View Full Version : Tank heaters and GFCI outlets

Jan. 13, 2009, 09:10 AM
Does anyone else have a problem wtih tank heaters tripping your outlets? It has been really cold here lately and the past couple of mornings, my tanks are frozen because the heaters tripped the GFCI outlets. So annoying! I had the same problem last year, had it checked by an electrician and he said everything was fine. Are there heaters that don't do this? Or other things to try? I hate winter. :(

Jan. 13, 2009, 10:35 AM
I have a little gfci outlet plugged directly into the water heater's cord, then an extension cord that goes to the garage. Otherwise, if I don't do the gfci directly to the water heater, it still shocks them and it'll trip.

Jan. 13, 2009, 11:01 AM
Mine dose that all the time. What I was told to do but I just have not had the time/money is to put in a GFI braker. They say they do not trip as easy but are still safe.

Jan. 13, 2009, 11:36 AM
You might want to check for hard water deposits (white stuff) sticking onto your tank deicer. This causes uneven heating in the deicer, and can cause electric surges which could be what's tripping your GFI.

This is what has happened to me before. I cleaned up the tank deicer and it quit tripping the GFI.

Jan. 13, 2009, 11:42 AM
I have been having the same trouble.
I recently installed a gfi outlet at each stall so that I didn't have to use ext cords, etc anymore.

I also have purchased new buckets from tractor supply...and some didn't work after a few days.

I put them on my old gfi outlets, thinking maybe the new gfi outlets had something wrong. They also did not trip the gfi, just didn't heat up.

I just don't think the quality is as good as it use to be.

Jan. 13, 2009, 11:42 AM
Agree with the previous poster however I'm not adept at cleaning or fixing so I actually bought a new heater. There is some sort of short somewhere that is tripping the GFI.

Jan. 13, 2009, 11:47 AM
GFCI trip when they sense an imbalance of electricity between the two wires. This imbalance happens when you touch a bare wire while standing in a puddle. It also happens when water gets into the plug of the heater or extension cord... and breaks in the insulation of the cords. So ... unless the heater is faulty, check and dry the plug and receptacle of the extension cords. Don't just get rid of the GFCI, it may save your life or the life of your horse.:yes:

Jan. 13, 2009, 12:08 PM
I would second your hunting for the REASON the GFCI is tripping. Something is not working as it should, and THAT problem needs fixing.

It is like putting in a bigger fuse, to prevent blowing them. The bigger fuse will allow more power to flow, takes more heat, allowing BAD stuff to happen. I almost had a car fire from that. Wipers didn't work, told mechanic. He said he fixed them and I took car home, started raining. Drove along with wipers on, then smelled a terrible smell, pulled over, turned the car off. Called the wrecker, who came and told me that the wiring had started melting together, melting rug, insulation. Good thing I stopped, turning car off prevented actual flames starting. Back to mechanic, whose helper had just changed blown wiper, 15 amp fuse to a 30 amp fuse instead of finding the problem that blew the first fuse.

You don't work around a problem. The tripping is your WARNING SIGN, there is trouble someplace that needs looking to find.

Going around the GFCI will create a different problem. Maybe overheated wiring, start a fire someplace. Clean off the water heater, get it heating evenly. Heaters pull a huge amount of power, is wiring up to that load of electric? Barn use, not just house outlets, that may take a bigger gauge wire for long run to the outlet? What gauge wire is your extension cord? Even short cord needs to be heavier wire inside, not the common 16gauge wire. Cord should be stamped someplace, with gauge inside the insulation. Bigger gauge wire makes electric move easier with less power loss. You still loose power at each plug-in, with adding length and cords, from the outlets. This will kill tank heaters, or shorten their expected working life, with not enough power, unsteady power, long cord lengths to reach the tank, using timers.

So FIX the problem, don't work around it or be accepting of it. I would second getting a different electrician, find the reason there is trouble. Does it blow at certain times of day? After a certain time of running? Recreate the situation, to help aid the electrician.

Jan. 13, 2009, 12:54 PM
I don't think my tank heater has EVER tripped the GFIC (which is fully functional....relatively new and tested regularly). I'd look at replacing the tank heater.

Jan. 13, 2009, 01:03 PM
GFCI outlets must be replaced about every 5 years. They will start inadvertently tripping even if there is no problem. The newer outlets have indicators if the outlet is bad. I just replaced all of my outdoor outlets becasue they are 10 years old and were tripping for no reason.


Jan. 13, 2009, 03:26 PM
I would get another electrician out there and discuss it with him/her and possibly replace the GFI AND the tank heater.

Jan. 13, 2009, 10:20 PM
You might want to check for hard water deposits (white stuff) sticking onto your tank deicer. This causes uneven heating in the deicer, and can cause electric surges which could be what's tripping your GFI.

This is what has happened to me before. I cleaned up the tank deicer and it quit tripping the GFI.

The absolute best way to remove the hard water deposits - soak the heating element in apple cider vinegar overnight (several hours probably works also). I do this every year at the end of winter, and my heater looks brand new. I also keep some ACV added to the water just to help keep down the deposits on a regular basis.

Jan. 14, 2009, 08:30 AM
I'll try cleaning the heaters and see if that makes a difference. Thanks for the advice! Hopefully spring will here shortly and this will no longer be an issues. :)

Jan. 14, 2009, 08:40 AM
Every year when I turn on my auto-waterer heater for the first time (the heater is housed inside the body of the waterer, where it is always damp) the GFCI trips over and over again, until the heater dries out a little bit. Even if I remove it and wipe it off, even if there's no obvious visible wetness, it just seems to have enough dampness in it to trip the circuit. After 8-10 trips back to the breaker box, it settles down, evidently dries itself out, and works fine. It's done this 3 winters in a row, and I figure it's a GOOD sign--the GFCI is properly sensing wet in the circuit and doing its job. :yes:

The only other time it's ever tripped is when we had a freaky windstorm and the electricity to the whole property flickered on and off half a dozen times in one night. My clue was a skin of ice over the waterer in the morning! :)

I would check the system for any insulation leaks, clean it really well, and keep watching. Other than that, I can only endorse your final sentiment with all my heart. :sigh:

Jan. 14, 2009, 08:56 AM
I don't know if this might have anything to do with it - but check to see what circuit breaker you have. If you have a 20amp and you're pulling more than that with the heater or other items on the same circuit, I think that would cause it to trip.

My very limited understanding is that the circuit breaker is rated for a maximum number of amps. If the heater has its own breaker, and it's properly sized and you have the right wiring, then the problem could be the outlet.

If you have multiple appliances, even a light, on the same circuit, and they are all on, you may inadvertently exceed the max amperage that circuit breaker is rated for. So it trips.

If your wiring is insufficient that might also cause the breaker to trip.

I'm pretty sure you can determine some of this yourself by looking at the breakers and seeing what is being run on that circuit. I don't remember if the heaters have a rating on them or it's just on the box but you should be able to determine that without too much trouble.

I could be wrong on the amperage stuff and the gauge of the wire so please double check/verify what I've written.

The GFCI can offer a false sense of security since what some people do is install the outlet but not check the panel or wiring to ensure everything is rated correctly. Then when the outlet shuts off, they assume it's the outlet when the problem could be elsewhere. Again - I could be wrong on that.

Good luck!