Whirlpool Refrigerator Tripping GFCI

Whirlpool Refrigerator Tripping GFCI

nicO and 4 contributors
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Reset the GFCI. If the reset button doesn't click, it could be that the breaker tripped. GFCI devices are not intended to provide overcurrent protection; that's the circuit breaker's job. If the breaker isn't tripped, your GFCI unit could be defective.

  • Unplug any other devices that might be sharing the circuit with your fridge.
  • Watch to see if you can detect anything that you do that causes the GFCI to trip.
  • If at all possible, try to have your fridge be the only device fed by that circuit. Best of all is a dedicated circuit with only the refrigerator Receptacle/outlet on it.

Causes

1

If the outlet is located more than 6 feet from the edge of the top rim of a sink, it may not need to be a GFCI outlet if it isn't intended to serve countertop appliances (Fridge outlet qualifies), but...

  • 2017 National Electrical Code Art. 210.8(A)(6) indicates that the outlets not intended to serve countertop areas don't need GFCI protection.
  • 2017 National Electrical Code Art. 210.8(A)(7) takes some freedom back because outlets near sinks (any sink) within 1.8m (6 feet) of the edge of the top rim of the sink must be so protected.
    • So, if your fridge outlet is within that distance from a sink edge, by the strictest interpretation, it needs to be protected.
    • If not, you can omit that protection. So even under-cabinet receptacles need this. It may be worth moving a receptacle (aka outlet), even one that is behind a refrigerator, to omit protection.
  • 2017 National Electrical Code Art. 210.8(A)(2) requires GFCI protection for ALL garage outlets, so the second (old) fridge will have to deal with GFCI protection in garage outlets in newer homes.

To sum up, the NEC believes that newer appliance manufacturing standards allow lower leakage currents, so nuisance tripping is likely not to be a problem. So we see this protection more and more. You may be in a hard place with an older appliance in a newer home.

Let's keep looking and see what we can check or change.

2
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They fail, so a relatively cheap fix may be replacing the GFCI unit. While this is "throwing parts at the problem," the difficulty of testing, the relatively low cost, and the fairly low effort make this a worthwhile approach, especially with older GFCI outlets (7+ years).

3

Make sure that the refrigerator outlet or receptacle isn't sharing the circuit with another item, like an extension cord or decorative outdoor lights. The cord may be damaged, and the lights can have enough leakage current to trip the GFCI.

This is why having a dedicated refrigerator circuit can be a benefit. The inaccessible location means that it will rarely, if ever, be used for another load. But a circuit with more receptacles can be.

Make sure your fridge isn't using a power strip; there are lots of possible leakage paths in one.

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4

It may not be the appliance alone but a combination of loads drawing too much current that is causing the trip. The GFCI is not tripping; as mentioned, it doesn't provide overcurrent protection.

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GFCI Breaker

The tripped device will be the circuit breaker at the panel. You MAY have GFCI breakers like the one shown here, (they usually have a little TEST button on them along with the operating handle), but what is described isn't a GFCI-based trip; it's an overload trip.

An electric heater sharing a circuit with a fridge can easily cause this. The heater isn't usually running when the fridge is, but once in a while, it is, and when the fridge starts, it trips the circuit. Even powering up a large computer power supply can cause this when the refrigerator is already running.

5

Faulty Power Cord

The power cord can become damaged, especially the insulation, and can cause issues with leakage. Unplug the refrigerator. Check for breaks or cracks in the insulation. Animals may gnaw cords, too, so inspect the whole length. Especially frustrating is an internal connection between the neutral and ground.

Since the Neutral and ground are ultimately tied to each other back at the service panel, the ground wire functions as an alternate path for the return current to take. Only a little bit less current in the neutral is needed to trip the GFCI.

  • You can substitute another device, like a lamp, to see if the problem is the GFCI. If the lamp causes a problem, the GFCI is likely the culprit.
  • A couple of tests:
    • Use a multimeter to test the neutral and ground prongs of the cord for any kind of connection to each other. Anything other than an open circuit means a problem, either with the appliance or the cord.
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Red-Line, Yellow-Neutral, Green-Ground

  • Disconnect the cord from the appliance and connect the meter to the neutral and ground terminals with the continuity function (beeper) turned on while you flex the cord. Any beeps tell you it's time for a new cord.
    • If there are no issues with the cord, go to the next item

Leakage Currents in the Appliance

You can also have ground faults in other components, such as compressors, icemaker mold heaters, or defrost heaters which will still work but will trip the GFCI. That's what it is supposed to do, This will most likely be the compressor, but it may be the defrost heater or any other component. Check components for continuity to ground. You don't want any!

Ice makers are a common source of this problem; here is a link to Whirlpool Refrigerator Ice Makers.

Moisture or dust in connectors and on circuit boards provides a leakage path that may be hard to trace with a meter. Look for dirt or moisture on the control board or other boards or components that will have line voltage present when operating, like power supplies. Clean them well (you may want to use high percentage Isopropyl Alcohol, over 90%) and make sure they are dry.

Damaged Appliance Wiring

Damaged wires on appliances, especially at door hinges on refrigerators, can cause an inadvertent ground. You may note a connection between moving a part and the GFCI tripping.

Improperly Connected Appliance Wiring

Sometimes, connectors inside the appliance can be exposed to moisture, and if they aren't water resistant, they can cause a ground fault (and may corrode). You can make sure your connectors are all dry, and any crimp-type connectors should have silicone grease applied to the open end. While silicone sealant (RTV) might seem a better choice for water resistance, silicone, when curing, often releases vapors that can be corrosive to the connection. It can also shrink over time. The grease protects everything.

6

You may be at the point where you need to either dispose of the appliance or remove GFCI protection for the outlet. You should consult an electrician to see if there are solutions that allow you to keep your appliance without disabling the GFCI protection that is mandated.

Here is a video that demonstrates how to remove GFCI protection from an outlet downstream of a GFCI outlet.

tape them securely in place

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