Do you have a GFCI outlet that isn’t working, keeps tripping, or won’t reset? It’s easy to think the worst when it comes to an electrical problem, but a few simple steps can help ease your mind and prevent safety issues. Here are some tips for troubleshooting a GFCI outlet so you’ll know when to replace it or call an electrician.
What is a GFCI Outlet?
A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a type of outlet that shuts off power when it detects that current is flowing along an unintended path. The device stops the flow of electricity to the outlet by opening (interrupting) the circuit, and by doing so, prevents a possible electric shock.
Water and electricity don’t mix, so your home should have GFCI outlets in the kitchen and bathrooms. They’re required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) for rooms that can get wet and pose the greatest risk for electric shock.
Garages have been added to the list of required spots needing GFCI outlets. Basements often have wet floors and sump pits; these too require GFCI outlets for your safety. Make sure all outlets outside your home are GFCI-protected as well.
But what should you do when a GFCI outlet isn’t working properly?
Test your GFCI Outlet
The only way to know if your outlet is performing as it should is to test it. In this case, you will want to leave the power on to properly test the outlet.
First, try plugging in a lamp to check that the GFCI device is in working order. The outlet will trip instantly if a problem is present. If no power is received, make sure the outlet isn’t already tripped. Try pressing the reset button. If there is still no power, have a licensed electrician check the GFCI to see if it has faulty wiring or needs to be replaced.
Next, press the black test button and listen for an audible “snap” sound. Try turning on the lamp that’s plugged in to ensure it’s not receiving power. The test button simulates a short circuit, which will stop any current being supplied.
- If the power is switched off, the lamp won’t turn on and the GFCI is working correctly. Press the reset button, which should reset the outlet and restore power to the device. Make sure the lamp works correctly and that the outlet doesn’t continue to trip.
- If the power doesn’t switch off and the lamp remains on, call a licensed electrician. The outlet may be faulty or wired incorrectly.
Use a Testing Device
When it comes to protecting you and your family from electric shock, you can never be too safe. The only accurate way to test a GFCI outlet is with a test device that creates a ground fault.
These testers simply need to be plugged into the outlet, then a test button on the device is pressed. If a problem is detected, the outlet will trip.
These devices will help troubleshoot by giving you a direct reason for the trip, e.g., open ground, open neutral, open hot, etc.
Replacement GFCI Outlets
These outlets are subject to wear and tear and will eventually need to be replaced. A worn out GFCI is not able to adjust to the electric current variations as well as a new one. A common symptom of this is more frequent tripping. New GFCI outlets can be purchased at any hardware store.
Even if your GFCI outlets seem to be working properly, it’s important to test them every month. Newer GFCI outlets will do a self-test automatically and notify you if there’s a problem via a red light.
If your GFCI outlet still isn’t working properly, or your tests indicated a problem, call the experts at Graf Electric at 316-686-2090. Our team of residential electricians provides electrical repairs in the Wichita, Kansas, area.