Ground fault interrupters, or GFIs for short, are incredibly valuable, affordable, and integral safety devices that make using electricity around water a much more reliable experience. These devices constantly monitor the flow of current, tripping and shutting off if they detect an unexpected spike in current that is consistent with a ground fault. A ground fault could be extremely dangerous or even lethal, and that means these devices can literally save your life in the event of an unexpected short.
However, they can also be pretty annoying if they keep shutting off on you when you try to use them. Why do they keep tripping unexpectedly and unnecessarily? What can you do to stop this annoying problem? Here are three reasons your GFI trips frequently and what you can do to fix the issue.
Your GFI Is Worn Out
Plain and simple, GFIs do not last forever. In fact, they really only last about 10 years at the most before they simply don’t work how they need to in order to provide optimal protection. Most people do not change GFCI outlets after this mark, so there’s a good chance that an older outlet may not provide you with the protection you need. In some cases, a worn-out GFI won’t trip at all, leaving you vulnerable to a dangerous ground fault. However, in other situations, the GFI might trip far too quickly, including tripping with only a low amount of current flow or even no current flow at all.
The easiest way to fix this problem is simply to replace your GFI outlet. This is an extremely easy project that anyone can do in just a few minutes with basic hand tools and the ability to shut off the power to the impacted circuit (turn off the breaker at your electrical panel). GFI outlets are available from home improvement warehouses and electrical supply stores and generally don’t cost any more than around $20.
Too Much Current Is Flowing
A GFI tripping might not be a sign that the outlet has worn out, but rather that you have a different problem with this particular electrical circuit. When you draw too much power, a GFI could mistake the high amount of power flow as a ground fault, tripping and killing the power to the circuit. This often happens when you plug in something that uses a large amount of electricity to a GFI-protected outlet, such as a vacuum cleaner, microwave oven, or any other power-hungry appliance.
A GFI should normally be able to handle a higher amount of amperage, so a high-power appliance should not cause it to trip and shut off under normal usage. The best way to fix this issue is to have your GFI inspected by a skilled electrician who can properly test the outlet and figure out what is wrong with it. From there, they can trace the line back to the problem and figure out where it might be in order to fix it properly.
Unexpected “Soft Grounding”
“Soft grounding” is the term used to describe accidental small grounds created by external sources. For example, frayed or cracked shielding on the cord leads to a potential ground if a small amount of conductive dust makes contact with the exposed electrical wire. It doesn’t take much to cause a GFI to trip, and unseen cord damage can cause a lot of frustration, particularly with older devices.
We strongly recommend thoroughly inspecting the cord on anything plugged into a GFI outlet when it trips. If you notice any damage, throw the device away and purchase a new one (or purchase a new power cord if that cord can be easily and safely disconnected and replaced.) Simply insulating wire with a piece of tape is not enough to guarantee safety, and an electrical cord that is not properly repaired should never be used.Find out if you have a problem with one of your ground-fault interrupter outlets by calling the local pros at Mel Carr Electric at (518) 500-3042 today!