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Thread: Kitchen GFCI Problem

  1. #1
    DIY Junior Member mln's Avatar
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    Default Kitchen GFCI Problem

    I'm a new homeowner on a budget, trying to do things myself, remodeling the kitchen. My question pertains to a problem that I'm having with a gfci outlet.

    Initially I wired the circuit using the load terminals on the outlet to feed another gfci outlet downstream. When I powered up the kitchen both outlets needed to be reset. This was the case at other outlets in the kitchen as well. When I pressed the reset button it popped, there was even a flash of blue light. The circuit at the breaker panel had flipped. I did some reading and concluded that GFCI's are sensitive and wiring the downstream gfci using the load terminals was not the right thing to do. I rewired the outlet, this time pigtailing to the line terminals only. When I powered up the kitchen this time everything seemed fine. I moved on to other things, hanging cabinetry etc. About four or five hours later, with nothing being plugged in, the same outlet popped. I have the circuit switched off now.

    Here's my thinking, and I was hoping to get some other thoughts.
    It's a 20 amp circuit with 12 gauge wire. I used the deepest box that I could for 100 year old 2x4 (4") framing. Nevertheless, the 12guage wire incoming and outgoing along with the pigtails crowded the box and required a little persuasion to get in place. Does it make sense that the wires jammed in like this created resistance which over the course of a few hours generated enough heat to short the circuit, flipping the breaker? is it just a bad gfci? or did i really screw something up?

    My plan was to install a new gfci first and take it from there.
    I'd really appreciate any thoughts. As mentioned I'm new to this, I'm trying to do things the right way without burning the house down.

  2. #2
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer jadnashua's Avatar
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    If nothing was plugged into the circuit and it tripped the breaker, you've got a short somewhere...maybe not a constant one, or it would trip as soon as you turned the breaker on. If there is a loose neutral wire somewhere or the neutral touches the ground wire, you could get it to trip. You're right, it isn't a good idea to feed one gfci from the load side of an upstream one.

    Do you know what else may be on that circuit? If you turn the breaker off, is there anything else that doesn't work? DW, frig, something in another room? Lights?

    The wires normally wouldn't get hot unless there is current running through the wires, so if nothing is plugged in, there should be no heat. I suppose it is possible if things are really tight, the room temperature rising through the day could cause things to expand enough to maybe short against something.

    While this is by no means a definitive test, if the gfci works and you trip it with the test button, you've got a fair but not 100% guarantee is works right.
    Jim DeBruycker
    Important note - I'm not a pro
    Retired Defense Industry Engineer; Schluter 2.5-day Workshop Completed 2013, 2014

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    DIY Junior Member mln's Avatar
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    Thanks for the fast reply. Nothing else is on that circuit. Just the two outlets. The 12ga wire that ran from the panel to the first outlet was existing. I added the second outlet to pass inspection. I don't think that I did anything dumb like driving a screw through the wire while sheetrocking. I'll check the neutrals. I tried to keep the hot wire to the right, neutral to the left with the ground between when I folded things up inside the box. Maybe the neutral and ground are touching. I'm thinking that I can shorten the wires now that the outlet is pigtailed. I had about eight inches of wire beyond the face of the box. Thanks again, I'll post back.

  4. #4
    Jack of all trades frenchie's Avatar
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    If your 2nd outlet is running off the 1st...

    The way you had it wired originally, connected to the "load" screws, was correct - except you should use a regular (non-GFI) outlet for downstream one. The 2nd outlet doesn't need to be a GFI, it's "GFI-protected" by the 1st. That's what those little stickers in the box are for.

    Did that make sense?

    That way, no cramming wires into an over-filled box.

    As for your tripping-with-no-load problem... there's definitely a short somewhere. Open up all the boxes and check for loose connections...

    Just pray it isn't something like a screw driven into the wire inside the wall, because that kind of thing takes forever to find.

    Odds are, something came loose when you crammed it.

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    Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek Mikey's Avatar
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    I'm a little confused -- with a 4" deep stud bay, there's plenty of room for a 3 1/2" deep box, which should be more than enough room for your wires.

    The GFCI receptacles I use have dual "Line" and "Load" backwired connections, in which you just insert the stripped wire into the holes and tighten the screws. I routinely use 2 1/2" boxes with no problems, although you've got to pre-accordion-fold the wires and hold your tongue just right when you push the receptacle back into the box.

    As for the shorting problem, start at the head of the chain and check each outlet with one of those little $5 3-light testers to make sure the basic wiring is correct at each outlet.

    Another possibility is that if you're wiring under the screws, you may be running a wire a scoche too close to the side of the box (I'm assuming metal boxes) and getting an intermittent ground fault. The fact that the panel breaker is tripping also is a clue that this may be happening in the box containing the GFCI -- it's a pretty fat sucker, and can easily have an interference-with-the-box problem.
    Last edited by Mikey; 08-04-2007 at 06:13 PM.

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    DIY Junior Member mln's Avatar
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    I appreciate the responses.

    I took a look at the wiring on the outlet. There was damage to the insulation on the hot lead wire. Some copper was barely visible but I'm fairly certain that this is where it was shorting. My question now is this, the damaged insulation is about an inch or so inside the box. It's far enough inside the box that I can't get my hands on it to cut the wire back to the point of damage and pigtail a wire to it. I of course stapled the hell out of the wires that I ran inside the stud bays thinking I was doing a good job, but now I'm not able to pull any additional wire into the box.

    Is there any reason for concern if I simply wrap the damaged portion thoroughly with electrical tape?

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    Plumber Cass's Avatar
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    With the GFCI removed and wires not touching anything, power up the circuit and see if the breaker pops.

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    DIY scratch-pad engineer leejosepho's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mln
    Is there any reason for concern if I simply wrap the damaged portion thoroughly with electrical tape?
    If *only* the insulation is damaged a bit, that would be mechanically okay even if not "just right" according to whomever. I had some old wiring that "flashed" for some reason and popped a breaker a few days ago, and after repairing the problem with a temporary line during our remodeling, I now have some uninsulated crimps sticking out into the open space under the cover of a ceiling fan. Whether by physical insulation or not, the mechanical issue is to make it impossible for the conductor to conduct anywhere other than it should.

  9. #9
    Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek Mikey's Avatar
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    If that is where it was shorting, you should be able to see some sign of where the copper melted/vaporized. In any case, the best way to repair the insulation would be to slide a piece of shrink tube over the damaged portion and shrink it in place, but tape should work OK - if it's rated for the same breakdown voltage as the original insulation..

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    Jack of all trades frenchie's Avatar
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    You'd have to use insulating tape to get the same rating - that's the thick rubber-like stuff - and then cover that with electrical tape. I think.

    How far along is the rest of the renovation? Can you open the wall, adjacent to the box? Unstaple & pull in some slack to get 6" of new wire into the box? That'd be better.

    The only truly kosher solution would be to pull a fresh wire run.

  11. #11
    Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek Mikey's Avatar
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    Scotch 33 is UL Listed for use as electrical insulation up to 600 volts and 176F (80C), which I think is the same as NMC. Don't know if that makes it NEC approved or not, though.

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    DIY Junior Member mln's Avatar
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    I ended up using Scotch Super 88 tape. I checked 3M's website, it's UL rated for 600 volts at ambient temperatures ranging from 0 to 220 degrees F.

    I wrapped the wire as cleanly as I could... twice, in opposing spirals, first spiraled into the box then spiraled toward me. The circuit hasn't flipped in two days. The box is metal, I have the wires properly secured at the entry points, the box is pigtailed to the circuit ground wire. Should I be concerned with anything? Should I keep the outlet surrounded by smoke detectors?? or can I just go to sleep like normal people do?

  13. #13
    Jack of all trades frenchie's Avatar
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    Wait for one of the pro electricians. JWelectric, Speedy Petey, BobNH... they'd know if it's code, anyways.

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    Electrical Contractor/Instructor jwelectric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mln
    I appreciate the responses.

    I took a look at the wiring on the outlet. There was damage to the insulation on the hot lead wire. Some copper was barely visible but I'm fairly certain that this is where it was shorting. My question now is this, the damaged insulation is about an inch or so inside the box. It's far enough inside the box that I can't get my hands on it to cut the wire back to the point of damage and pigtail a wire to it. I of course stapled the hell out of the wires that I ran inside the stud bays thinking I was doing a good job, but now I'm not able to pull any additional wire into the box.

    Is there any reason for concern if I simply wrap the damaged portion thoroughly with electrical tape?
    This will be fine

  15. #15
    Electrical Contractor/Instructor jwelectric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mln
    I ended up using Scotch Super 88 tape. I checked 3M's website, it's UL rated for 600 volts at ambient temperatures ranging from 0 to 220 degrees F.

    I wrapped the wire as cleanly as I could... twice, in opposing spirals, first spiraled into the box then spiraled toward me. The circuit hasn't flipped in two days. The box is metal, I have the wires properly secured at the entry points, the box is pigtailed to the circuit ground wire. Should I be concerned with anything? Should I keep the outlet surrounded by smoke detectors?? or can I just go to sleep like normal people do?
    one time around is all that was needed

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