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Need some advice on an electrical issue I'm having in my new condo.

My bathroom has a GFCI receptacle (similar to this one). I noticed one morning that the LED indicator was out, so I figured something tripped it. I had a hair dryer plugged in, so maybe it shorted out. No biggie, I'll just hit the reset button... but nothing happened. It would not reset! To make things worse the bathroom light and fan were also off. Not sure if it's common to wire these to the GFCI?

So next I went to check the breaker to see if something was tripped, but nothing was. Interestingly there was no specific breaker for the bathroom, so I went flicking breakers one by one. Eventually I discovered that the GFCI was on a "general wall plug" circuit. I toggled this breaker and the GFCI turned back on, along with the light and fan. Great problem solved. Well not exactly. Here's when things get a bit strange.

When turning on the bathroom light, I noticed some heavy flickering. A few minutes later the GFCI triggered. Light went off. Great. To made things worse the hard-wired fire alarm started chirping (indicates loss of power). So apparently now the fire alarm is also wired on the same circuit.

Anyways, I knew the drill now. Press the reset button, toggle the breaker, everything works. Alarm stops chirping.

Later in the evening I had the kitchen (recessed) lighting on, and I went to turn on the living room free-standing light. Guess what? GFCI trips and this light as well as the kitchen lighting went off, and the fire alarm starts chirping.

One more thing to note is that when the GFCI is "working", pressing test works (only bathroom light and fan are disrupted, not any other lights/sockets or fire alarm), and I am able to reset it just fine. It's only when it trips itself there are issues and I can't reset it without toggle the breaker.

So what is going on here? Why does the test button have a different downstream impact over it's "failure" state? Should replacing the GFCI solve the issue?

Any feedback is appreciated!

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    When you check the breaker, is it tripped? – Tester101 Oct 21 '15 at 11:09
  • Possibly two circuits with a shared neutral that is not well connected to the panel neutral. – user39367 Oct 21 '15 at 22:32
  • If it worked for years and then stopped working, try changing the GFI. If that does not work, get professional help. – Yehuda_NYC Dec 20 '15 at 18:11
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The GFCI device only protects part of the circuit, that's why there's a difference between the breaker tripping and the GFCI device tripping. When the GFCI is tripped, only the protected items lose power. When the breaker trips, the entire circuit; including the GFCI and protected devices, loses power.

It sounds like you may have a serious problem, that you might want to have a professional investigate.

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It's very likely that you have a loose connection in one of the fixtures. The GFCI will trip if it sees fluctuation on the neutral as compared to the hot leg, so it's likely that there's a loose wire nut on something connected to the load side of the GFCI.

It could also be that the GFCI itself isn't connected to line / load as securely as it should be.

You could take it out, and have a look at all of the connections on the load side of things (fan / light). Check to see that all connections are tight, no 'stringy' strands of copper coming from the stranded fixture conductors, etc.

This takes a bit of a trained eye to spot, so I'd recommend calling in an electrician to have a look. The GFCI itself might be fine, might not - as they are life-saving devices you should replace them if proper operation is ever seriously in question.

All in all you're looking at about 30 - 45 minutes of a qualified electrician's time to take a look, and a new receptacle.

While I know your condo is new, this type of problem can be a nightmare with older wiring. As you start taking fixtures down and checking to see if the connections are tight, old brittle insulation starts cracking, and all new problems start appearing. This type of problem is almost always best solved by an experienced electrician.

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