You won’t find a home that doesn’t have a refrigerator nowadays. And most homes are outfitted with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) as well. But does the refrigerator have to be hooked up to a GFCI? And if it’s not, what could happen?
You may also be wondering how to identify a tripped GFCI, as well as what you must do when your refrigerator keeps tripping this device. For answers to these questions and other relevant information, read through this article, as here we discuss everything you should know when your refrigerator is connected to a GFCI.
What Is a GFCI?
A GFCI is a device that measures and monitors how much electrical current is moving through a circuit. If the circuit is suddenly overwhelmed by a strong electrical current, power to the circuit will be cut off by the GFCI immediately.
These devices were invented to prevent fatal shocks that occur randomly and without warning. There are many kinds of GFCIs, including GFCI receptacles, GFCI circuit breakers, and portable GFCIs.
Where Are GFCIs Used?
GFCIs are usually used in areas where there’s often water or moisture. Therefore, kitchens, bathrooms, crawlspaces, basements, and outdoor living spaces often include GFCIs.
And even in rooms where there’s no access to the water supply, GFCIs can be incredibly helpful and protective. In short, if you want to feel safer around your appliances at home, it’s best to use GFCIs wherever possible.
Does a Refrigerator Need a GFCI?
Since refrigerators are often connected to the water supply and almost always create moisture, it may be in your best interest to connect this appliance to a GFCI. Moreover, a refrigerator uses a lot of power, which means it’s more prone to causing power surges.
This explains why in a lot of places, homeowners are required by law to have their refrigerator connected to a GFCI. But as far as the National Electric Code (NEC) is concerned, there’s no explicit mention of refrigerators needing GFCIs to function properly and safely.
That being said, the NEC specifically states that GFCIs should be used in locations where appliances can be exposed to water. If you’re unsure of whether or not a GFCI is necessary, talk to a professional electrician. They’ll be able to assess the situation and tell you what the best course of action is.
If getting professional advice isn’t possible at the moment, it’s better to be safe than sorry, i.e. you should connect the fridge to a GFCI. After all, installing these devices isn’t that expensive.
Instances When You May Need a GFCI
There are several instances when having a refrigerator connected to a GFCI will prove to be useful. These instances are briefly discussed below. Remember that the consequences of not having a GFCI can be harmful and even fatal.
1. The Refrigerator Is Running at Full Capacity for a Long Time
If your refrigerator has been running at full capacity for a long time, it’s more likely that a power surge will occur. And in this instance, if you don’t have a GFCI, a rogue current could shock you. Such a current could also lead to an electrical fire which causes substantial property damage.
But even if you have your refrigerator connected to a GFCI, you should not run it at full capacity for a long time, as this can rapidly decrease its lifespan and make it more prone to malfunctioning.
2. The Refrigerator Is Old
Old refrigerators that utilize outdated components are more prone to having connectivity issues that can cause rogue currents. Therefore, an old refrigerator can benefit from being hooked up to a GFCI, though it needs to be compatible with the device in order to work properly.
Note: If you can’t find a GFCI that’s suitable for your old refrigerator, it’s probably best to replace the refrigerator.
3. The Refrigerator Can’t Release Exhaust Properly
Most people don’t associate a refrigerator with hot air, but these appliances release warm air while running, usually at the bottom or back of the appliance. And if your refrigerator can’t vent exhaust properly, such can cause the interior of the appliance to be warmer than usual.
This backed-up warm air may also create moisture in areas where there’s not supposed to be moisture, including the section of the appliance where the wires are located. And if moisture does affect the wires, this is one instance when it’s critically important to have a GFCI connected, as this device should prevent a fire from starting.
4. There Are Malfunctioning Components
It goes without saying that a malfunctioning refrigerator is more prone to having electrical issues than one that’s running properly. But most of the time, you can’t tell your system is malfunctioning until it actually demonstrates a problem.
And in the case of an electrical issue, the last thing you want is to experience a shock from a rogue current to be that alerts you that there’s a problem. For this reason, it’s best to have the refrigerator connected to a GFCI regardless of its current functionality, as this way you won’t be caught off guard and harmed.
Note: Just because a GFCI tripped doesn’t mean there’s a malfunction. This is why a professional should be brought in when you can’t pinpoint what’s causing the trips.
Can a Refrigerator Trip a GFCI?
Yes, a refrigerator can cause a GFCI to trip. This would happen if there’s too much power traveling through the circuit. And when this happens, your refrigerator will shut off.
The reason why some people don’t have their refrigerator connected to a GFCI is that they don’t want the appliance to trip and shut off without them knowing; such could lead to spoiled food and wasted money.
The fact is, a lot of heavy-duty appliances can cause a GFCI to trip unnecessarily, and it’s annoying having to turn your appliances back on manually when it seems like the trip occurred for no reason.
How to Know if Your Refrigerator Is Tripping the GFCI
If your refrigerator is connected to a GFCI, it could trip for a variety of reasons. Below are four factors that can lead to a GFCI tripping:
1. The Fridge Isn’t the Only Device Connected to the GFCI
If your refrigerator is sharing a GFCI with another appliance, this configuration could cause the GFCI to trip and shut off both appliances. The problem here is that there’s too much power continuously moving through the circuit. And with both appliances drawing power from the same circuit, the chances of a surge happening increase dramatically.
So while it’s cheaper to have GFCIs on only a few outlets, this setup can be irritating if you constantly have to reset the GFCIs because they trip constantly.
2. Faulty or Poorly Installed Wiring
Wiring that’s faulty or poorly installed can lead to tripping as well. In this case, you would need a professional electrician to fix the problem.
3. Water Has Pooled Around the Fridge
If there’s a pool of water under your refrigerator, it’s likely the GFCI will trip to prevent a surge. Clean up the water and then see if the device still trips. If it does, you need to identify where the moisture is coming from and address this problem.
4. The GFCI Is Manufactured Poorly
Some GFCIs are manufactured poorly. If this is the case, your refrigerator may trip often and never for a legitimate reason. In this case, frequent tripping will only stop once you remove the defective GFCI.
How to Prevent a Refrigerator From Tripping a GFCI
If you’re certain that the refrigerator is what’s causing the GFCI to trip, there are some things you can do:
First, try installing a snubber. This will go between the fridge and the GFCI, and it’ll reduce interference to ensure better connectivity.
If this doesn’t work, try disengaging the ice maker. If your refrigerator has a defrost heater, disengage this as well. These functions may be convenient when the system is working properly, but they can cause your refrigerator to trip a GFCI.
After determining that the GFCI needs to be replaced, this is exactly what you should do. You can find these at any local or big-box hardware store. You can also buy these online.
If you’re not familiar with installing GFCIs, all you have to do is hire a professional electrician. They’ll install your device and also provide useful tips so you don’t have to deal with tripping often.
In the end, while you may not be required by law to have your refrigerator connected to a GFCI, there are many reasons why doing so is beneficial. The bottom line is that connecting your fridge to a GFCI will provide both safety and peace of mind.
And provided you don’t do anything that causes the device to trip unnecessarily, it’ll provide numerous benefits and little if any, downside. GFCIs can be found in homes modern and old, which should underscore precisely why they’re valuable and not going anywhere any time soon.