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Mini Trees kept tripping GFCIs


macrosill
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Last year everytime it rained I would get a GFCI trip. After much hair pulling and running around in the dark and elevating and bagging every connection I figured out what was causing my problems. I was getting a cumulative effect of voltage leaking from the tomatoe cage minis and wrapped tree trunks. I had to rewire some of the display to get the tree trunks and minis all on one circuit so I could just turn that circuit off if it had rained and the show would continue. I was thinking if I could "insulate" the tomatoe cages from the ground I might be able to keep it all running if the ground is wet, after the rain stops. I thought of using a peice of wood but eventually that will get wet and then it would not work well. Today an idea poped into my head. If I took a rubber hose and slit it open then wrapped the base of the tomatoe cage with this hose I would have "insulated" the cage from ground contact as well as "insulated" the ground spikes from the cage too. I was thinking of a small diameter automotive rubber heater hose. This might work. Any comments or other ideas anyone has used in the past or is thinking of using this up coming year?

Thanks,

Brian

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Randy,

I ruled out a broken bulb or bare wire as ther is no one tree that tripped the GFCI by itself. It would take about 5 or 6 of them all on at once to cause the trip. No one single tree would do it. It appears as though it is a cumulative voltage loss that occurs. Each tree has a slight loss when added to another 5 or 6 together the loss is great enough to trip the GFCI.

Brian

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If it isn't current leakage from the wire or from broken bulbs, all that is left is inductive transfer to the metal frame as if it were a transformer. I would think the normal twisting of the mini wiring would reduce that, but perhaps if you wound half the strings clockwise and the other half counter clockwise, it would have a "zero" net induction.

This is assuming, of course, that induction is taking place. A sensitive magnetic compass could answer that question. Wrapping wire around and around a steel core is frequently called an "inductor."

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Conductivity of the ground goes WAY UP when it rains, particularly if you have acid rain (and most people do).

Anyway, it is just a theory. I have no way to prove it (or even defend it) at the moment. A GFCI works by seeing an unbalanced or unequal amount of current on the Hot side versus the Cold side of the power.

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If you insulate the frame, and then get leakage, the frame will become live and anyone touching it . . .

You could use an isolation transformer . . . do you have these?

Before we got ELR's (Earth Leakage Relay - same as your GFCI's) we used isolation transformers anytime we used our rather more dangerous mains voltage outside. In fact, the only way we could have a power outlet in a bathroom prior to ELR's was to use an isolating transformer, and yes, a unit was made with a transformer and called a "shaver socket" that fitted in a oversize flush box . . .

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macrosill wrote:

If I took a rubber hose and slit it open then wrapped the base of the tomatoe cage with this hose I would have "insulated" the cage from ground contact as well as "insulated" the ground spikes from the cage too. I was thinking of a small diameter automotive rubber heater hose. This might work. Any comments or other ideas anyone has used in the past or is thinking of using this up coming year?

Ok, I don't have any experience with this particular problem but I do have a good memory for what others have posted. I remember that Joe Ayo posted about essentially the same problem with his wireframe deer. He said that he reworked the lights so that the bottom few inches of the deer's legs did not have any lights. In other words all the lights on the deer were at least a few inches off the ground. He reported that this eliminated GFCI trips by the deer.

Do the lights on your mini trees go all the way to the ground? If so I would do a test. Take about 5 or 6 of them (make sure it's enough to trip the GFCI in their current condition) and pull the strings up so that all the lightsat about 4 inches or so off the ground. Then put them out and wait for it to rain. When it rains turn them on and see if they trip the GFCI.

TED

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Ted,

Yes, the lights go all the way down and come in contact with the ground. I will try that and see hpw it goes.

Kama,

As to insulating the trees and causing a dangerous condition, each tree does not leak enough voltage to be dangerous, it is a cumulative effect of more than a few trees. So someone would need to touch 6 trees at the same time to leak enough voltage to where it would be close to becoming a hazard, that is why the gfci trips only when there a more than a few trees on. Even if they were totally insulated and someone touched a tree with a dangerous condition the gfci would trip before the person was shocked, that is the purpose of the gfci.

Thanks for all the ideas thus far,

Brian

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macrosill wrote:

Kama,

As to insulating the trees and causing a dangerous condition, each tree does not leak enough voltage to be dangerous, it is a cumulative effect of more than a few trees. So someone would need to touch 6 trees at the same time to leak enough voltage . . .

It is not the voltage that kills you - that just helps to get the current thru you, which does the damage - 100ma will kill you. If your GFCI's are like our ELR's they trip at 30ma (medical ones trip at 5ma) and believe me, you can feel 30ma flowing thru you. If a tree has leakage, the grass is wet, you are in bare feet and your hands are wet, you only need to touch one to get a boot and trip the GFCI - and you will feel it!

We have regulations in NZ stopping this very thing -"risk of electric shock". The only way to make it safe is isolation transformers.

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Brian, you’ve probably seen my display on the Vixen website. I ran the whole display on one GFCI. It rained fairly heavily for four days straight and never had a trip. I think Ted’s got it right. I staked my mini trees down to the ground and didn’t paint them, but I did leave an inch or so of space on the bottom; the lights never sat in water. I rapped all of my SSR’s that were exposed with plastic (tablecloth for Party City) and tie wrapped on the bottom, but not tight. Water could get in and out from the bottom but not from the top.

I was actually surprised that it didn’t trip since I could see streams of water running down the tree trunks while the lights were flashing away. I think it has more to do with the acidity of the soil and how well it conducts electricity than the conduction of live plants.

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I always had a problem with my mini-trees, as they were constructed from galvanized rod.

Great to resist rust, but terrible for wet conductivity problems, such as mentioned above.

My solution that I've found for me personally to be very effective is to paint the outside of the legs at the point of most contact or wrap of the lights with a few coats of clear spray paint.

After doing so, I have had TWO uninterrupted years of mini-tree GFCI tripping.

Another unintended benefit was that the light strings seem to "cling" to the clear better than bare metal and not slide up the frames and the light strings get loose.

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This may be an outside the box type of thought but to fix you problem use a disk made of plastic with some drain holes in it. Like the bottom of a 5 gallon plastic bucket or a lid from the same bucket, or how about a frisbee or a piece of visqueen cut to size.

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I had this same problem in 2006. Half the mini-trees were OKbut when all of them came on my GFI tripped. Thisonly happened when it rained alot and the ground was pretty wet. I ended up laying plastic under the trees. This got methrough the rest of the season.

I didn't run my lights all the way to the ground on the cages. I started about 2-3 inches up, or at the first "rung" on a 33" tomato cage. I was thinking about doing the rubber hose idea myself or maybe some of the brush-on electrical tape.

Good luck!

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  • 11 months later...

I was curious if anybody had ever tried the split rubber hose idea to insulate the bottom of a tomato cage ring? I had the same idea, but kind of figured it would create a water trap even though it would be insulated from the acutal ground. Any Luck ??

-Darin

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I think one of the reasons keeping the lights higher from the ground may help is that it keeps the lights away from any water splashing off the lawn, which likely has higher ionic content than the rain water. Between natural minerals, and synthetic fertilizer, there is probably a lot of salts in most lawns, which probably results in the water on the grass having a much higher conductivity than what is falling out of the air. On top of this, the bottoms of mini light sockets are not sealed, so there is a good chance of a water film forming between the contacts in some number of sockets, and the frame of the mini tree.

Personally, I have a set of 8, 36 inch tall trees, and they use plastic tent stakes as feet. This allows each leg to be pushed in as needed to level the tree, and keep all of the wiring at least a couple of inches above the tips of the grass.

Once I solved some GFCI trips on the inlet cords to the controllers, I did not have any GFCI trips on these trees, that are 1,200 lights each...

- Kevin

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I just had the plastic feet idea and wondered how to implement it. I have both tomato cages and flower easel trees. On the 3 leg easels I was thinking of somehow zip-tying those little green plastic stakes to the bottom of each leg. I have about 3" of metal below the first row of lights to allow the doubling of the plastic stake. The only remaining curiosity is how to make the plastic feet (stakes) secure enough to keep from sliding around when setting up and tearing down the tree.

It sounds like we are all on the same page. I certainly need ground clearance and ground insulation because it rains heavy in December.

Thanks

-Darin

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