How to Identify GFCI Outlet Problems
Vic in Beaver, Pennsylvania asks: What is causing a GFCI Outlet to trip off? How to Identify and Correct GFCI Outlet Problems, The Most Common Problems with GFCI Outlets, Troubleshoot, Locate and Fix GFCI Outlet Problems.
Guide to GFCI Outlet Wiring Problems
Electrical Question: What is causing a GFCI Outlet to trip off?
We have a problem where a GFCI Outlets trips off.
- We have an old house with a bathroom and laundry room in the basement.
- We wired it so the first device off the load center was a GFCI.
- We fed additional outlets and ceiling lights from this point on, thinking we would be protecting the devices and the occupants in the wet environment.
- This worked well for 2 or 3 years. We are now starting to have a problem where the GFCI trips. The breaker does not.
- It does not matter if the lights are off or on, if outlets are being used, etc.
- If switches and outlets combined cannot be on the same GFCI can we put a standard receptacle in place of the GFCI and then buy plug devices to install in each receptacle in the bathroom and laundry room?
This electrical wiring question came from: Vic, a Homeowner from Beaver, Pennsylvania.
Thanks for your electrical wiring question Vic.
How to Identify and Repair GFCI Outlet Problems
Application: Troubleshoot GFCI Outlet Problem.
Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate – Best performed by a Licensed Electrician.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools and a Voltage Tester.
Estimated Time: Depends on personal level experience, ability to work with tools and the number of outlets that will be replaced.
Precaution: Identify the GFCI circuit, turn it OFF and Tag it with a Note before working with the circuit wiring.
What a GFCI Outlet is and Why They are Required
- The Importance of GFCI, Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters
- The design of GFCI devices helps to protect against electrical shock.
- GFCI protection is required in areas of the home as specified by the National Electrical Code and other jurisdictions or local building departments or agencies.
- Typical locations that require GFCI protection for receptacle outlets include bathrooms, kitchen counter tops, garages, and outdoor electrical outlets.
- GFCI protection is provided by installing GFCI Receptacle Outlets or GFCI Circuit Breakers.
- The Basic Operation of a GFCI Outlet
- GFCI Outlets come with TEST and RESET Buttons which are located on the face of the outlet.
- After the GFCI outlet is wired and the circuit power is turned ON the RESET Button must be pressed to activate the Ground Fault Protection of the outlet.
- The TEST Button can be pressed to test the GFCI outlet to see if it is operating properly.
- When the TEST Button is pressed the GFCI outlet should not have power to the receptacles of the GFCI outlet, and additional devices that are protected by the GFCI outlet should also be OFF.
- A GFCI Outlet will trip OFF if a electrical circuit voltage to ground fault is detected.
- How a 120 Volt GFCI Outlet is Wired
- A typical 120 Volt circuit consists of a Black Power Wire, White Neutral Wire, and a Bare or Green Ground Wire.
- The GFCI Outlet has LINE and LOAD screw terminals.
- The Brass Screws are for the Circuit Power Wires, and the Silver Screws are for the Circuit Neutral Wires.
- The Incoming Circuit Power is attached to the LINE side.
- The Ground Wire is attached to the Green Ground Screw terminal located at the bottom of the GFCI Outlet.
- If additional devices require GFCI protection and will be connected to this GFCI outlet then the Outgoing Circuit Wires are attached to the LOAD side of the GFCI Outlet.
The Most Common Problems with GFCI Outlets
- If a GFCI Outlet Does Not Have Power, or the TEST or RESET Buttons Do Not Work
- The circuit is not energized and the circuit breaker is turned off.
- The circuit has tripped off because of a problem within the circuit or a device that is connected to the circuit.
- The RESET Button has not been pressed on the GFCI outlet to turn the outlet on.
- The GFCI is not wired correctly.
- The GFCI outlet is faulty and needs to be replaced.
- Troubleshoot, Locate and Fix GFCI Outlet Problems
- Check for any signs of moisture at the outlet or within the protected circuit wiring and components which can cause the GFCI outlet to trip off. This is a problem especially at outdoor locations and during weather changes where wind blown rain can create moisture around outdoor outlets.
- Check for damaged or missing cover plates which can cause nuisance tripping. Replace damaged outlet covers and gaskets as needed. Make sure hinged covers are closed, and bubble covers are used when cords remain plugged into an outlet.
- If the circuit power is on and the GFCI will not RESET then the wiring connected to the GFCI outlet is not configured correctly or there is a problem within the wiring that is connected to the GFCI outlet.
- To isolate and identify the source of the problem it is best to remove the wiring connected to the LOAD side of the GFCI outlet and double check the circuit wiring configurations and polarity of the connected devices.
- GFCI outlets take up a lot of space inside the outlet box, so make sure the box is large enough to prevent pinching wires or over crowding that can lead to problems.
- Make sure the ground wire of the circuit is in fact grounded and the ground wires are spliced together correctly.
- GFCI outlets may not last forever and they may wear out and stop working. In some cases they may stay on and not trip off when the test button is pressed, and that is a clear indication that the GFCI outlet needs to be replaced.
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This link is helpful as a Homeowner
Be Careful and Be Safe - Never Work on Energized Circuits!
Consult your Local Building Department about Permits and Inspections for all Electric Wiring Projects.
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