Jump to content
Light-O-Rama Forums
Roxxxtar

The same ol, same ol GFCI tripping issue

Recommended Posts

48 channels, 3 controllers on 3 different gfci’s. All 3 tripped off because of rain. 

Started with one controller. Unplugged one channel at a time to try and find out exactly which channel is causing the problem. No resolution. Outlet still trips off. Didn’t even try to resolve the problems with the other two controllers seeing as how I couldn’t fix the first one. 

I hate it and am a little stressed because the local paper put me on the front page on Thursday. 

Is doing away with the GFCI outlets and installing regular outlets a problem solver? I understand completely that The GFCI’s are doing what they’re supposed to do. 

Edited by Roxxxtar

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think gfci outlets are similar to breakers in the fact that the more they trip, the more they are prone to tripping. If it was me, I would get rid of them. You're on a breaker, the controllers are fused and a typical light string is as well. I realize gfci is meant to protect people, not property, but who actually hangs out in the middle of their light show amongst all those cords?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Replacing the GFCI outlets with standard outlets in not the solution.  In most jurisdictions, it is illegal, and in the event of a real problem, it can get someone killed.  Yes, you are right that the GFCI is doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing under the circumstances.

The real solution is to find out what is causing the problem.  Based on what I've read on the forum and know from dealing as an electronics technician, there are a couple of common issues.  Listed in no particular order:

1) Junctions between two cables or ends of strings that are on wet ground, wet grass, or in puddles.

2) Mini-trees using metal frames.

3) Wire frame figures.

#1 is pretty easy to identify and correct.  Elevate cables.  There have been MANY discussions here about trying to waterproof connectors.  One one hand, taping them up is a common recommendation.  The other side to that is that the tape will trap any water that does get in.  Personally I do not tape up any sort of electrical connection as a method to keep it dry.  One of the best in my opinion is to take a 2 liter soda bottle and cut it off at the point where it starts tapering towards the top.  That leaves you a container that is about 4 inches in diameter and sealed on one end.  Turn the bottle upside down and stuff the electrical connection up into the bottle - leaving the bottom open.  This works far better with smaller cords than heavy duty ones.  With 18 AWG SPT and vampire plugs, you can put quite a few into a single bottle.  As much Diet Pepsi as I drink, I have a never ending supply of bottles :)

#2 & #3 are pretty much the same problem.   For most of this discussion I will use tomato cages in my examples, but other metal frames have the same issues.  <Warning, technical content>  The problem is capacitance between the metal frame and the energized wire.  Any time two electrical conductors get close to each other, there is a little capacitance between those conductors.  The amount of capacitance is proportional to the area of the two conductors and inversely proportional to the distance between the conductors.  In the case of metal frame fixtures, the two important parts of the capacitor are the metal frame and the wire for your lights.  Note that there is capacitance between the two wires of your power cord, but that is not important for reasons I'll get to later.  When you wrap you lights around a metal frame, every time the wire gets close to the frame, a small capacitor is created.  For a typical mini tree using tomato cages, there will be dozens or even hundreds of these little capacitors formed.  AC power can pass through a capacitor.  Now when you turn on the lights, a very small current passes through each of these little capacitors from the wires to the metal frame.  Each one of these capacitors passes a very small current, but they all add up.  This has the result of slightly energizing the tomato cage.  It's such a small amount that it is harmless - but it's there.  If your tomato cage is insulated from earth ground, there is no place for that current to go, but if the cage is pushed into the ground to keep it in place, it is somewhat grounded.  That keeps the voltage on the tomato cage very low (good and safe).  Depending on how much capacitance there is, this condition MAY be enough to trip a GFCI.  However because dry dirt is not a very good electrical conductor, there may actually be very little current flow.  Add some rain, and that now wet dirt just became a FAR better conductor, and there goes your GFCIs.

A little explanation on how GFCIs work.  Lots of people believe that a GFCI by detecting current to ground.  That is actually not correct.  A GFCI compares the current going out on one wire to the current coming back into it on the other wire.  If those two are not the same, the GFCI trips - and it does not take much of a difference.  A GFCI does not have a ground reference, and does not care about it.  They will work perfectly well in a structure that has no ground wiring at all.  The GFCI does not care why there is a difference in current between the two wires, only that there is a difference.  The most common fault is to ground however, but it can be to something else.  The reason that the capacitance between the two wires of a power cord don't matter is because that current will still go out one wire and back on the other - so the GFCI does not care about it. </technical content>

There are a couple ways to reduce or eliminate this capacitance.  The most obvious is use something other than a metal frame.  Let's face it, we use tomato cages because they work well for the purpose and they are cheap.  There are alternatives if you want to use them.  The other help is to provide some distance between the metal and the wire.  This will reduce the capacitance.  The primary location on a tomato cage is the corners where the wire wraps around the frame.  Adding a strip of plastic to the corners will add distance between the frame and the wire which will reduce the capacitance.

Insulating the tomato cage from ground will keep the GFCIs from tripping, but can be very dangerous in there is a break in the insulation between the wire and the frame.  If that happens, the metal frame will be energized with real current capability behind it, and you won't know it.  Next person that touches the cage gets zapped.

I had a note here on low voltage stuff so I would not forget to add it to the end, but I'm out of time.  Gotta leave for a Pre-Christmas dinner...  Later.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

How old are the GFCI's.  They do go bad. and false trip with disturbances not even plugged in. To wit turning on a bathroom fluorescent, randomly tripped the Vanity GFCI

Where are these. They may have moisture  and (wet) dust Inside the outlet box. Your show might be the stick the took it to the trip point.

Lastly. Check the Green wire connection for these. Triply so, if they share the same ground (earth). remember to also check the fuse/breaker panel end.

AND (horrors), do you have Aluminum branch circuit wiring (Mains may be Aluminum, but it needs to be checked and have anti-oxidant used on the connections.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The bottom line is breakers/fuses protect the circuit and GFCI protect people, that's why it is mandated by code that GFCI be used in certain areas.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you were using some sort of electrical device outdoors that you were coming in contact with, a circular saw for example, I would say use a gfci. In this case I think you would be fine. I guess if you have local regulations that say you have to have them then there's not much you can do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
32 minutes ago, Say watt?? said:

I guess if you have local regulations that say you have to have them then there's not much you can do.

For those in the US, it's in the National Electrical Code - all outdoor outlets must be GFCI protected.  NEC section 210.8(A)(3)

Almost all jurisdictions follow the NEC.  Those that don't usually impose stricter regulations.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would never remove those GFCI's. Cannot be overly protected. Would you rather have your local news doing a story with a different headline with a negative outcome?

My wire frame mini trees bit me In the arse last year when I mad a comment here that "they never tripped". A few days later monsoon rains and guess what, they tripped. No big deal the rest of the show went on.

This year I forgot about those pesky lights in my mini trees, old and may have a short someplace and guess what, during heavy storms no tripping but during all day drizzle, they trip. My mega tree is a radio antenna tower and on the same circuit. I have 12 GFCI's all of them have their own 20 amp main breaker, I would never jeopardize a viewers life/ safety over what any person or news media would write/ say.

Just my .02

JR

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Say watt?? said:

If you were using some sort of electrical device outdoors that you were coming in contact with, a circular saw for example, I would say use a gfci. In this case I think you would be fine. I guess if you have local regulations that say you have to have them then there's not much you can do.

GFCI and AFCI locations are now called out in the NEC. AFAIK only outdoor 2nd floor+ Balconies are exempted outside locations.

Almost every USA jurisdiction starts with the NEC.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks everyone for trying to help. I still haven’t fixed the issue. It’s supposed to be dry today so it may fix itself.

What I still don’t understand, is the fact that I unplugged all 16 channels from  my first controller, plugged them individually into the outlet, and it never tripped the first time. So how am I supposed to find the exact string of lights That is causing the problem.

When the controller is  connected to the outlet, it trips every time. Not at first, but as soon as the music starts. I have an intro that it will play through. But as soon as that intro is over and all the lights are to come on, it trips. The controller itself  is completely dry. I have a trash bag and a trashcan over the top of it and it elevated off the ground as well .

 

Edited by Roxxxtar

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Roxxxtar said:

....What I still don’t understand, is the fact that I unplugged all 16 channels from  my first controller, plugged them individually into the outlet, and it never tripped the first time. So how am I supposed to find the exact string of lights That is causing the problem......

 

GFCIs trip on total combined leakage. 1 strand may not ever trip it out, unless insulation was nicked on that strand - or broken lamp or the such.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You need to place things so water does not want to flow into the prongs area of plugs and (outlets on strings). The controller case needs to be vertical, so if it does steam inside (best to prevent), it condenses above, not on the board.

As Mega Arch said. each tiny leakage is additive.  You have multiple problem areas on each controller (plugged into different GFCI that is tripping)

Since you said the 'Trip' happens during the show. look at the output cords, plugs, strings.  I use gaskets, cord connection covers, but mostly. straight downward facing outlet slots on extension cords, so they face the same as the controller pigtails: Down to drain :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Spares for everything!   Before next year I suggest running some new lines.    If you spread out your props onto multiple GFCI protected circuits you only lose that one instead of multiple.   Ditto the post that says they do wear out.  Add to your pre-setup check list to confirm GFCIs are working and replace ones from prior years which tripped repeatedly. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Due to the major rain events where I live, I finally gave up on the GFCI circuits but due to the code requirements noted above, I still had to maintain them. So, even though its not wise to do, I wired in switches that bypass the GFCI. So only "after" they trip on their own, I can flip the switch and bypass the GFCI therefore the show continues to run normally. As soon as possible, I switch back to GFCI normal mode. As previously stated, this is not the most optimal way of handling things but I take the risks and watch carefully for anyone deciding to get out of their cars. To accomplish this, I use double-pole, double-throw switches and unless you know precisely what you are doing, don't attempt it.

  • Sad 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thats a lot of determination to keep the show powered.  Cant say i agree with where the fix effort was focused.

I am happy to report that this year i had zero incans and zero gfci issues.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×