Refrigerator Trips GFCI In Garage? (Here's What You Can Do)
If you’re a frequent party host, parent to a big family, or simply store many cold beverages at home, you probably have an extra refrigerator in your garage. Often referred to as a “beer fridge,” garage fridges are a handy way to store the overflow from your kitchen fridge or bulk items that you’d like to have cold and ready to pop open. Some people even use garage refrigerators to freeze meat throughout the winter or store frozen meals for days when you don’t feel like cooking.
The refrigerator can cause the GFCI in your garage to trip if there is a problem with your fridge’s ground fault. The GFCI can also trip if the inductive load switches off and creates electromagnetic interference. Poor wiring can also cause your refrigerator to trip the GFCI outlet in your garage.
We’re all grateful that national law requires GFCIs in certain areas of your house to protect us from shock hazards and electric fires. But, if your fridge is constantly tripping your GFCI, they can be plain annoying. In this article, we will discuss exactly what a GFCI is and what you can do if your garage fridge keeps tripping it.
What Is A GFCI In The First Place?
As described above, a GFCI is a circuit breaker that shuts off electric power in the instance of a ground fault. A ground fault, believe it or not, has nothing to do with earthquakes and everything to do with contact between an electrical conductor and the frame of the equipment.
GFCIs keep you safe from electrical fires by monitoring electricity flow in and out of the outlet. They will trip if the GFCI detects any abnormal imbalances in the current, even abnormalities as small as 4 or 5 milliamps. The “tripping” of the current keeps people safe by completely shutting down the circuit, preventing fires and shock hazards from having the chance to spark.
GFCI devices are absolutely integral to have installed at home for the safety of yourself and your family. Because of this, the NEC (National Electric Code) and IRC (International Residential Code) require GFCI installation in garage outlets. Law requires GFCI outlets in unfinished basements, crawl spaces, and bathrooms as well.
How Many Types Of GFCIs Are There?
There are three types of GFCIs:
- GFCI outlets
- GFCI circuit breakers
- Portable GFCIs
All three types are available for purchase at most local hardware stores, Home Depot, and Lowes. Installing and updating GFCI devices yourself is a common household DIY project. Instructions for GFCI installation are available in multiple online videos.
GFCI outlets are the most common type of GFCI device for this situation, as they are GFCI-compatible replacements for standard outlets. GFCI outlets can be purchased for between $10 and $30 from the locations mentioned above, depending on the quality of the device.
Why Is My Refrigerator Tripping The GFCI?
Your fridge most likely trips the GFCI device in your garage because it produces electromagnetic interference (EMI) when its inductive load is switched off. All devices with motors produce inductive loads.
As opposed to a resistive load, an inductive load simply means that the voltage wave is far ahead of the current wave. This is because inductive loads need time to develop their magnetic field when voltage is applied to it, causing the current to be delayed.
In resistive loads, the voltage and current waves move at the same pace. The pace of the voltage and current waves in resistive loads result in the creation of heat. Household examples of a resistive load are an incandescent lightbulb, electric heater, and clothing iron.
What Can I Do About My Refrigerator Tripping The GFCI?
Ideally, you could move your refrigerator to an outlet that does not have a GFCI device attached to it. However, if you want to keep your fridge in the garage, this probably isn’t possible. To work around the EMI that is tripping the GFCI, a standard solution is buying or creating an RC snubber.
RC snubbers reduce the effects of EMI. Installing a snubber on the GFCI outlet could prevent unnecessary GFCI trips by your refrigerator. However, RC snubbers are not guaranteed to be effective.
The “RC” in RC snubber refers to the “resistor” and “capacitor” combination that makes up the device. The combination of the resistor and capacitor mitigates the sudden increase in voltage caused by the EMI produced by the refrigerator.
Where Can I Buy A Snubber?
A common question asked online is, “Where can I buy an RC snubber?” Finding one available for purchase online requires some digging around. RC snubbers work for both AC and DC loads. Because of this, searching online for snubbers that work for either load is an excellent place to start. Additionally, snubbers marketed towards products such as washing machines or other appliances with motors will do the trick.
Many people who face this problem design RC snubbers themselves. Usually, people who create their own snubbers have extensive knowledge of electrical engineering. If this sounds like you, several diagrams are available online.
How Much Does A Snubber Cost?
Even though snubbers may be a bit difficult to find, they don’t cost all that much. You can purchase a snubber for anywhere between $5 and $100. However, you will need to check your circuit load and everything else before choosing one that will work for your situation.
Fix The Reason That Your Garage Fridge Is Tripping Your GFCI
One of the best ideas in this situation is to check the real reason that your GFCI is tripping. Let’s pretend just for a second that it’s not nuisance tripping. If the issue boils down to nuisance tripping, this just means that a snubber will be the only way to fix this. However, there are other issues worth looking into.
If your fridge is a bit older and it doesn’t have an ice maker or a self-defrost option then this may cause your GFCI outlet to trip. In this case, you will want to avoid using a GFCI outlet if possible. However, if you do have icemakers or a self-defrost function, then this may be your issue. The only real way to deal with this is by disabling these functions so that it stops tripping.
A ground fault may be caused by old appliances that let the electricity go into the ground for an unplanned path. Or, it could also be caused by damaged wiring. The shortcuts it takes can go through metal, which will shock you if you touch them. If your GCFI picks up on this issue, then it will trip.
While removing the GCFI outlet will solve the tripping problem, you’ll want to take the necessary action to fix the actual problem at hand, especially if your issue is a ground fault.
What’s the difference between a GFI and a GFCI?
A GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) is the updated GFI version (Ground Fault Interrupter). In common language, the two terms are basically interchangeable, as GFCIs are the appropriate device to install in your home in 2020.
However, if we want to get technical here, GFIs protect only the electrical loads plugged directly into the outlets. GFCIs, on the other hand, protect the loads plugged into the outlet and all loads down current from it.
Can you install a GFCI outlet anywhere?
Yes. With a few exceptions, GFCI outlets can replace any electrical outlet. In fact, replacing GFCI outlets is a common household DIY project. However, as previously mentioned, national law requires GFCI installation in some rooms in your house and not others. For instance, finding GFCIs in bathrooms, garages, and basements is common because the law requires them to be there.
Why does a GFCI trip?
A GFCI trips when the device detects a ground fault leakage. Wires making contact with the ground, triggered by debris, dust, water, or other elements, often cause ground fault leakages.
GCFIs keep us safe from electrical fires and shock hazards on a regular basis. But, as this blog post addresses, GFCIs can trip when no danger is present.
To find a creative solution to this problem, educate yourself about electric currents and inductive loads to figure out why your GCFI is tripping in the first place. Although complicated, research can help you figure out a creative solution.
As GCFI installation in garages is required, running into the “EMI” problem refrigerators cause is likely. This is where refrigerators produce an electromagnetic field caused by their inductive load. The EMI has the potential to trip your GCFI.
A highly recommended solution to your refrigerator tripping a GCFI outlet in your garage is the purchase and installation of an RC snubber. Purchasing snubbers online require some digging around. Or, you can design your RC snubber at home.
However, solving your GFCI outlet problem with an RC snubber is not guaranteed. Therefore, experts recommend moving your refrigerator to a non-GCFI protected outlet or further examining the circuit for other solutions.
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