Many people have heard of GFCI electrical outlets, but not everyone knows what they are. They are safety devices that turn off power to the circuit if there is a ground fault or an imbalance in voltage between the hot and neutral wires.
Although these outlets provide protection against electric shocks, sometimes they don't work as expected because of problems with wiring or installation. (Related: How Much Does It Cost To Replace An Electrical Panel?) This blog post will discuss how to troubleshoot these issues so you can be sure your home is safe from electricity accidents!
Outlets in areas that are wet or damp, such as kitchens and bathrooms, require GFCI protection. In order for an outlet to be a GFCI outlet, there must be two wires connected from the source of power into the electrical box where it is installed.
In older homes with knob-and-tube wiring (wiring with exposed wires), GFCI outlets will not work at all. There is no way to add a ground wire when there is only one coming into the box from the power source, so it cannot be wired in as required for GFCIs. In new homes with circuit breakers instead of fuses and two-wire cable (wiring with sheathed copper conductors and an equipment grounding conductor), GFCI outlets can be installed without replacing or rewiring anything. The cable must have two wires coming in, but it does not matter which is hot and which is neutral; the ground wire only has to exist for the outlet to work as a GFCI.
The white wire from the power source connects to one side of a GFCI outlet. A wire is connected between this screw and the grounding terminal on the other side, which allows for current to travel through if there's an imbalance or fault in voltage. The bare copper wire (equipment ground) only has to be attached under one of these screws; it does not need to be connected at both terminals.
The power source has a grounding wire that is attached under the other screw on this side of the outlet, which connects it back to ground through the neutral wires in your home's wiring.
Causes of GFCI Failure
There are several reasons why GFCI electrical outlets might not work properly, including wiring issues and problems with the outlet.
How to Troubleshoot GFCIs
If you are experiencing problems with your GFCI outlets, try the following steps before calling a professional for help:
Check if the Other Outlets are Dead
If any other outlets on the same circuit are not working, it is possible that there is a problem with the wiring between them. If this happens, you should turn off power to your home's main breaker and call an electrician for help.
This can happen if there is no ground wire in some receptacles, or if it does not connect properly with the electrical system. Ensure that you mark the GFCI outlets that are not working so you can easily identify them.
Check if there is Insulation on the Wires
Turn off power to your home's main breaker and use a voltage tester or multimeter to check for power in the outlet. If there is no current, turn your breaker back on before you begin insulation troubleshooting. If the neutral and hot wires in a GFCI outlet are not green or bare, it is possible that they have insulation on them. This can cause issues with the safety device because there will be no difference in voltage between these two lines and thus power cannot turn off if an imbalance occurs.
The GFCI needs to sense the difference in voltage between the neutral and hot wires, but if there is insulation on one of these lines it can prevent this from happening. Turn off power to your home's main breaker and use a voltage tester or multimeter to check for power in the outlet. If there is no current, turn your breaker back on before you continue troubleshooting.
Check for a Tripped Circuit or a Blown Fuse
When checking for a tripped circuit, you can use the "test" button on your GFCI outlet to check if it is working. If the light does not come on when this button is pressed, then there may be too much current running through the electrical system for that particular GFCI to work properly or a potentially tripped circuit. This means you should turn off power at your home's main breaker and call an electrician for help.
If the GFCI is working properly, there may be a problem with the circuit that it is protecting or with its power source. A tripped circuit can cause many problems including appliances not turning on or outlets not getting any electricity at all even when they are turned to "on."
Physically Check the GFCIs
If you are still experiencing problems with your GFCI outlets after checking for wiring issues, ensuring that there is no insulation on the wires, and determining if it has tripped due to too much power running through its circuit or a blown fuse, then physically check it. You can do this by turning off your home's main breaker box and removing the GFCI outlet's "test" button. Then, using a screwdriver or another small tool, carefully remove the screws on top of your GFCI and gently pull it out from its electrical box.
You can do this by turning off your home's main breaker box and removing the GFCI outlet's "test" button. Then, using a screwdriver or another small tool, carefully remove the screws on top of your GFCI and gently pull it out from its electrical box.
Check for corrosion in any metal parts inside of the outlet that are used to detect voltage imbalances between hot and neutral wires. If there is visible corrosion present then you should turn off your home's main breaker, call an electrician for help, and then replace the GFCI. If there is no corrosion present in any metal parts inside of this outlet, you can turn on power to your home's main breaker again and check if the problem has been fixed by using its "test" button. If it turns on then there may be a problem with the circuit it is protecting or its power source. If this doesn't work, you should turn off power to your home's main breaker and call an electrician for help.
Replace your GFCI Outlet
If after checking all of these steps you are still experiencing problems with your GFCI outlets, then they might need to be replaced. If this is the case, turn off your home's main breaker.
Replacing your GFCI outlets is a very simple process that you can do on your own. All it takes is turning off power to the outlet at your home's main breaker, removing any screws around its cover, gently pulling out the GFCI from inside of the electrical box, disconnecting all wires connected to this device, connecting new replacement outlets by repeating the steps in the opposite order, and then turning on your home's main breaker.
I hope this blog post has taught you a little more about GFCIs, why they don't always work properly as well as what to do if they are not working. They are very simple devices so while it can be a good idea to call an electrician for help in exceptional circumstances, you should be able to troubleshoot them yourself.