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Flanigan

Why you use GFCIs and the proper cords!!

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This was a bonehead move on my part, and a good object lesson why one should use GFCI outlets and outdoor approved extension cords!

Dumb move 1: Needed one more outlet for the display - all the GFCIs were used and at near max load, so two-ways were out of the question. So, ran a cord intot he workshop area and plugged the controller into a standard outlet.

Dumb move 2: Ran out of outdoor cords for the last llight string. So, instead of going and and buying an outdoor rated cord, I grabbed a cheapie INDOOR ONLY cord and used it instead.

Last night, the day after we had some rain, I noticed that half the megatree I was using two 16ch controllers on was dead. Finally discovered a fuse on the controller had blown. Replaced fuse and was rewarded by the sounds of arcing and brilliant fireball off to my right. Yup. That trusty and thoroughly soaked indoor cord had failed. Left a nice 6" scorched area on the lawn.

If a GFCI were used, this wouldn't have happened, and/or if the proper cord were used.

Now, lets consider what could have happened if the cord had been on a rooftop or the grass in the yard had been dry enough....

SANY0008-1.jpg

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Just so I understand. You plugged the controller (3 prong) into the (2 prong) plug shown?

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Sorry - the fried cord was plugged into a controller output and feeding four strings of minis. Hence the blow fuse on the controller.

All controller main power is on grounded 12ga cords.

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Something else went wrong besides rain and indoor cords. That kind of damage shouldn't happen even if you sprayed water on the cord... Most likely a loose plug (bad cord?) and arcing/heat buildup resulting.

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My guess would be the rain water formed a bridge between the hot and neutral prongs with the subsequent arcing causing a fire.This same problem can occur with indoor or outdoor cords. It has nothing to due with the cord, but the connection. The problem is I'm not entirely sure a GFCI would have prevented this. An AFCI obviously would have and that is why I have inquired in the past if any PCers were using AFCI's in their displays. An AFCI being a arc fault circuit interupter.

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Something else went wrong besides rain and indoor cords. That kind of damage shouldn't happen even if you sprayed water on the cord... Most likely a loose plug (bad cord?) and arcing/heat buildup resulting.

I agree with Tim... this is not a ground fault problem. This is heat due to arcing. My hand made lamp cord lines have been wet more than dry this season and I have had zero problems.

Just for the record and so oldcqr doesn't fry me... GFCI are important and critical for what they do, but they do not stop arcing and burning. You had some other underlying problem here.

I would look for a dead short in the plug maybe...

Larry

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I agree with Tim. The picture is what a cord looks like when a direct short happens or a poor connection that is getting hot. I have had some lousy connections with those indoor cords. If the prongs only insert part way the connection surface will be too small to carry the connected current. This causes the connection to get hot. When the plastic gets hot enough it melts and allows the metal contacts to float in the liquid plastic. While floating the hot probably touched the neutral and Zorch!! :eek:

Make sure the cords are plugged in all the way. Then as things are running look for melted snow, smoke,flames, fire and brimstone...

GFI's will not trip out in this circumstance. Only fuses and circuit breakers.

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I use a lot of 'indoor' cords in the display but they typically carry very small loads - no more than an amp or two. For bigger loads, definitely go with outdoor cords, even though the indoor ones are rated for 15 amps.

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I too use many indoor extension cords without any problems. Since this question is GCFI related, thought I would ask.

The other day, I made my own bubble solution and it created a pile of bubbles, 2 ft high covering a mini tree. Of course my breaker tripped, and I reset it it. I went over and was clearing the bubbles, and I was shocked. I was very surprised as I thought getting shocked was impossible if you have everything on GCFI breakers. The breaker never tripped after the first time.

My mistake was that the solution called for karo syrup and i thought if a little was good, then more must be better. this caused the bubbles to be heavier than normal and many just just piled in one spot.

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Everyone is 100% correct. That is a overload/heat issue (most likely caused by the arcing everyone else is describing). GFCI probably (we can't say for sure since we don't know the exact path) wouldn't have saved the controller or the cord.

However, during the buildup to the catastrophic failure (the melting that exposed the conductors before the failure), GFCI would have saved you had you accidentally come in contact with those exposed wires.

Every year we hear about one of these major failures. I'd be willing to bet that 9 other PC members had something fail just as dangerously, but they won't post about it. Always using safe practices and always using safety devices, are the only weapons we have against these types of failures: The ones you DON'T see coming.

I'm glad no one was hurt. Hopefully your real world example will remind people that we have an obligation to be as safe as we can.

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I too use many indoor extension cords without any problems. Since this question is GCFI related, thought I would ask.

The other day, I made my own bubble solution and it created a pile of bubbles, 2 ft high covering a mini tree. Of course my breaker tripped, and I reset it it. I went over and was clearing the bubbles, and I was shocked. I was very surprised as I thought getting shocked was impossible if you have everything on GCFI breakers. The breaker never tripped after the first time.

My mistake was that the solution called for karo syrup and i thought if a little was good, then more must be better. this caused the bubbles to be heavier than normal and many just just piled in one spot.

You can still be shocked, even with a circuit protected by GFCI.

If you get between the hot and the neutral, your GFCI will not trip (since current going out the hot = the current coming back on the neutral).

If you have a ground fault situation (something that will cause the GFCI to trip), you will still feel the shock. The shock could be very painful, and you may even be burned by the current. HOWEVER, the GFCI will trip before the electricity can kill you.

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Indoor/outdoor isn't a problem. "Outdoor" rated cords just have better insulation to stand up to the elements. The wire inside is the same.

Admittedly, after a few years an indoor cord will begin to get brittle and present a shock hazard. If you are using indoor cords outside be sure to inspect them for cracks each year before use.

(And I don't know if a GFCI would necessarily have tripped in your case.)

Edited by ChuckHutchings

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I had a similar occurrence four years ago using exterior rated cords and a orange triple tap. Rainy night and the arc completely melted the three way, saw the flames from inside and shut it down. It is another reason why I am overly cautious running in rain.

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I use over 50 of these exact chords and have had zero problems. Of course my entire display runs on one 15 amp outlet (gotta love those LEDs) but I doubt it was an issue of GFCIs, it definitely looks like an arc.

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It looks like the fuse in the controller is what protected you in this case. All the safety items work nicely together. I plugged in a device this year that had a direct short (hot to neutral). It blew the 15 amp breaker for that controller but the GFCI on the same circuit remained in an un-tripped condition. The good part was that nothing more sever happened. It also good to post these situations because it keep all of us in our toes.

-Darin

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Hi Ken,

You can get a local shock as I would call it. Lets say you do what I did when I was a kid. In the process of trying to pull out a plug my fingers came across the prongs while they were still in the socket. So, if my finger was to come in contact with the neutral then the hot prong. The current leaving the hot lead and returning on the neutral lead. This would still be a balanced current as far as the GFI is concerned. Provided that no other part of my body contacted a grounded surface. Like standing on a rubber mat, or standing on a dry wooden ladder.

Now the GFI needs to see an unbalanced current (current leaving hot lead and returning back on the ground). So you will feel a shock, and if the current unbalance is large enough, it will trip the GFI. But a tingle is below the threshold level to trip the GFI.

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I too am late chiming in on this. BUT here it goes. We ran 1 controller and 7800 minis off of 2 GFCI outlets. The lights were fed by hand made lamp cord ext. cords that were soldered and shrink wrapped. We had several days of rain and a couple days of moderate snow. No problems with any electrical. The days we had very heavy rain, we shut down the show just to be safe.

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I had the same thing happen to me only it was with an outdoor rated extention cord. It didn't trip the GFCI but it did blow the fuse in the controller and melted the cord. Pretty scary!

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I have over 100 of these indoor cords for my display. My brother is a commercial electrician and when he ran more power, plugs,gfi's ect for my lights a few years ago, I asked him about using these cords. He said that it was just fine for what we do with them. He showed me the end cuts of both types and explained it was mainly in the insulation and uv protection of an exterior cord that makes the exterior cord different so the cord will be safe if you drive on it, drop things on it, basically it is made for the abuse of using outside.

I use real extention cords for running the power to the light or decoration, then use the indoor cords for splitting and short runs. I think that is what most people do anyway.

I check mine for cracks when I roll them up for storage and so far after 3 seasons, they seem to be just fine.

Not a failure yet!

The only problem I had with them is popping gfi's in the rain.

My brother inspected what I had done and recommended that I tape up the unused female plugs or make sure you put the cover caps on the females that are not being used and elevate ends off the ground. With using so many of these type of cords, it left a lot of opened ends for water and grounding. I did what he said and never had a problem again.

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Hi mcmyster

I really don't care if it was ARC fault --- ground fault ---- or whatever fault

The key is fault and the inevitable short cuts we choose to make.

Thanks for the reminder to due it correctly the first time

GREAT GRAPHIC

Frank A.:)

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Apparently the cords I -used- to use are junk - had one in my kids room for a couple of months running a table lamp. A few nights back, the girl starts yelling "burn, burn" (she's 5yo). I go in their room and sure enough - the plug end was slagged. Just ain't worth the risk.

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Apparently the cords I -used- to use are junk - had one in my kids room for a couple of months running a table lamp. A few nights back, the girl starts yelling "burn, burn" (she's 5yo). I go in their room and sure enough - the plug end was slagged. Just ain't worth the risk.

If that is a newer cord, and you were using it properly (not overloaded/not under a rug/etc), take the time to report it to the CPSC:

https://www.cpsc.gov/cgibin/incident.aspx

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