1
    NEC allows this to be on a dedicated non-gfci circuit. (normal people pass inspection and then do what makes more sense) – Mazura Nov 21 '14 at 15:34
  • 1
    Required watching: The Money Pit – Mazura Nov 21 '14 at 17:59

10 Answers 10

11

Residential Kitchen

In a dwelling unit (residential), GFCI protection is only required for kitchen receptacles that serve the countertop surfaces. There's no requirement to GFCI protect receptacles that serve a refrigerator. Unless the fridge is plugged into a countertop receptacle.

National Electrical Code 2014

Chapter 2 Wiring and Protection

Article 210 Branch Circuits

I. General Provisions

210.8 Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupter Protection for Personnel. Ground-fault circuit-interrupter protection for personnel shall be provided as required in 210.8(A) through (C). The ground-fault circuit-interrupter shall be installed in a readily accessible location.

(A) Dwelling Units. All 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles installed in the locations specified in 210.8(A)(1) through (10) shall have ground-fault circuit interrupter protection for personnel.

(6) Kitchens— where the receptacles are installed to serve the countertop surfaces.

Garages, Unfinished Basement, and Other Locations

If the refrigerator is in a garage, boathouse, or unfinished basement. All the receptacles are required to be GFCI protected, so the fridge will have to be plugged into a GFCI protected receptacle.


Why does the fridge trip the GFCI?

Any inductive load when switched off, can produce electromagnetic interference (EMI). This interference can, and often does, trip GFCI devices. Most vapor compression refrigerators have a few inductive loads, any of which could cause the trip.

Is there anything that can be done?

There are devices called snubbers that can be used to reduce, or eliminate the effects of EMI. Installing one between the fridge and the GFCI device, could prevent nuisance trips. The best solution though, is to connect the fridge to a non-GFCI protected circuit.

If that's all it takes, why isn't there already one built in?

While most (all) manufacturers are aware that refrigerators can cause nuisance tripping of GFCI devices, most (none) seem willing to provide a solution. It would be complete speculation for me to try and tell you why they don't care, so of course I'll go through a few possibilities.

  • Cost.
    Plain and simple, it costs money to implement a solution.
  • Warranties and Operating Conditions.
    Most refrigerators are designed to operate in a kitchen. Running them in dusty, dirty garages and basements could lead to more warranty covered repairs.
  • The exception was there, so you didn't have to GFCI protect the receptacle you plugged the garage door opener into. Turns out a bunch of people found that receptacle was also useful for plugging in those retractable extension cords. When the NEC caught on, they removed the exception. – Tester101 Nov 22 '14 at 2:23
  • The Right Answer seems to be just take the GFCI out of the picture. Thanks for the information and multi-faceted response. I still don't understand how this had worked for months (maybe the GFCI circuit "got tired"?), but that's another matter. I found the Code at resource.org, but I like your formatting better :) – hoc_age Nov 24 '14 at 12:39
  • 2
    @hoc_age It's more like that the fridge got "tired", or more accurately "sloppy". Motors are mechanical, as well as electrical. Which means they can be affected by dirt, grease, and grime. Their mechanical operation can have a direct impact on their electrical operation, which is likely why things changed over time. – Tester101 Nov 24 '14 at 13:18
  • @Tester101 - I hadn't considered the fridge change angle. It has indeed been "months," but "only months" -- not a long time considering [my expectation of] the expected life of the appliance. It hasn't accumulated much grime, but perhaps just enough burn-in to make the difference. I guess the GFCI situation should just be "more expected" than I had thought. Thanks again. – hoc_age Nov 24 '14 at 14:24
  • 1
    I've seen you mention snubbers in a couple of different answers -- the only ones I've been able to find are standalone components that seemingly have to be installed by an electrician somewhere in the circuit; are there standalone/consumer-packaged ones? – jhfrontz Jul 10 '17 at 14:49
2

Is the GFCI breaker in the outlet the fridge plugs into or is it a GFCI breaker in the breaker box? If its an outlet and you really want GFCI, you could try replacing the breaker in the box with a GFCI one and removing the on in the outlet. Or, like others have suggested, if this is a dedicated circuit to just the fridge and its in in the kitchen, just remove the GFCI breaker altogether.

2

I have a similar experience to share, with a workaround.

We got a new fridge for the house, and the old one was promoted to a garage fridge. In the house it had been working fine for a dozen years or longer, but it would trip any (code mandated) GFCI outlets in the garage. The trip occurred the instant anything but the lights were turned on. These were multiple circuits that work for other appliances, etc... To be sure it wasn't the GFCI, I connected the brand new fridge to the same circuits without issue.

I started checking the various components on the old fridge, plug ground continuity to fridge body, compressor checked out (no shorts), capacitor checked out (resistance + voltage testing), etc... As I was starting to search for replacement fridges, I came across something indicating icemaker or defrost heater can cause ground faults. I unplugged both devices from inside the freezer compartment, fired it up and it worked! Powering off and adding back in the defrost heater caused it to trip immediately again.

For now, I am leaving the auto-defrost disabled, and will explore troubleshooting options from here. At the end of the day, even having to manually defrost the evaporator, I am happy to not have to shell out for a replacement fridge. The short will likely be in the heating element itself or some related wiring...

1

I had this issue with the fridge in my garage--when we first turned it on, it would trip the GFCI every 10 hours or so. I replaced the defrost timer, and the problem continued. I Googled and found lots of people having the same problem, but no viable solutions. Then I thought about how "a full cooler is a cold cooler", and that the fridge would be working extra hard to cool an empty space. I had a 24 pack of Gatorades from Costco, threw that in the fridge, and voila. It's been 3 weeks now and the GFCI hasn't tripped since. I'm sure this won't be the solution for everyone, but it is certainly an easy thing to try.

  • This sounds like a complete coincidence to me. The "empty space" concern is mostly a fallacy, and the refrigerator doesn't "work harder" to cool air than to cool liquid. – isherwood Sep 7 '16 at 15:01
  • @isherwood Correct that is does not "work harder" (in steady state), but the change can potentially make a difference here. Air has very little heat capacity compared to items in the fridge, so by adding things to the fridge it will likely be on/off cycle the compressor less often than if it were empty. – Nick Whaley Jun 5 at 18:18
1

Regular Circuit Breakers trip when maximum current for the circuit is exceeded. This protects against the circuit overheating and causing a fire, but doesn't protect against shocks to people in all conditions.

A GFCI outlet trips when the outgoing and returning current differs. The only way for the outgoing and returning current to be less is if the current is being drawn off the circuit to ground, which a human receiving a shock is exactly that. Thus Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).

But, some high power complicated equipment, like refrigerators, can absorb enough current for a short period to create a difference in the outgoing and returning current at the GFCI and thus trip it. Someone mentioned it already, refrigerators are inductive loads, meaning current is being absorbed and generated out of phase with the AC current.

Sump Pump motors are know to trip GFCI as well, but code or installers sometimes insist a Sump Pump be on a GFCI for safety, which could cause a flooded basement if the sump trips the GFCI.

1

I had the same issue with my fridge in the garage. In the summer when it got hot, the GFCI would trip. Now in the winter it's cold and it does the same thing. Plug it into a non-GFCI and it works fine. I guess the answer is plug it into a non-GFCI outlet.

1

I've run into this. Older manual defrost freezers and fridges never tripped my GFCI outlets, but the newer one with self defrosting setup always did. I created a dedicated outlet that's non GFCI. More recently, the garage door opener also began to trip it, especially in cold weather. Wired it up also Non-GFCI but hard wired so not violating the code. Not sure if my freezer outlet is but I raised it out of reach to discourage useage.

0

You may have found your answer by now but wanted to make a note that I had this same problem with my brand new frig, would trip the GFCI, which by the way is not suppose to be hooked up to the plug for the refrigerator I found out. It was causing it to go off every 7 or 8 hours, contacted the appliance company and they told me it will trip the GFCI plug when the frig goes into the defrost cycle. When I had my electrician come out and correct the plug he confirmed this to be true and stated that plug should not have been tied into the GFCI circuit. So basically there is nothing wrong with your frig, just cannot be plugged into a GFCI outlet.

0

I encountered this issue twice, when I was putting used refrigerator in my garage, with a GFI outlet. In the 1st instance, it was a really old refrigerator that really did have a ground leakage issue that precluded it from being used with a GFI outlet. In the 2nd case, I wanted to try the newer (14 years old) refrigerator out, before I took the existing refrigerator out of service. I originally used an extension cord, (medium duty) between the refrigerator and the GFI outlet. Every time I tried to power up the new refrigerator, it would trip the GFI protection. However, the same refrigerator, plugged directly into the GFI outlet, did not trip the GFI protection. Evidently the added resistance/inductance of the extension cord, added enough of a power variation, to trip the GFI protection.

-1

Just put a regular receptacle in. The gfci just stops it from tripling the vreaker that has only so many times to trip. Remove this and if the wiring is correct (sizing and all) it should be fine. It is code to run the refrigerator on a dedicaded circuit as stated above but i have a deep freeze hooked in my garage but i dont have alot of stuff running at once keeping my amps down. Ive ran a pellet grill, fan, blower, and the freezer all at once no problem but my freezer is plugged into a reciptical not a gfci. My gfci is daisy chained (connected) to two other reciptiacles with it being closest to the breaker to stop the overcurrent from tripping the breaker. In newer houses though everything with be afci breakers so you will still have to accesss your panel to reset.

protected by Harper Aug 11 '18 at 23:47

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.