50A 240V GFI Circuit Breaker Tripping with nothing connected to it

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My pool pump has sub-panel with a 50A 240V GFI Circuit Breaker.
It was not coming on this morning.
First ----- The breaker, which also has a GFI, wasn't tripping but I measured no voltage at the load side.
I looked at the pump wiring which was all fine.
If I pushed the Test button then the breaker tripped.
A little later -------------- I did nothing, but then the breaker would not trip even pushing the Test button. Still no output on the load side. The load was still connected.
A little later ------------- The breaker would trip immediately even with the load disconnected completely.
Fourth ------ I bypassed the breaker temporarily and the pump comes on (there is still another breaker at the main panel but not a GFI breaker so it was okay for a few seconds).
So I wonder if this is just a bad breaker or if I'm missing something. It's over $100 for a replacement. I ordered one because I can't imagine what else it could be since it trips with no load connected.
This is the breaker: <(Amazon.com product link shortened)>
Couldn't find one in the SF Bay Area at any price, but I found a supplier in Sacramento for $102 plus tax and shipping.
I was thinking of putting in a fuse block temporarily with two 50A fuses while waiting for the new breaker. There would be no GFI protection but it's no big deal for now. We are not using the pool and no one touches the equipment but me.
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On Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 3:31:56 PM UTC-4, sms wrote:

If by tripping when the load is disconnected you mean what I think you mean, which is you've unhooked the two hot wires from the breaker, then yes the breaker is bad. Only other possible thing there is this GFCI breaker has a connection to the neutral. Did you verify that's tight? Doubt that would account for the behavior though.
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wrote:

I just replaced a bad GFI outlet that was in an outdoor fixture. It would trip within a second even with no load connected. When I got it back inside to look at it, I could see it was full of whispy white spider webs. Every hole (3 per outlet) plus the holes on the back where the wires attach were white.
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On 5/28/2015 2:41 PM, Pat wrote:

Since I needed the pump running right away (I just put in phosphate remover yesterday and it needs to be filtered out) I ran out and found a 240V 20A breaker at the surplus store for $3.25. No GFI but it'll be okay until the GFI breaker arrives tomorrow or Monday. The breaker for the pool pump at the main panel is only 20A anyway so the 50A GFI at the sub-panel was a little over-kill. Pump is running and I didn't get any shocks.
This is not an outlet with any real openings for anything to get into but I guess after ten years the GFI circuit failed in some way.
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<stuff snipped>

That's quite a jump, then to $104 plus S&T. I wonder what makes them so expensive?

I hope you are going to do a post-mortem, Dr. Scharf? I would be curious if there was any visible damage inside the case or infestation or water damage. We anxiously await the results.
I am betting the cause is critters (like Pat reported) or corrosion from condensation. Sometimes it's both. The GFI circuitry runs hotter than a passive or semi-passive safety device. I have found insect spoor inside of outdoor CCTV bullet cams with superfine threads and "O" ring seals. They still got in somehow, probably at the cord grommet.
Anxiously awaiting the autopsy.
I only bring this up because I recently promised my wife that I would no longer save things for parts or break them down for spare parts. I retained the right (-: to take things apart to see if they can be repaired or to analyze why they failed.
I just scrapped an APC UPS and I mostly complied. Only saved the cord, the breaker, the big transformer and the metal copper strips that make up the outlets. Bypassed juicy components that needed desoldering and testing. Saved all the heavy wires with crimped and insulated ends.
There was a time I would have desoldered even the LEDs. Arthritis took care of that. )-:
--
Bobby G.




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On Thu, 28 May 2015 19:37:00 -0400, "Robert Green"

When I was young, I used to do that with junked electonics, like old TVs. I save all the parts. Spend hours removing them. I still have containers full of those old parts, mostly all are from the tube era. I'll probably never use any of them.!!!
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<stuff snipped>

That's the conclusion I've come to. I should photograph some of this stuff and post it to show just how old it is. IN34 diodes as thick as pencils with paper tubes and big end caps. What hurts the most is to ditch all that stuff and then, the next week, realize what you had thrown out last week would be all you needed to repair a current problem.
I just finished taking apart the last of the big DC250 tape cartridges (that's 250MB - can't back up much today with that!) to recover the nice big thick aluminum plate that they're made with. Makes great heat sink material.
--
Bobby G.




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On 5/28/2015 4:37 PM, Robert Green wrote:
<snip>

You lose the bet.
I drilled out the rivets and opened it. Nothing corroded inside. No spiders or ants or anything like that.
There were a couple of fried components on the GFI PCB but I'm pretty sure I did that when I jumpered across the GFI breaker from the bus bar to the load to see if the pump was working. The reason I think the fried components happened then is that I smelled them burning when I jumpeered from the bus bar to the load.
There breakers are designed for outdoor use and they go inside a panel box designed for the outdoors, so critters would have a tough time getting in. It's very different than a GFI outlet. And outdoor GFI outlets should be in a box with those spring-loaded covers that have gaskets on them.
It is quite a complex breaker with all the mechanical and electrical pieces inside. Springs flew out when I opened it. Not surprising how much it sells for since it probably cost $20 to make, and wholesales for $50 and retails for about $100. The $102 I paid was actually somewhat of a bargain. Home Depot sells them online for $171, and a place in San Francisco wanted to order me one for $150. I'll willingly pay a little more to buy an in stock product from a local retailer, but I have no interested in paying more when they are just going to order it and I have to wait anyway.
One amusing thing is that when I was looking for one locally I looked up companies that specialize in breakers. There were four. But calling all four I found that there were really only two, they just had multiple business names with multiple phone numbers but the calls went to the same place.
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Wouldn't be the first time! (-;

Well, thanks anyway for the remote post-mortem. Always good to know what's up when something fails.

That's bound to have an effect on the post-mortem analysis. Is it possible it got fried in a surge and what you smelled was "reheated leftovers?" At least when that happens you can say to yourself: "Now it's REALLY dead." Sometime's that a good thing because it keeps you from wasting time trying to track down a problem that can't be readily solved.

Bugs still get my vote when it comes to getting in where they don't belong and causing the failure of outside equipment. I even had wasps "extend" the engine of my Volvo 142. The began building their mud nest by following the contours of the front of the engine block, which they did with remarkable detail. When I opened the hood of this very rarely used vehicle it looked like the front of the engine was made out of mud.
Now I agree that an old 4 cylinder Volvo engine is pretty damn easy for bugs to access - a lot easier than an external GFCI - but it still impresses me to this day how they just took a human fabrication and extended it. It took a while to figure out what happened because my first thought was "how did all that mud get on the engine." And then "how did it get so precisely patterned? And finally, HOLY GOD THERE ARE WASPS FLYING OUT IT AND RIGHT TOWARDS ME!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mine were, but as I noted, outdoor boxes (and outlets) vary greatly in their protection against intrusion and most will allow intrusion in a strong rain if there's anything plugged into the outlet.

That's surprising. From what I've read about GFCI's they operate electrically and not mechanically which is what IMHO a spring implies. I always *hated* it when springs went a poppin' when trying to repair something, especially something that you didn't expect to be spring loaded.
Then there's always the repair that somehow winds up with a screw left over. I don't feel as bad about that since God/Nature has the same problem with leftover parts:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dermoid_cyst
"A dermoid cyst is a teratoma of a cystic nature that contains an array of developmentally mature, solid tissues. It frequently consists of skin, hair follicles, and sweat glands, while other commonly found components include clumps of long hair, pockets of sebum, blood, fat, bone, nails, teeth, eyes, cartilage, and thyroid tissue." . . . "Such is the case of Canadian Football League linebacker Tyrone Jones, whose teratoma was discovered when he blew a tooth out of his nose."

Ditto. Places like Amazon have had a pretty serious effect on local small parts vendors in my area. They are even implicated in the recent business troubles of Radio Shack.
The retail price range of your external GFCI is pretty impressive though.

Ever get locked out? I think there's only one locksmith in the area and he lists under 20 different names. A real giveaway in the Yellow Pages listings is the lack of a mailing/street address.
--
Bobby G.



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wrote:

Is this breaker indoors or outdoors? I find plain GFI outlets dont last long outdoors, even if they are well protected. I guess moisture still gets inside.
I agree, the breaker is bad.
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<stuff snipped>

There's great variability in the quality of outside electrical boxes. HD sells a blister packed outlet kit with lots of foam inserts and even a tube of sealant. When the outlet flaps are closed the units are pretty well sealed.
I do recall on a couple of occasions when the weather conditions were just right that condensation would form inside the outlet box and in gear like CCTV cameras. It wouldn't take many cycles of that to cause corrosion troubles.
--
Bobby G.



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On Friday, May 29, 2015 at 10:57:46 AM UTC-4, Robert Green wrote:

Do you see many 50A GFCI "outlets"?
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On 5/28/2015 5:30 PM, snipped-for-privacy@spamblocked.com wrote:

New one arrived a few minutes ago. Put it in. Works fine.
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wrote:

one apart and see if it looks infested by bugs, corroded, or just bad for no obvious reason.
Pat
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<stuff snipped>

+1

I asked him the same thing. Scan for his reply to me. Short answer: no bugs or obvious causes. Just inherent vice, I guess.
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Bobby G.



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On 5/29/2015 7:12 PM, Pat wrote:

No corrosion or bugs. I guess something on the PCB failed.
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<stuff snipped>

There's also the remote possibility that whatever killed the first unit was external and it's preparing to kill the replacement. (-: Let's hope that's not the case for you, but I always worry that can happen. I had a PC motherboard that fried two video cards in row before I decided to scrap it and not immolate a third video card. It was one of the early high-powered AGP video cards that apparently weren't all cross-compatible with certain motherboard AGP connector revisions.
The bottom line was that the environment was the killer, not something inherently wrong with the device that kept failing.
--
Bobby G.




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Bobby, I agree with you that the environment is the killer. I have experie nced many failures of circuit breakers that are located outside. Not just GFCI breakers, but also main and branch circuit breakers. I think that ther e needs to be a standard and a rating for circuit breakers that will be out side.
John Grabowski http://www.MrElectrician.TV
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<< Bobby, I agree with you that the environment is the killer.>>
Wow, my hat size just increased. (-:
<< I have experienced many failures of circuit breakers that are located outside. Not just GFCI breakers, but also main and branch circuit breakers. I think that there needs to be a standard and a rating for circuit breakers that will be outside.>>
There isn't? There are so many electrical standards it's hard to believe but I guess the attitude is "stick it in a weatherproof box and it will be fine." I wonder what part of these devices is most vulnerable to temperature and humidity swings?
My exterior experience with devices is mostly CCTV cams and wireless sensors for thermometer and alarm systems. Some of those have been going strong for 20 years, others fail in a few months. Only a few have mechanical subsystems that are probably overdue for inspection. (The last time I checked my external CFLs all sorts of things have moved into the fixture that's now just warm enough to be the perfect flying insect incubator. There was insect silk all in the inside spiral of the CFL bulb.
We'll probably know fairly soon if some *new* external force is Steve's problem. In addition to the variations in heat and humidity that occur outside, there are insects, critters, floodicng and all sort of other problems that interior equipment never has to face. Maybe the manufacturer heavied up some known point of failure. If so, his new breaker could easily last just as long as his old one, though.
I'm surprised there's no standard for outdoor gear. I know that CCTV cameras have to meet some pretty stringent standards to be rated as weatherproof. I know that there are a number of classifications depending on what severity of weather they're built to resist.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_Code
(Great reading for anyone interested in testing and certification)
Covers everything from
1 Dripping water Dripping water (vertically falling drops) shall have no harmful effect. Test duration: 10 minutes Water equivalent to 1 mm rainfall per minute ... 4 Splashing of water Water splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect. Test duration: 5 minutes Water volume: 10 litres per minute Pressure: 80-100 kPa ... 8 Immersion beyond 1 m The equipment is suitable for continuous immersion in water under conditions which shall be specified by the manufacturer. However, with certain types of equipment, it can mean that water can enter but only in such a manner that it produces no harmful effects. Test duration: continuous immersion in water Depth specified by manufacturer, generally up to 3 m 9K Powerful high temperature water jets Protected against close-range high pressure, high temperature spray downs.
I had no idea until now how many specific levels of weather protection there are for electrical gear.
--
Bobby G.



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wrote:

moisture in the cable somewhere causing a very small ground current to flow - tripping the GFCI as it should.
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