The refrigerator and microwave cannot be installed on the same circuit because the combined load will cause the circuit breaker to trip. Without the circuit breaker, the overload can cause the circuit wiring to overheat and melt the wire insulation resulting in a fire.
The kitchen appliances have evolved and become more functional and sophisticated. Too many appliances in a kitchen without multiple circuits can tempt you to install the refrigerator and microwave on the same circuit. But is it right?
The rest of this article delves deep to explain other topics related to this question, including, can you install any other appliance along with your refrigerator, does the microwave require a dedicated circuit, and what other home appliances require dedicated circuits.
Can You Plug Anything Else Along With Your Refrigerator (Apart From the Microwave)?
Though the National Electric Code (NEC) has imposed standards that give the kitchen multiple circuits and at least one lighting circuit, there are no specific rules on the NEC regarding plugging in your refrigerator with any other appliance. Or require you to keep your refrigerator on a dedicated circuit.
However, you must read the refrigerator’s manual regarding circuit installation and the other appliance you intend to plug it in with. You must also consider your local electric code.
Refrigerator Electrical Requirements
Today’s fridge may consume less power than one built in the early 70s due to changes meant to improve energy efficiency. However, these consume up to three times more power when they start up compared to when they are running.
The microwave, on the other hand, draws up to 1500w once plugged in. This combination of high power consumption is another reason why you should not install the microwave and fridge on the same circuit.
Most modern refrigerators consume about 750w and require a dedicated 20amp 120/125V circuit. Your refrigerator is also a non-continuous duty load. This means that the fridge draws power from the circuit non-continuously from the mains.
These kinds of loads that do not draw power for more than three hours at a time can be placed on the same circuit with other non-continuous circuit loads, so long as their total consumption doesn’t exceed that of your circuit breaker.
While your fridge may be smaller and has been working well on a general power outlet or a lighting circuit, consider having a dedicated 120/125V circuit installed for it, with a 12/2 NM wire with a ground terminal.
Install a Dedicated Circuit for Your Refrigerator to Avoid Nuisance Tripping
A circuit is a loop through which electricity flows, and your home has several of those installed and equipped with a circuit breaker that stops the power from flowing in case there is a power spike or any appliance connected attempts to draw too much power.
When your refrigerator is starting up, it may draw up to 6 times its current running power, which might end up tripping your circuit breaker. It is called nuisance tripping, where the power supply is broken without any hazardous situation.
Connecting your fridge with other appliances can cause repeated nuisance tripping, which can be a major inconvenience, especially for the fridge’s perishable items.
What’s more, this tripping is detrimental to the power supply. This kind of tripping happens depending on what else you have connected to the circuit, which is why most refrigerator manufacturers insist that you keep them on dedicated circuits.
The NEC Recommends GFCI Protection for Your Fridge
Your refrigerator may be on its own dedicated circuit or general-purpose receptacle circuit, but the risks of electric shocks are very high. The 2011 NEC recommendations call for GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) for the receptacle to which the refrigerator is connected.
GFCIs are mostly in bathrooms, but moisture can pool from a faulty ice maker or faucet connection even in your kitchen. The GFCI protection is important, especially if your fridge is within 6 feet of your sink or is located in the garage or basement.
The GFCI works by comparing the input current on the hot side to the output current. If it determines a difference between the two, then there is current leaking somewhere, and it works to stop the current from flowing to the affected appliance immediately. This current, even as low as ten milliamps, is enough to destroy human tissues.
Your circuit breaker and GFCI are different in that the former protects against excessive overloads and short circuits, while the latter protects you from life-threatening shocks. Circuit breakers do not detect the changes in current due to ground fault conditions.
Does the Microwave Need to Be on Its Dedicated Circuit?
The microwave requires its circuit. A 20amp, 120-125V circuit with a 12/2 wire with a ground terminal is essential to provide the microwave with sufficient power. Microwaves come in varying varieties and sizes, which may affect the amount of power they consume.
Some microwaves are designed for placement on the counter. At the same time, others are mounted under the cabinet and over your stove. You may find some microwaves plugged into standard appliance power outlets. However, some larger microwaves draw up to 1500W and, therefore, require dedicated circuits.
GFCI protection is not indicated for this circuit, though AFCI (Arc fault circuit interrupter) protection is required as the appliance is directly connected to an outlet. This is a circuit breaker that trips the circuit when it detects an electric arc in the circuit, which helps prevent electrical fires.
Can You Place a Microwave on Top of the Refrigerator?
There is no technical reason why you should not. They may be on the opposite sides when it comes to their kitchen functions, but you can place your microwave on top of your fridge. This can be valuable, especially if you have limited space in your kitchen.
Today’s microwaves are made so that they do not become excessively hot, and since the fridge’s coils are behind it, there are no real risks to worry about. The only possible risk is if the refrigerator is too tall and poses a risk of falling on kids attempting to use it.
What Other Home Appliances Must You Install on Their Dedicated Circuits?
As a general rule of thumb, all appliances with a power rating of over 1000W must have their own circuits and circuit breaker for optimal function and safety. Other appliances that you should install on their own circuits include:
Garbage disposal machines, dryers, washers, stoves, ovens, hot tubs, and dishwashers draw plenty of power and should be on their own circuits. Your local electric codes have specifications on other appliances that must be installed separately regardless of wattage, so you should consider those too.
Some machines have delicate electronics and features that can be easily damaged by the slightest power fluctuation. When you install your appliances on one circuit, they have the same electricity, which should not be a problem for small appliances like phone chargers, fans, and lamps.
However, others like computers have chips that are sensitive to the small dips and surges that occur as other machines on the circuit are plugged on or off. For their safety and optimal function, you are advised to keep computers on dedicated circuits even when not recommended by building codes.
Safety should be your top priority when it comes to kitchen appliances as they make cooking, cleaning, and home maintenance easier and convenient. Considering their power consumption and other electrical properties should guide you in making the right installation decisions.