GFCI 101


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GFCI Outlet Run Down

GFCI outlets (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) are primarily used for areas more likely to damage your wires with water. Since water and electricity can cause a fire, it’s important to have GFCI outlets installed in kitchens, bathrooms, garages, and other damp locations. All GFCI outlets must be grounded with a ground wire (the brass-colored wire) and installed correctly.

What are the buttons on my GFCI?

On every GFCI outlet, there are two buttons. One button is ‘test,’ and the other is ‘reset.’ The test button is used to test whether or not the ground fault function of the GFCI is working properly. The reset button is used as protection against the ground fault. Pressing the test button will activate the reset button. If the reset button pops due to pressing the test button, your GFCI outlet is working as it should. If the reset button is popped, the GFCI outlet and any other outlet coming off the GFCI will not have any power. Simply pressing the reset button will restore the power to the GFCI and any outlet after that.

What is a ground fault?

A ground fault results from a ground wire not functioning as it should. There could be many causes of this ground fault:

  1. The ‘hot’ wire (black wire) is in contact with the ground wire (brass wire).

If the black wire in an outlet is touching the ground wire, it could be providing power (or ‘hot’) to the ground. If this is the case, TURN OFF YOUR BREAKER (it should have a label on your panel to the area of the house the faulty GFCI is in) and make sure the hot wire is connected to the correct port on the outlet and that the ground wire is no longer in contact.

If you are unsure which breaker provides power to the GFCI, you should contact a professional electrician to assist you.

2. Two or more wires are in contact with each other by water.

If water has damaged your GFCI or water is connecting power to multiple wires, your GFCI would detect this fault and stop providing power. Most commonly, the issue would be in the GFCI box and is often seen in outside outlet boxes. To fix this issue, first you should confirm that any exposed wires aren’t in contact with water. If all seems dry, you can try to replace the GFCI. Make sure to wire it properly and TURN OFF YOUR BREAKER.

If replacing the GFCI doesn’t solve the issue, contact a professional electrician to asses the situation.

3. Too much power is on one circuit.

Sometimes GFCI outlets are protecting an entire circuit of outlets. When this is the case its more common for too many electronics and appliances to be drawing power on one GFCI. Too much power taken up on a GFCI can result in the reset button popping and the entire circuit to lose power. To fix this issue, unplug everything that is plugged into that circuit and press in the reset button. If the button pops again there’s either still too many things on the circuit or it’s another issue.

If you’re unsure of what is all on the circuit unplug as much as you can in the general vicinity of the GFCI. Sometimes that GFCI could be protecting more than one room (typically bathrooms) so if you can, unplug your electronics and appliances from other rooms the GFCI could be protecting.

4. Power could be arcing to the ground wire.

When power is arcing to the ground wire this is a serious fire hazard. GFCI outlets safely turn off and prevent any more power from arcing. However, solving this issue is usually not simple. If power is arcing inside the GFCI outlet box the ground wire is probably too close to the wire providing power (almost always the black wire). The arc would be because they aren’t in full contact but close enough that the power can connect them right through the air (it would look like a small continuous spark). Unfortunately, arcing is more likely to happen inside of a wall. More often than not an arcing wire is not the issue, but if it is a professional electrician should be contacted. Even with the proper electrician tools and knowledge it can be very difficult to find the arc.

And there you have it, most of the time the issues listed would be the issues you would find in your own home. If the simple fixes aren’t enough you should always contact an electrician to asses the situation.

How to wire a GFCI outlet

Wiring a GFCI outlet is pretty simple with these steps. Don’t forget to TURN OFF YOUR BREAKER before attempting any electrical fixes yourself. If you cannot locate the correct breaker in your panel to turn off power to a GFCI, call an electrician to assist.

Need to contact an electrician?

If you’re in Lancaster County, PA, SOS Electrical can help.

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