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Old 01-10-2011, 12:59 PM   #1
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Hi folks, in Googling my problems, I came across this great forum and I looked through some other AFCI threads, but nobody has talked about the kind of problem I have.....

On the circuit that runs 2 of my bedrooms (and the hallway), recently (last month or so), the AFCI breaker was tripping at odd times. Mostly overnight to start with. At first, it was every few days, then it started happening almost nightly.

I should say, nothing in terms of what's plugged in or running has changed at all during this time.

First step was looking at all the outlets for obvious wiring issues and checking them with a volt meter (and checking the basement box and all the visible wiring there). This revealed nothing. So, we replaced the breaker (original was a Siemens 15A, replacement was the same, but now has the LED fault indicator).

I went almost a week without a problem, then bam, tried to turn on my computer and the breaker tripped. Okay, I know the first thing is to unplug and test things one at a time, which I've done several times. This is where it's odd. Once it trips, it seems nearly anything plugged into any of the outlets on the circuit will re-trip it. At one point, I was testing with a simple clock radio and it would trip it with nothing else plugged in. However, with the new breaker, it's become a bit less sensitive. The alarm clock alone won't trip it, but a paper shredder will (or TV, etc.).

HOWEVER.....here's the oddest part I discovered yesterday. This is after my computer went down and I tried the testing with the shredder at various outlets. I got to one outlet in the room and the shredder didn't trip it. I went back to another outlet and it DID trip it like before. So, I started plugging a bunch of stuff (via extension cord) into that one working outlet and could NOT get it to trip (with a computer, TV, and shredder all running). At this point, ALL THE OTHER OUTLETS WERE THEN FINE AS WELL! I could plug the shredder in anywhere and the breaker wouldn't trip (this testing was all done within a 30 minute timeframe). It hasn't tripped since that time yesterday.

There seems to be no pattern to the trips and while it does now seem to have something to do with load, when it's "working" nothing will trip it...and when it's "bad", nearly anything will trip it.

I should also say that when it's "bad" and I leave everything plugged in, the breaker will not reset. I have to unplug everything and then reset it...and then try things one at a time. That's what I did with the "shredder" test yesterday.

Any suggestions would be appreciated. I have no problem calling an electrician in....but the advice I've gotten so far is that an electrician will only be able to find the problem during the "bad" times (which seem to be difficult to predict).

EDIT - I should also add that the other AFCI breaker that covers the other bedrooms NEVER trips. Ever....and I have an LCD TV and space heater that both get used frequently on that circuit. Also, we've been in this house for 5 years without issue (built in 2004).


Last edited by chrispy_g; 01-10-2011 at 01:05 PM.
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Old 01-10-2011, 01:05 PM   #2
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Hi and welcome to the forum!

You already know, since you say you read through a few posts here, that AFCIs are a quirky bunch!
I'm thinking once it trips, it's warm, and will continue to screw around with your head.
The guys here are real good at problems like this, so I'll sit back and watch them as they help you a bit better than I can, I'm afraid.

*good luck!*

DM

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Old 01-10-2011, 01:07 PM   #3
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


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Originally Posted by DangerMouse View Post
Hi and welcome to the forum!

You already know, since you say you read through a few posts here, that AFCIs are a quirky bunch!
I'm thinking once it trips, it's warm, and will continue to screw around with your head.
The guys here are real good at problems like this, so I'll sit back and watch them as they help you a bit better than I can, I'm afraid.

*good luck!*

DM
Thanks....I have my fingers crossed....and it has crossed my mind that heat build-up may be a factor (though nothing seems overly warm at the breaker).....at least that would explain the odd timing.
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Old 01-10-2011, 01:11 PM   #4
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Maybe next time it does it, plug in something, see if it trips, then wait an hour and try the exact same thing in the same outlet?

DM
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Old 01-10-2011, 01:15 PM   #5
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Couple of questions

Have you hung any pictures lately? Done any drywall patches? anything that would have caused a nail or screw to be driven into the wall.

Have you tried a non AFCI breaker on that circuit and see if that will trip? (I am suggesting replacing just testing the circuit)

Have you killed the circuit and done any testing at the recepticles from line to ground checking for continuity?
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Old 01-10-2011, 01:30 PM   #6
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Thanks!....answers below...

Have you hung any pictures lately? Done any drywall patches? anything that would have caused a nail or screw to be driven into the wall.

NO...NOTHING CHANGED AT ALL.

Have you tried a non AFCI breaker on that circuit and see if that will trip? (I am suggesting replacing just testing the circuit)

NO...ONLY BECAUSE THE "BAD" TIMES ARE SO INTERMITTENT (COULD BE DAYS APART) AND IT CAN GO FROM "BAD" TO "WORKING" WITHIN MINUTES (LIKE YESTERDAY)...I DIDN'T WANT TO LEAVE A STANDARD BREAKER ON THAT CIRCUIT FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD. I SHOULD SAY THAT THE INDICATOR ON THE NEW AFCI BREAKER IS INDICATING AN ARC FAULT (ONE LED ON FOR 5 SECONDS AFTER RESET).

Have you killed the circuit and done any testing at the recepticles from line to ground checking for continuity?[/quote]

OKAY, YOU'VE REVEALED THE LIMIT OF MY ELETRICAL KNOWLEDGE...WITH THE CIRCUIT KILLED, WE CHECKED EACH OUTLET FOR ANY VOLTAGE. IS THIS WHAT YOU MEAN? FOR THE RECORD, IT WAS SHOWING ZERO, EXCEPT FOR A FEW TIMES WHERE WE GOT IT TO READ "0.3"...BUT THAT WAS SO SMALL, WE CHALKED IT UP TO THE ACCURACY OF THE METER.
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Old 01-10-2011, 01:44 PM   #7
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Quote:
Originally Posted by chrispy_g View Post
OKAY, YOU'VE REVEALED THE LIMIT OF MY ELETRICAL KNOWLEDGE...WITH THE CIRCUIT KILLED, WE CHECKED EACH OUTLET FOR ANY VOLTAGE. IS THIS WHAT YOU MEAN? FOR THE RECORD, IT WAS SHOWING ZERO, EXCEPT FOR A FEW TIMES WHERE WE GOT IT TO READ "0.3"...BUT THAT WAS SO SMALL, WE CHALKED IT UP TO THE ACCURACY OF THE METER.
You will need an Ohm meter for this, or a multi meter with an ohm meter scale.

What you are looking for with the circuit off is continuity (ohms) resistance to ground. This test would be from the line side (black) to ground, start by mearsuring resistance from the recepticle line side (should be the shorter of the 2 prongs) to ground.

You should get no reading or "OL" on the meter.

Then repeat the test for each recepticle with the circuit off and the black wire removed from the recepticle, measure from the black wire to ground. Again you should read "OL" don't touch both test probes or you will get a reading, the reading will be the resistance of you to ground.

Ok lets start there.
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Old 01-10-2011, 01:57 PM   #8
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Quote:
Originally Posted by Jackofall1 View Post
You will need an Ohm meter for this, or a multi meter with an ohm meter scale.

What you are looking for with the circuit off is continuity (ohms) resistance to ground. This test would be from the line side (black) to ground, start by mearsuring resistance from the recepticle line side (should be the shorter of the 2 prongs) to ground.

You should get no reading or "OL" on the meter.

Then repeat the test for each recepticle with the circuit off and the black wire removed from the recepticle, measure from the black wire to ground. Again you should read "OL" don't touch both test probes or you will get a reading, the reading will be the resistance of you to ground.

Ok lets start there.
Thanks...I have a multi-meter at home...

One like this...
http://www.canadiantire.ca/AST/brows....jsp?locale=en

Just so I'm clear on what to do (remember, I'm a beginner/newbie/idiot without much experience), with the circuit off, I'm sticking the red probe into the "larger" prong hole and the black into the ground hole? Or the other way around?....and what setting should the meter be turned to? There are a bunch (200/2K/20K/200K/2M).
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Old 01-10-2011, 02:11 PM   #9
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Ah yesss Canadian Tire......used to be my favorite store, before relocating to the US. That should do the trick for this test.
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Old 01-10-2011, 02:28 PM   #10
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


it doesn't matter which lead you plug as resistance does not have a polarity.

I would also suggest that you get a plug tester (you can get them at Cdntire) which is plugged into the the receptical and will ensure that it is wired correctly. do this on every plug that you know is on the circuit.

the little bit of reading i did on AFCI says that another cause of the tripping could be a ground fault as many of the AFCI manufacturers incorporate CFI function into the breaker.

another suggested cause could be from another circuit. if there is a shared neutral somewhere, there could be a slight phase shift that causes the AFCI to trip.

I have not worked with these breakers at all, so do not have any personal experience. but I would first make sure all of the plugs are wired correctly and work from there..

Also, if you are comfortable working in the panel, swap AFCI breakers between your bedroom and this circuit, to rule out a faulty AFCI. While the wire is off of the breaker, that is when I would feel more comfortable doing the meter check for continuity previously suggested... Make sure there is nothing plugged in when doing that testing..

another thought... have you actually pulled any plugs from their recepticals?? I wonder if you have a loose connection... seen plugs where the wire was pushed in become loose and create arcing. an inspection would not be a waste of time...

good luck

rod
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Old 01-10-2011, 02:32 PM   #11
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


here you go.. a couple of images of some testers that you should have around the house..

http://cableorganizer.com/receptacle-testers/
http://cableorganizer.com/santronics-voltage-detectors/


these are inexpensive and very helpful when troubleshooting...


good luck




rod


[IMG]file:///C:/Users/Rod/AppData/Local/Temp/moz-screenshot.png[/IMG][IMG]file:///C:/Users/Rod/AppData/Local/Temp/moz-screenshot-1.png[/IMG]
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Old 01-10-2011, 02:33 PM   #12
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Quote:
Originally Posted by rditz View Post
it doesn't matter which lead you plug as resistance does not have a polarity.
Not looking for polarity, if there is a plug wired incorrectly this a good way to find out, as the neutral is a path to ground, black should be isolated with breaker open.
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Old 01-10-2011, 02:44 PM   #13
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Jackofall1, I understand that you weren't looking for polarity, but Chrispy_G was asking which test lead went where, and I was simply stating that it didn't matter because resistance does not have polarity. you either have it or you don't. unlike measuring a DC voltage where the reversing of the leads will produce a positive to negative reading.

rod
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Old 01-10-2011, 02:46 PM   #14
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Quote:
Originally Posted by rditz View Post
it doesn't matter which lead you plug as resistance does not have a polarity.

I would also suggest that you get a plug tester (you can get them at Cdntire) which is plugged into the the receptical and will ensure that it is wired correctly. do this on every plug that you know is on the circuit.

the little bit of reading i did on AFCI says that another cause of the tripping could be a ground fault as many of the AFCI manufacturers incorporate CFI function into the breaker.

another suggested cause could be from another circuit. if there is a shared neutral somewhere, there could be a slight phase shift that causes the AFCI to trip.

I have not worked with these breakers at all, so do not have any personal experience. but I would first make sure all of the plugs are wired correctly and work from there..

Also, if you are comfortable working in the panel, swap AFCI breakers between your bedroom and this circuit, to rule out a faulty AFCI. While the wire is off of the breaker, that is when I would feel more comfortable doing the meter check for continuity previously suggested... Make sure there is nothing plugged in when doing that testing..

another thought... have you actually pulled any plugs from their recepticals?? I wonder if you have a loose connection... seen plugs where the wire was pushed in become loose and create arcing. an inspection would not be a waste of time...

good luck

rod
Quote:
Originally Posted by rditz View Post
Jackofall1, I understand that you weren't looking for polarity, but Chrispy_G was asking which test lead went where, and I was simply stating that it didn't matter because resistance does not have polarity. you either have it or you don't. unlike measuring a DC voltage where the reversing of the leads will produce a positive to negative reading.

rod
Sorry I didn't see the rest of the post by Crispy, the part below the link to CT.
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Old 01-10-2011, 02:53 PM   #15
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HELP - Strange AFCI Tripping Issue


Quote:
Originally Posted by Jackofall1 View Post
What you are looking for with the circuit off is continuity (ohms) resistance to ground. This test would be from the line side (black) to ground, start by mearsuring resistance from the recepticle line side (should be the shorter of the 2 prongs) to ground.

You should get no reading or "OL" on the meter.
Quote:
Originally Posted by chrispy_g View Post
Thanks...I have a multi-meter at home...
Just so I'm clear on what to do (remember, I'm a beginner/newbie/idiot without much experience), with the circuit off, I'm sticking the red probe into the "larger" prong hole and the black into the ground hole? Or the other way around?....and what setting should the meter be turned to? There are a bunch (200/2K/20K/200K/2M).
Jack,
did the op make a mistake?

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