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I'm looking for some expert electrical advice here.  I've read about the topic of GFCI trips in the forums and have gotten opposing view points from people whose opinions I respect.

 

I'm having trouble with GFCI's tripping in the rain.  This is Seattle and we can get rain every day in December.  I think I'm getting a lot of little faults to ground that add up and trip the GFCI.  I've been able to isolate it to channels  with lots of light strands on them.  I know about trying to isolate the strings, by keeping them off the ground, and being leery of metal frames, but sometimes you just need to have lights on the ground for the effect you are looking for. Below is what I'm getting for feedback.

 

One viewpoint is to increase the number of GFCI's and put each controller on it's own GFCI or even 2 GFCI's (one per side).  The thought is that having each controller on it's own GFCI helps to prevent lots of small ground faults from adding up into a larger ground fault that is big enough to trip the GFCI.  At a very minimum, if i had a GFCI trip using this system it would minimize how much of my show went out.

 

The other school of thought says this will just increase the number of trips, that a GFCI only requires 5ma to trip and no ground fault is too small to avoid tripping the breaker.  They say i should minimize the number of GFCI's and focus on connections being kept dry.

 

This brings up even more questions.  Are the ground faults only occurring at the plug connections, or could they be occurring at each light socket as well?  I do try to keep the plugs and sockets as dry as possible, elevating them when i can.

 

What do any of you electrical engineers have to say about this?  Should I go with the idea that more GFCI's I have, the less likely small faults will accumulate and trip the GFCI?

Or do I minimize the GFCI's and try and keep all my lights away from any possible path to ground?

 

 

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I should add that in my efforts to isolate the problem, I've tried unplugging different channels to see how it affects the trips.  Everytime I think I have it isolated  a new fault seems to occur.  This is leading me to believe that some of these trips are caused by "randomly" occurring, single time faults, rather than the same fault occurring over and over.  I'm starting to see a big advantage in having a show in California or Florida.

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Being in Seattle or anywhere else shouldn't make a difference. Rain and moisture is rain and moisture. I live in Oklahoma City. We had a wet, rainy and even snowy season this year and last. I have my timer set to start the show - rain or shine. In 2 years have not tripped one GFCI receptacle.

1) don't tape plugs.
2) do elevate all plugs
3) drill weep holes in any inverted prop
 
You said tripping breaker. Is your house set up with (1) GFCI breaker feeding your outside receptacles? If so - bam. Change that stinking breaker to a regular circuit breaker. Then change your receptacles to current model GFCI receptacles, available from Lowes or Home Depot. (CYA statement = TURN POWER OFF BEFORE ATTEMPTING THIS OR ANY WIRING UPGRADE YOURSELF - OR CALL AN ELECTRICIAN.)

If you are already on GFCI receptacles, how old are they? They are not "lifetime" products. Buy a GFCI tester (link below)and see if it trips and resets properly. Not a failsafe testing - but can be a real good indicator.

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Gardner-Bender-120-VAC-GFCI-Outlet-Tester-1-clam-5-clams-master-GFI-3501/202867890

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Being a maintenance engineer I would have to agree with Mega Arch, Rain and moisture is rain and moisture. This is what the GFCI is to be protecting from primarily. You could have weak receptacles being overloaded. Dont have a mind set that a lot of little faults will add up, a fault is a fault and that is what the GFCI is supposed to be protecting from. If the problem is only happening when there is moisture around, I would suspect any connection point with your strings or open sockets if you have screw in bulbs. If it happens in any kind of weather, rain or shine, then I would suspect weak receptacles.

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I go by theory of many GFCI's and less additive trip issues. I have made all custom LOR and DIY controller boxes each with 2 GFCI's on the outside of each box.  My "main" power grid is a breaker panel in a WP box in the yard with no GCFI's.  This works really well and all elements are protected along with various items that require all ways on power like the beta bright sign, blowup blower etc.  I have about 40 16 channel boxes!  and yes I do have to swap out GFCI's when they do fail.  I agree with Mega Arch and don't tape any connections.

 

KEN

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Thanks for all of the feedback.  When I said breaker I meant the GFCI outlet, not a house circuit breaker.  I have 2 GFCI's that are feeding most of my show with 10 controllers on them.  One is a brand new GFCI so I don't think it has gotten weak yet.  It is the first plug in line and feeds 2 other recepticals on the load side of the GFCI.  Everything runs fine even while damp, it is only when the rain starts dumping that I get the trips.  The controller that seems to have the most problems is running a mega tree.  I do have a metal pole but it runs into a pvc sleeve in the ground.  The bottom ring is also PVC, so I think I have the pole isolated from ground.  The other controller that has issues is running a section of lights that lay on top of some 6" rocks on the ground.  I would think this is where I would most likely have a stray ground.

 

If I'm following what most are saying, adding more GFCI's will not reduce the number of trips, but will isolate them to a smaller section of the show.  Although Ken says he has had no trips with multiple GFCI's.  IS it possible that some faults are too small to trigger the GFCI?  If so Ken's system seems to have merit.  If even a tiny fault will trigger the GFCI then I would agree that multiple GFCI's only help to isolate the issue and the oly solution is eliminating the faults.  This is where my confusion comes in.  Some of you swear by multiple GFCI's and others do not, all with good results.  Do all GFCI's trigger at 5ma, or do some have a higher threshold?  Do you guys want to weigh in further?

 

Finally,  I never tape connections and try whenever possible to elevate any connections off the ground.  What is really making it tough is that a lot of these faults appear to be somewhat random.  Every time I think i've isolated things to a single controller or a single channel, it runs for a while and then trips again.

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I believe all GFCI have a 5ma threshold. Anything higher is considered GFEP, EP for equipment protection. Which means, your equipment will be fine, you will be dead. The reason for 5ma is this is basically what the human body can tolerate.

They make GFCI pigtails. These make it easy to add protection. You could use these to troubleshoot and isolate. My two pennies.

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One more thing to add, there is no tiny fault. It is either faulted or not. The 5ma is the difference between L1 and L2. Any difference is assumed to ground, so a trip, but there could be a difference for other reasons. However, since you mention your problems are only during rain, it sounds like the GFCI is doing what it is designed for.

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I believe all GFCI have a 5ma threshold. Anything higher is considered GFEP, EP for equipment protection. Which means, your equipment will be fine, you will be dead. The reason for 5ma is this is basically what the human body can tolerate.

They make GFCI pigtails. These make it easy to add protection. You could use these to troubleshoot and isolate. My two pennies.

Agreed. The GFEP breakers are equipment protectors. Usages include heater cables for snow melting. Since the cables operate at a 20 milliamp fault, can't use standard 5 milliamp trip units. We had to come up with these GFEP breakers, which are a 30 milliamp trip.

I've always been proven wrong by someone who knows more - but I agree with you. The only GFCI receptacles I've sold, used, installed in the last 30 years have been 5 milliamp trip.

John,

Are you using a lot of old minis or net lights?

chunk 'em and go LED.

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I'm NOT an electrician!

I have GFIs on everything! I think there are 6 for the whole yard.

One year 1/2 my yard kept going out because of the GFI.

I unplugged a few things and reset the breaker.

I found out it was the net lights on my fence. Unplugged them and the show ran fine for the rest of the season.

At tear down I found there were bare wires on those net lights and they were tossed!

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I'm NOT an electrician!

I have GFIs on everything! I think there are 6 for the whole yard.

One year 1/2 my yard kept going out because of the GFI.

I unplugged a few things and reset the breaker.

I found out it was the net lights on my fence. Unplugged them and the show ran fine for the rest of the season.

At tear down I found there were bare wires on those net lights and they were tossed!

Do you have any stinkin squirrels running on that fence?

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I use a GFCI {one} feeding 10 outlets that were originally for 5 CTB16PC controllers outside, I too was getting a lot of trips {Sunny,  but can be quite WET!, Florida.}.  

 

I found that even elevating the plug connections didn't always prevent the GFCI from tripping, I invested in those electrical child proof caps that you insert into electrical outlets to keep little fingers out,  putting those on every cord, light and LED strand I have, inserting into the female side of the pass through plug {male/female power plug} and also the end female plug on any strand that would not be connected to another strand, as well as on the female pass through on the second light/LED strand, as well as on any extension cord that had exposed female connections{triple tap cord for example}. 

 

These helped put an end to 99% of my GFCI trips when things got a wee bit wet.   Also, use of an non-electrical contact grease, like used in automotive light sockets to prevent rust and keep water out, also helped to keep things dry.  But it's a lot of work pulling LED's and Bulbs out of light strands to do this, but if done in the off-season at tear down, it will help keep things dry, as well as help keep sockets and leads on some LED's from rusting.

 

I'm using cheapo LED and light strands that I've had for over 9-10+ years now and still working, the only failures have been the rectifiers on the actual strand, and I've only tossed about 4 of 20 LED strands over these type failures over the duration of 9-10+ years of use.

 

Fortunately I don't have a problem with vermin, squirrels or any animals chewing on power or light strand cords,

 

But been using the child proof outlet cover caps for going on 5 years now and even had one connection fall off it's elevated stakes into a mud puddle under water when a hard rain was going on, GFCI never tripped, as when the rain stopped I went out to check on the display, everything was working and was very surprised that the one area continued with that connection being under water!   So those outlet covers make a very nice watertight connection.

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Thanks for all of the tips.  I'm only using newer LED's in the display and the critters have not been an issue.  I'll have to give the child outlet cover caps a try.  When I do set up next year I'll be extra cautious with all of my connections.  Sounds like trying the non-electric contact grease might also help.  I'll focus on minimizing any connections or sockets that could go to ground.  Two years ago my trips were minimal, but this last year was bad.  I attributed this to the heavy rain, but maybe I just got sloppy and let some connections stay too close to the ground.  If anyone else has any ideas for minimizing GFCI trips i would love to hear more.

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Hi woodinvillejohn, I'd like to add what I do to minimize GFCI trips. It's not the most eye appeasing method during the day but I use food storage containers. Any brand but these are the "smaller" size that are about 4" long by about 2.5-3" wide and about 2-3" tall. I cut two small slits in the ends lengthwise that are about 1/2" deep. Then fold down the tab in between the slits and lay in the ends of the cords and/or light string. I then snap the original lid on it. The cords are suspended near the top of the container keeping them dry. Air is allowed to flow through preventing moisture accumilating inside and if any rain does get in it'll be at the bottom while the connection is at the top. I spray paint them flat black and they are totally hidden during the show except if in front of other elements. I use a dremil type of tool to cut the slits. I had a whole bunch of them under/behind my 180 degree mega tree so I covered them with a black contractor bag. I use sections of a wire hanger about 8-9" long bent in a V shape to secure the cords on both ends of the container to prevent blowing over and rain getting in under the lid.

I'm in MD so we don't get the amount of rain you do but we get plenty of rain and some snow during December. Hope this helps.

 

Later,

Al

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This probably has nothing to do with your issue but figure I'll throw it out there.  For years I had one controller that constantly tripped it's GFI ( I use one GFI per controller using portable 3-way ones that an extension cord from house outlet ties into ).  The controller fed my mini trees and some arches.  I tried disconnecting each string one by one to no avail. they still tripped GFI (GFI only tripped during rain or heavy moisture). Then last year I realized the outlet that I always plugged that controllers extension cord into was tied in series to another outlet that was a GFI outlet.  So in theory, there were two GFI's on the same line.  Since I moved the extension cord to a different outlet I've never had a trip again!

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people you need to realize, stuff outside gets wet. All my outlets are gfci, if it rains too hard I don't even bother running the show. I have done things to prevent as much ground contact as I can,but still I will have trips when the ground is saturated. I don't tape anything I don't grease anything,(with hundreds of plug ends in the yard who has time) besides you can't grease every light right. My best advice would be , keep your plugs off the ground and insulate your wire frame items such as mini trees.

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people you need to realize, stuff outside gets wet. All my outlets are gfci, if it rains too hard I don't even bother running the show. I have done things to prevent as much ground contact as I can,but still I will have trips when the ground is saturated. I don't tape anything I don't grease anything,(with hundreds of plug ends in the yard who has time) besides you can't grease every light right. My best advice would be , keep your plugs off the ground and insulate your wire frame items such as mini trees.

So what happens if you have your show set to run automatically, you're not home and it starts down pouring?   Kind of hard to shut down a show that's set to run if you're not home when showtime is supposed to go on and that happens.    It's happened to me a few times in the past where I had to go out for something and we got a gully washer of a storm, by the time I got back, show had already started and was still running fine even in that storm.

 

Now if I'd have been home, I'd have stopped the show before it got started, sometimes you just have to go with it and hope for the best.  Fortunately my GFCI never tripped in any of those harsh rainstorms and the show just went on and ran.  Rain eventually stopped, show went on, but I sure wouldn't go out and mess with handling lights, props, controllers, or anything else under those type wet conditions.  Now that *would* be asking for trouble, GFCI or not!

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are you ever wrong orville? do you always have to dispute others post. I suppose you could watch a weather report,and in case your planning on being out you could perhaps set you show not to run, but hey I'm no expert like you

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are you ever wrong orville? do you always have to dispute others post. I suppose you could watch a weather report,and in case your planning on being out you could perhaps set you show not to run, but hey I'm no expert like you

What?  There is no wrong or right in my post stating or asking what happens about inclement weather when a show is already in operation. Nor have I disputed any others post here in this thread.

 

All I have done is ask a question and stated MY personal experiences. ,

 

Since most of us here either use the LOR software or external timers to set our shows to run unattended, mainly because we can't be there at start-up or end time.  

 

Apparently you must only start and stop your shows manually every time?  As that's what it sounds like you're saying too me.  

 

Again, I think most of us here do set a time using the LOR software or an external timer to start/end our shows because, again, we may not be able to be home when the show should start {or end}.

 

Again, this is, and was not, a question of being right or wrong, it's just a question of, if one has their shows to auto-start because of their schedule they may not be there to "unplug" or "halt" their show if inclement weather may be coming in.  

 

Weather reports don't always pinpoint *exact* times or even locations of inclement weather either!  

 

I've heard "weather reports" where the weatherperson said there would be downpours in my area, but those rains never materialized.    So I don't go by weather reports completely, as they have proven unreliable quite a few times too many {for me},

 

I just set my shows to run unattended, again, nothing to do with being right or wrong, I will set my show to start/stop at specific times using the LOR Show Builder and Schedule Editor, if weather gets in the way, it just has to get in the way, especially if I'm not available to do anything about halting the show.

 

And if I do happen to be home, yes, then I can stop the show from running, but like stated, many times using the time set in the LOR software {or DC-MP3 Director when I used one}, I wasn't home many times, so the show ran in a downpour.   Once running, I don't stop it unless the GFCI trips and shuts it down, which hasn't happened now for several years.   And my show has ran in heavy downpours quite a few times now, it just went on operating perfectly fine with no issues.  I'd get home late and everything would be operating normally, so I'd leave it be.

 

Just my own experiences with bad weather and show still in operation during such times.

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So what happens if you have your show set to run automatically, you're not home and it starts down pouring?   Kind of hard to shut down a show that's set to run if you're not home when showtime is supposed to go on and that happens.    It's happened to me a few times in the past where I had to go out for something and we got a gully washer of a storm, by the time I got back, show had already started and was still running fine even in that storm.

 

Now if I'd have been home, I'd have stopped the show before it got started, sometimes you just have to go with it and hope for the best.  Fortunately my GFCI never tripped in any of those harsh rainstorms and the show just went on and ran.  Rain eventually stopped, show went on, but I sure wouldn't go out and mess with handling lights, props, controllers, or anything else under those type wet conditions.  Now that *would* be asking for trouble, GFCI or not!

 

I am not sure I see what the big deal is (especially since it appears that your display managed to weather the storms just fine). If the show starts when you aren't home, and heaven forbid that a GFCI trips, then so be it...you get to it when you get home. If part or all of the display isn't working, life goes on. If a viewer complains, then offer them a refund for their admission price (if they are that desperate to watch your show in a "gully washer", then I guess they will just have to be content with what they get).  If the show is worth watching, then they will be back another day.  Yes, I am all for taking reasonable steps to reduce the likelihood of a GFCI trip, but I am not going to alter my coming and going because of that. Just sayin'...

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Plenty of good advice here on chasing down trips, so I'll focus on the prevention side of things with my 2 cents.  I cover all of my plug joint connections at or near ground level with an 18"-24" chunk of 1" split pipe foam insulation.  Lowe's sells a 6' piece for a whopping $1.26 and I just chop them to length as needed.  It keeps the connection off the ground, shields from snow, ice and water, and allows air flow through each end to prevent condensation or trapped moisture.  I'm only 2 seasons in so my sample size isn't as great as others, but I've had zero trips thus far running in all weather conditions.  I've even been able to use it on suspended joints as it is light enough to not sag the wires.

 

http://www.lowes.com/pd_24434-1410-P12XB/6_0__?productId=3133247

 

077578040356lg.jpg

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I'm not criticizing the foam idea Doc, because I've never tried it.  Nor have I tried grease, bear fat, silly putty, maple syrup or any of the other concoctions that people trumpet.  Might work just fine for smaller displays in wet places.       
 
I was just trying to figure out: 1) how many Lowe's stores I'd need to visit and/or how many trips I'd need to make; and 2) how many hundred times I'd have to answer someone asking what all those bumps are all over the yards: and 3) How I was going to explain to Sharon that I'm taking over the guest room and filling it with foam.
 
For me, it's easier to just pull the plug and run a "sorry folks" announcement when GFI's start tripping and enjoy the night off.  :)

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