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When Your Ground-fault Interrupter Trips

By: Jonathan Z. Kremer

There will be a time in every home when the ground-fault interrupter (GFI) in the main panel will trip for apparently no reason. When you try to put it back up, it outright refuses, or trips again in a minute or two. In some cases it can be a real problem finding the cause, especially if the GFI trips and does go back up easily, only to trip again in a few weeks or so. Fortunately, when the GFI refuses to go back up, ninety percent of the time the problem is fairly simple to find, and can be at least partly solved without having to call an electrician. Try the following steps before making any costly emergency calls.

When your GFI jumps, try to put it back up. If it refuses to stay up, try to think of what you were using, or what was working at the time when it jumped. If you suspect something, unplug it totally from the outlet (don’t just turn it off). If you suspect a light fixture, then you have no choice but to just turn it off. See if that solved your problem. If not, or if you don’t suspect anything, then go to your electrical panel and lower all the line breakers, leaving only the main breaker up. Then try to put up the GFI and see if it stays up.

If it goes up and stays there…

then raise the other breakers one at a time, until you see what line (breaker) is causing the trouble. Keep that one down (the one causing the problem) and raise the rest. Look at the chart that you made, mapping out all the lines in the house and the breakers controlling them. If you don’t have a chart (shame on you), then just go around the house and find out what is NOT working. Unplug everything that is on that line which is not working and make sure that the light switches on that line are in the off position. Then try to see if that one breaker still causes the GFI to jump. If not, plug the appliances in one at a time until you find the culprit. If you plug all the appliances in and the breaker hasn’t jumped yet, start turning the lights on one at a time and see if one of the light fixtures is causing the problem.

If the breaker still jumps after you unplugged everything (with light switches in the off position), then call an electrician. At least you will have partial power until the electrician arrives.

If it still jumps…

then go around the house and unplug EVERYTHING from the wall sockets. When I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING (don’t forget the oven, garbage disposal, and the fridge. Make sure that you don’t leave one of those 3 way adapters (“mishulash”) plugged in. Also place all the light switches in the off position.

Then see if the GFI goes up. If it does, then start to plug things in slowly until you find the one thing that causes the GFI to jump.

If it still refuses to go up even after unplugging everything and placing the switches in the off position, call an electrician.


There is one important point I would like to make clear. It is possible for an appliance or any other device, to cause the GFI to jump even though the switch or line breaker to this appliance is in the off position. In other words, one can turn off the breaker to a certain outlet, yet from that same outlet (which is not getting any current from the electric panel) one can make the GFI jump.
Therefore, as long as a fault (coming from an appliance, fixture, or any other device or place) is connected to the electrical system, it CAN cause the GFI to jump. So if you suspect something as being faulty, disconnect it totally from the system.

Jonathan Z. Kremer (better known as Yoni) is the proprietor of "Yoni - Electrical Design and Installations", a Maale Adumim (Israel) based business that has been serving primarily Jerusalem, Maale Adumim, and surrounding areas since 1989. We undertake various forms of electrical work including renovations, maintenance, installations, and repairs - encompassing the domestic (home), industrial and commercial arenas. We believe that our success tomorrow will be determined by how well we serve you today.

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