Troubleshooting 3 Common GFCI Outlet Problems

ground fault circuit interrupter outlet
  • 1 hours
  • Beginner
  • 10.00-25.00
What You'll Need
Ohmmeter #2 Robertson screwdriver Blade screwdriver
What You'll Need
Ohmmeter #2 Robertson screwdriver Blade screwdriver

A GFCI outlet, or a ground fault circuit interrupter outlet, is a kind of gadget that will protect you from being shocked or electrocuted. These special kinds of outlets are installed in parts of the house where shocks are most likely to happen, such as outdoors, near swimming pools, or in kitchens and bathrooms.

The GFCI outlet has a built-in sensor that detects any current change. Any significant change will prompt the system to shut down to protect you from the impending shock. Because these outlets are important in any home, troubleshooting them should be on the homeowner’s list of what-to-know.

1. Wear and Tear

GFCI outlets are vulnerable to wear and tear, just like standard electrical outlets, so expect your outlets to be less effective over time. One of the symptoms of an overused GFCI outlet is that it trips more than usual.

This is because a worn-out GFCI outlet is not able to adjust to the electric current variations as well as a new one can. For this reason, when you use your outlet for hairdryers and heaters, your GFCI outlet is prone to tripping. In order for you to solve this problem, simply install a new ground fault circuit interrupter outlet.

2. Black Wire Touching the Ground Bare

bare ground fault circuit interrupter

If your GFCI is relatively new, the problem could be in the black and white wires. Go to your circuit breaker and switch off the circuit for the GFCI outlet that is having problems. Then unscrew your ground fault circuit interrupter outlet and pull out the outlet from the box. Take out the black and white wires from your GFCI outlet. Using your ohmmeter, check to see whether there is continuity between your GFCI outlet’s ground and the white and black wires.

If you get continuity from disconnecting the white and black wires, then the problem could be that the white and black wires are touching with the bare ground. A black wire coming in contact with a bare ground usually results in a tripped outlet. This problem is often referred to as a leak in the circuit.

3. Defective Circuit

The GFCI outlets are often connected to each other in your house. This is why if a GFCI outlet has tripped those downstream, then the current will be affected likewise. When it comes to installing a GFCI outlet, you have to make sure that it is connected well to the entire circuit. You have to connect the panel wires to the line terminals. There are two terminals in your GFCI: the load and the line.

Since all of your GFCI outlets are interconnected, it is wise to have a system of wiring everything so that you can easily make circuit modifications. Check out all the GFCI outlets in your house, and remove the defective ones.

After you remove the dead ones, make pigtails for the hot wires and white wires of the GFCI outlets, and connect all that into the line terminals. The black wires should be connected to the brass line terminals while the white ones should be connected to the silver line terminals. Doing so will allow your GFCI outlets to trip only when they are really dead.

GFCI Outlet Problems FAQ

How can you tell if a GFCI outlet is bad?

Your GFCI outlet may be bad if it will not reset. If the button does not pop out when you press the test button, the GFCI may be bad.

If the reset button trips when you press it, this is a sign of a problem with the electrical current. You should use the breaker box to shut off the current and have it fixed as soon as possible.

Why does my GFCI outlet keep tripping and won't reset?

If your GFCI will not reset and keeps tripping, it's an indication that something is wrong with the ground wire. Moisture is one of the main things that can go wrong and cause damage that will make the GFCI malfunction.

What is the life expectancy of a GFCI outlet?

Typically, a GFCI outlet will last 15 to 25 years, barring damage due to moisture, fire, and other events.

What happens when a GFCI outlet goes bad?

GFCI outlets are designed to shut off completely when they are no longer working properly. This forces you to get a new outlet but it helps to prevent you from using a bad outlet that could be an extreme fire risk.

What would cause all GFCI outlets to trip?

Outlets "trip" the circuit breaker when the circuit is overloaded or when an appliance or device with malfunctioning wiring is plugged into the outlet.