Does A Refrigerator Need To Be On A GFCI Circuit?

Sean Jarvis
by Sean Jarvis
Refrigerators tend to work well when paired with a standard electrical outlet, but they can also work with a GFCI. Although some believe that a non-GFCI outlet is best for homeowners who are looking to store meats and vegetables, that may not be the full story. Let’s take a look at what happens when you plug a refrigerator into a GFCI outlet.

Your refrigerator can work with a standard electrical outlet as well as a GFCI. Many people believe that using a non-GFCI outlet is the best option for food storage. Thinking that this will prevent unnecessary tripping of the circuit breaker, causing food spoilage.

While your refrigerator may trip the GFCI outlet repeatedly, this is often not the fault of the GFCI but something with the refrigerator.

Your fridge does not need to be on a GFCI circuit if it’s in a residential setting, however, it’s highly advisable as it’s safer, especially since your fridge is in the kitchen. If you bypass the GFCI circuit and the current detects an imbalance, it will immediately shut off which can produce an electric shock.

Although not required by law, using a GFCI as well as a dedicated circuit, will help cut down on any risks of shock. It will also minimize the possibility of a tripped circuit and the spoiling of your food.

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What is a GFCI?

A GFCI, or Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupter, is a device that protects you from receiving electrical shocks from faults in electrical devices. Since being introduced into the 1971 National Electrical Code, the number of electrocutions in America has dropped dramatically.

The way it works is by comparing the input current on the hot side to the output current on the neutral side. If there is a difference in current it indicates that there is a leak and shuts off the power supply. This is also known as ‘tripping the circuit’.

The only way for the outgoing and returning current to be different is if the current is being drawn off the circuit to the ground, which is what happens during electrocution. Hence the name ‘Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupter’.

This security feature is in place in order to quickly, within 20-30 milliseconds, kill the power to a device in case the leak is passing into someone’s body. The GFCI is very sensitive and can detect a difference in the current of a few milliamps.

The typical circuit breaker will trip when amperage levels exceed its ratings, usually 15 or 20 amps for home use. This is to prevent the circuit from overheating and causing a fire, though this doesn’t protect against shocks and electrocution.

GFCI on the other hand are much more sensitive and will provide protection at current differentials of 5mA. This is another step in safeguarding you and your family from electrocution.

GFCI and Refrigerators

There has been little change to the 2011 version of the NEC guidelines regarding refrigerators and GFCI. The information provided under NEC Article 210.8 and 210.52 is as follows:

  • All commercial buildings/kitchens are required to have GFCI for refrigerators.
  • In a Dwelling Unit (house or apartment) refrigerators located inside the kitchen do NOT have to have a GFCI.
  • If the circuit feeding the refrigerator outlet is branched to any other outlet, it must be a 20-A circuit.  If the circuit feeding the refrigerator outlet is a dedicated individual circuit, then it can be either 15-A or 20-A.
  • In a garage or an unfinished basement of a Dwelling unit, the refrigerator must have a GFCI circuit.

That being said, it is only a matter of time until the day comes when every receptacle outlet is GFCI required. This is why it is important when installing new outlets to check with your local electrical codes.

Do I Need a Dedicated Circuit?

The Importance of Running a Fridge on GFCI

If your refrigerator is tripping your GFCI circuit, it is often the result of a faulty refrigerator and not the circuit itself. Other than that rare situation, the benefits of using GFCI far outweigh the negatives.

If the water lines feeding your refrigerator break, the water will pool on the ground and could come into contact with electrical components. The GFCI will trip the breaker and stop you or your loved ones from standing in a puddle of electrified water.

The same protection applies if your refrigerator suffers from worn down electrical insulation or moisture accumulation.

Using GFCI will, without a doubt, leave your family safer than without it.

GFCI Locations

GFCI protection should be located in any place where there is moisture, as moisture greatly increases the risk of accidental shock.

In buildings that follow proper electrical codes, you will commonly find GFCI outlets in a number of places:

  • Bathrooms
  • Garages
  • Exterior Electrical Receptacles
  • Crawl Spaces
  • Unfinished Basements
  • Kitchens
  • Laundry and Utility Rooms

Local electrical codes are constantly being updated with new requirements regarding GFCI protection. Check with your local building authority for the latest requirements when it comes to GFCI outlets.

Tripping a GFCI

Many appliances have reports against them in-regards to tripping GFCI outlets. Refrigerators, electric motors, and heavy-duty appliances have all been known to trip a GFCI breaker during normal use.

For this reason, many people do not plug their refrigerators into a GFCI outlet. There are fewer things more frustrating than coming home to find that all your food has spoiled because the outlet was tripped while you were away.

Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often anymore as refrigerators built in the last 20 years have undergone numerous upgrades to rectify this situation. If your refrigerator does trip the GFCI, it is more likely because some component of the refrigerator is faulty rather than having to do with the outlet.

Using Dedicated Circuits

In the US, under the NEC, a residential kitchen refrigerator does not need to be on a dedicated circuit.

Even still, using a dedicated circuit is certainly a good idea, as it helps cut back on tripped circuit breakers. Many appliances draw significant amounts of electricity and when multiple devices are being used at once, this can cause the circuit breaker to trip.

One way to eliminate that risk is to use a dedicated circuit for the refrigerator. If the circuit that the microwave, toaster, and coffee maker are on trip, the damage is not as severe as if all your food spoils

Most household refrigerators draw between 500 and 750 watts of power during their operation. This equates to about 7 amps, roughly half of the available amperage of a standard 15-amp circuit.

A circuit should only carry 80% of its rated load during normal operations. The leftover capacity of a 15-amp circuit running a refrigerator would most likely not be enough to support a microwave or other appliance, resulting in a tripped circuit.

As a way to safeguard this and protect your food, a dedicated circuit is often used when it comes to powering refrigerators.

Related Questions

Why Does the Fridge Trip the GFCI?

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

What Can I Do if My Fridge Keeps Tripping My Breaker?

You can install a device called snubbers, which are used to reduce or eliminate the effects of EMI. These absorb energy and are used to suppress the voltage spikes caused by the circuit’s inductance when a switch, electrical or mechanical, opens. Installing one between the fridge and the GFCI device can help prevent the circuit from tripping.

What is the difference between GFI and GFCI outlets?

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) and ground fault interrupters (GFI) are the exact same device under slightly different names.

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Sean Jarvis
Sean Jarvis

Sean Jarvis is an interior decorator, writer, and expert handyman. Well versed in everything home improvement, he is a savant at manipulating words and spaces and upgrading everything around him. Sean specializes in writing concise guides about appliance repair and installation, home and lifestyle, and other residential projects.

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