In addition to being useful, GFCI outlets are mandatory to have in areas of the house where electric shocks are possible. You may notice that your GFCI outlets are not working, especially if you recently moved into a new house. Calling a professional electrician can be expensive, so you can troubleshoot the problem before you do that.
Some of the most common problems with GFCI outlets are tripped circuit breakers, incorrect installation, faulty appliances, wire problems, or even a broken outlet. Some issues are not easy to solve, but others require a simple resetting.
We are still in the house we are renting and will soon move to our new home. My wife asked me to look at an outlet in the master bathroom that wasn’t working. She said that she hit the night light in the bathroom by accident, and the little light bulb burned out.
After that happened, the outlet stopped working. In fact, none of the outlets in any of the bathrooms were working.
I honestly had no idea how to fix it until I researched the topic. I didn’t even know what a GFCI outlet was. Let’s understand what a GFCI outlet is and go over the steps to troubleshoot frequent problems.
What is a GFCI Outlet?
Before identifying a problem, you should know what a GFCI outlet is. GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. They are also known as GFI or Ground Fault Interrupter. They protect homeowners from possible electric shocks delivered by household appliances. It works in a way that continually compares input and output current, and if there is a difference, the GFCI will cut off the power supply to the faulty appliance. The difference between input and output means that there is an electrical current “leak” that may be dangerous for anyone touching the defective device.
In addition to potential electrical shocks, faulty appliances can be a serious fire hazard. That is why GFCI outlets are mandatory, and according to the National Electrical Code, they have to be installed in every area prone to moisture damage, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and similar locations.
The GFCI circuit breaker protects all the outlets on the same circuit within the house. That is, when one goes off, all of them stop working. I didn’t know that and couldn’t figure out why all the bathrooms’ outlets were not working.
If you have those outlets in your house, you will probably notice reset buttons on the outlet itself or the buttons located on a distribution panel. Those buttons are used to test or reset those outlets safely.
In the house we are currently renting the GFCI reset button is on the outlet, but in our new house in Lewes it is on the distribution panel.
GFCI Virtual Demonstration
Here is a virtual demonstration video from the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). The video highlights the importance of GFCI outlets as they have saved thousands of lives over the last three decades. It goes over the primary function of GFCI outlets and shows how they should be tested.
Troubleshooting Electrical Outlets That Don’t Work
Calling a professional is always a good idea, especially for those less experienced. However, a 5-minute visit may cost a lot of money, and some problems are fixable by flipping a switch. If you noticed that your GFCI outlet is not working, try to follow the steps below to identify and resolve a problem.
Check the Other Outlets
Try to turn on other appliances or lights in the house to see if the problem is localized or present in the entire house. If certain outlets are not working, mark them.
Check the Circuit Breakers
A tripped circuit breaker is one of the most common reasons for GFCI outlets not working. If that is the reason, you may solve it on the spot by flipping it into the correct position. It is easy to see this problem because it will be the only circuit breaker positioned in the opposite way.
Circuit Breaker Won’t Reset
If the problem still occurs after you tried to reset it, the problem may be in the wiring. In that case, you should consider calling a professional electrician, because there are numerous reasons and locations for this problem. And keep the circuit breaker off until the issue is resolved. Do not try to force it in the right position.
If you notice a burned out fuse, it needs to be replaced with the same one.
Check the GFCI Outlets
Check the outlet and search for signs of something unusual. If the GFCI outlet prevented a current leak by switching off, all the outlets on the same circle might be dead. In this case, try to reset it. If that doesn’t work, or the test button does not pop-up, the problem is probably in the power supply to the outlet or the faulty outlet. If all other outlets are working normally, and testing and resetting does not give results, call the electrician. See how to test and reset the GFCI outlets below.
Check the Appliances
Faulty appliances may give the impression that the power outlet is not working. Try to plug in some other device and see if the problem continues. If another device works, then the outlet is working fine.
Search for Loose Connections
It may be that there is a loose wire somewhere behind the outlet. If you are experienced, turn off the electricity and remove the outlet to see behind. Otherwise, call an electrician.
New GFCI Installation
If there is a defect in the outlet itself, you should replace it. Because GFCI outlets are critical, it would be wise to let a professional do it.
Check for Other GFCI Outlets
As already mentioned, several GFCI outlets may be a part of the same circle. If one of them is not working, and there is no apparent reason, try checking the rest of them, especially those not used frequently.
For example, your washing machine is connected to a GFCI outlet, and it is not working. Try testing and resetting GFCI outlets in places you would least expect, like a garage. Especially if you have an older home and wiring was not well done.
How to Use the GFCI Test and Reset Buttons
Sometimes people have trouble using those buttons. And buttons popping-out, or not popping out, is usually a sign of a specific problem.
Reset Button Not Popping Out
If the reset button remains in place after you pressed a test button, the problem may be the GFCI outlet itself. Try pressing the button a bit harder, and if the issue remains, the outlet should be fixed or replaced.
Reset Button Pops Out When You Use the Connected Device
There is a probability you have a ground-fault somewhere down the stream.
Reset Button Won’t Stay in When Pressed
The reason can be the same as the previous, or faulty wiring.
Reset Button is Poped Out and the Connected Device Works
This may indicate that the circuit interrupter does not work.
Reset Button is in but the Connected Device Still Won’t Work
This means there are wiring problems or a faulty GFCI. The reasons may be various.
If you have one of these problems, they should be resolved as soon as possible. Avoid using faulty outlets even if they work, and call a professional to avoid a potential hazard. If you sense any burning smell, disconnect the electricity by turning off circuit breakers and do not try to fix such a serious problem yourself.
I have created a quick video to highlight some of the causes of outlets not working. If you like this video, consider subscribing to the House Notebook Youtube Channel.