What I'm Seeing Now

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GFCI Receptacle Phantom Tripping

One problem many people may be familiar with but not know why it is happening is called GFCI receptacle phantom tripping.

GFCI receptacles are placed near water sources to interrupt a ground fault.  Ground fault is a fancy way of saying "shock!"  If that could be interrupted, it would be a good thing.

You have seen them.  In kitchens and bathrooms they are most visible.  But they are required pretty much near any water source these days.  They are a true safety innovation.  And important!

This is new construction.  Terrific house.  Big, all the bells and whistles. 

And a kitchen larger than the house I grew up in!

One thing this kitchen features is Viking appliances.  They are big, well built and truly gourmet.  This is one side of the Viking six-burner range.

Notice the corner.

That is a GFCI receptacle. I don't like its location.

What's wrong with its location?

This is a large family moving in.  Even if it wasn't I would still have this same problem.

What do large families do?  They cook.  This family happens to make lots of pasta.  That means they will boil a lot!

As of January 2003, UL-approved GFCIs must be manufactured to meet higher standards for withstanding electrical surges, moisture, radio frequency currents (like lightning) and other enhancements.  They turn off if they detect an imbalance between the current flowing in the live conductor and that flowing in the neutral conductor.  This imbalance need be no greater than .006 amps (.005 + or - .001) to turn off the power.

Here's the problem.  I can find no GFCI recommendation that says it should not be installed so near to a cooking location.   However, I AM EMPLOYING COMMON SENSE by thinking this one is too close.  Any moisture, even excessive humidity or vapor that accumulates over time, can cause GFCIs to trip.  That is called "phantom tripping."  I also expect that nearly daily vapor can damage the device.

In this case, the supervisor has said that they don't like it when a home inspector offers their opinion for something, without real substance.  That is fair and I agree.  But this is not merely opinion - there is some thoughtful substance attached too!

My recommendation:   look at GFCI locations and see if they don't lend themselves to a phantom-tripping problem.  They might!

CAUTION:  GFCIs often fail (perhaps as much as 20% at any given time).  They should be tested at least quarterly.  Most manufacturers recommend testing each month, but who is that diligent?  To test, push the "test" button and verify that the power has been turned off at the device, and any downstream receptacles.  And THEN verify that when the power is turned back on with the other button, it actually returns!

 

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 31 commentsJay Markanich • February 23 2012 03:10AM

Comments

Jay I have seen faulty GFI plugs in the past, guess they just wore out. Is there not a building code for location of plugs in the kitchen and how close they need to be to sinks and stovetops so people do not extend the cords over sinks and hot stove tops.

Posted by David Popoff, Realtor®,SRS, Green ~ Fairfield County, Ct (DMK Real Estate ) over 6 years ago

Morning Sir Jay~apparently common sense does not count without the input of a study by people who can pull the strings.  OK before I go off on another rant I'll just say have a good day

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) over 6 years ago

GOOD MORNING JAY!  This is toooooo close!  Especially over a gas range!  Besides, there isn't enough space around the stove and that cabinet anyway to do anything so why even have an outlet there?!  

Posted by Gabrielle Kamahele Rhind, Broker/Owner (KGC Properties LLC, Tucson Property Management & Real Estate) over 6 years ago

Looks foolish to me.... for many reasons. And rather unsafe. I can see only grease build up, water, steam, heat....

 

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 6 years ago

David - they do wear out, or get stuck, or get painted over (!) and stop working.  I think this location will accelerate that.

James - and thank you!  I intend to.  Every day is good, even when bad stuff happens. 

Gabrielle - I think so too.  Do I think they will do anything about it?  I don't know, but hope so!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Andrea - I think it is too close period, but especially since it is a GFI.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

I find when people design kitchens they often make mistakes like this..even having a danglng wire near a steaming pot of water or a pan of frying fish would bother me.

Posted by Edward Gilmartin (CRE) over 6 years ago

That would be for sure Edward.  And no dangling wires anywhere!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Is this another way to say, location, location, location? A little common sense would go a long way with some of these situations.

Thank youfor sharing the post with all of us.

Posted by Joe Petrowsky, Your Mortgage Consultant for Life (Mortgage Consultant, Right Trac Financial Group, Inc. NMLS # 2709) over 6 years ago

You're welcome Joe.  Even a regular outlet here might be in the wrong place, even though GFI protected.  It's just too close.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Yet another reason that a pre-drywal inspection is well worth it when purchasing new contstruction.

Posted by Kathryn Maguire, Serving Chesapeake, Norfolk, VA Beach (GreatNorfolkHomes.com (757) 560-0881) over 6 years ago

That is correct Kathryn.  Sometimes on pre-drywall, things are not labeled as to where they will be though.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

I've only had one unexplained trip of a GFI and that happened in a bathroom remodel that I did.  Hadn't even used the bathroom but one day about a week after installation it just popped.  I resent it and no problem since then.

Posted by Ralph Janisch ABR CRS Broker, Selling Northwest Houston to good people like you! (Janisch & Co.) over 6 years ago

I do check GFI's regularly Roger usually everything is okay. It is always fun to test after someone has done some work in the area. I've seen outlets go out on the other side of the property when the GFI has tripped.

I don't see the reasoning for the outlet location in the photo, it's kind of in a bad spot. Better yet, where is the sink? Is this the closest outlet to it?

You are right, nobody is touching that backsplash!

Thanks for the post.

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) over 6 years ago

Duh, Can't believe I had never thought of the moisture issue.  Thanks for the information Jay.

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 6 years ago

Jeanne and Ralph - often a newly-installed GFI will trip.  It's like it wants to test itself!

Tom - the sink is 10' from here at 5 o'clock.  Everything in the kitchen is covered, as it should be.  But this receptacle location is problematic to be sure.

Chris - moisture is something that will influence these a lot!  And this location is a problem waiting to happen.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Jay -- if they needed a receptacle on that wall - wouldn't the other side of the cabinet (or as I have seen sometimes, in the cabinet) have been a better location?  This is called poor planning, in my book.

Posted by Steven Cook (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) over 6 years ago

Steven - I agree.  This receptacle is pretty close to where all the action is.  There is one exactly on the other side of that cook top.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Jay, My favorite is when you have on, or even two GFCI's downstream of another. Then you have to go find the first one before you can reset the second. Hmm that is a blog post I think ; )

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Jay, I just can't imagine that receptacle being a problem with it where it is.  If it trips due to moisture from the range they would be a problem in every bathroom.  While some of the older ones used to nuisance trip in wet outdoor locations I have never heard of this being an issue indoors.  We are as wet here as just about anywhere and if they were going to nuisance trip outside this would be a good place to see it.  I have more heartburn with the placement of the cabinet so that the countertop can't be used next to the range.  Of couse without the cabinet there then the receptacle could be moved a little further from the range in terms of cords running to the receptacle.  There is certainly no "code" violation in terms of where it is that I am aware of and it may even be required where it is.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 6 years ago

Don - I see that all the time too, and I think the reason is that people don't realize that one covers others downstream.  They know that there should be one, like in a bathroom, and they just add it, not realizing that it is extraneous.

I could find no code restriction Charlie and called the county which said there isn't one there.  I am thinking ahead.  This outlet is 10" from the burner.  The steam generated, perhaps 5 or 6 times a week, over time, would be substantially different than that generated in any bathroom.  I showed the photo to an electrician friend of mine who said he would never have installed it there, primarily for the reason that I am thinking.  But, as I said, I am just thinking ahead.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

What you're saying makes sense, and what possible use could that outlet have in that location? A night light perhaps?

Posted by Marte Cliff, your real estate writer (Marte Cliff Copywriting) over 6 years ago

Marte - doubt it!  They have pretty nice under-cabinet lighting.  So anything else would be funny looking!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

I posted this on my Facebook page.  Thanks for sharing the advice.

Posted by Roy Kelley, Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs (Realty Group Referrals) over 6 years ago

Jay, I have a GFCI receptacle next to my range. I use it every day for my coffee maker and it has never tripped due to moisture. I sometimes will boil a pot for an hour. Sorry, but I have to disagree with you on this one. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 6 years ago

Thanks Roy.  You post a lot of stuff on your page!  It must be very interesting!

I was hoping to hear from other inspectors on this one Jim.  I am always thinking.  And often not in the box.  Is your receptacle framed by a cabinet as this one is?  Would that trap enough moisture you think to affect this one?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Jim - same thing then!  I could find nothing that warns against this.  But an electrician friend did say he wouldn't put one there because of long-term vapor.  Like I said, I am thinking ahead, but maybe I am too skittish...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

No, but the frig is right next to it. It's about 6 inches from the range, a little more away from the frig on the opposite side. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 6 years ago

Ditto what Charles said... it wouldn't hurt to send the photo to the manufacturer to ask them if they would be concerned.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

Reuben - I might go to the hardware store today to see who makes a couple of the GFIs in there.  Problem is, my letter might be going to Quang Chen Ti Manufacturers, Ltd., at The Electronics Division of Yellow River Industries in Bing Ta, China.

How do you say, "Dear Sirs..."?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 6 years ago

Try Leviton - http://www.leviton.com/OA_HTML/SectionDisplay.jsp?section=41080&minisite=10251

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 6 years ago

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