Unlocking The Mysteries Of GFCI Outlets: How They Work & Why They Trip

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Mark Jardine
April 15, 2024
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This blog post will explore the mysteries of a GFCI outlet, how they work, why they trip, and how to reset them. We will also cover some of their advantages, how to identify them, and their installation requirements.

What exactly is a GFCI outlet?

A GFCI outlet (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlet) is an electrical fixture designed to protect people from electric shocks by quickly shutting down a circuit if it detects an imbalance between the power entering the circuit and the current returning through the neutral wire. It features a test and a reset button, distinguished by the "test" and "reset" buttons on the surface.
Also, these electrical fixtures are commonly used in bathrooms, kitchens, garages, and other areas where moisture or water may be present, as well as in any area deemed hazardous locations. It should be tested monthly by pressing the test button; if it trips the power off, it works properly.

How do GFCI outlets function?

When a GFCI outlet detects a substantial imbalance between two currents, it trips and shuts down the circuit. The GFCI outlet contains two inside coils that measure the current going out and the current returning to the neutral wire. When the currents going out and returning to the neutral wire are equal, all currents travel through the designated channel and function normally.
When the current going out is greater than the current returning, it indicates that the current travels through an unwanted conduit, such as through a person's body. These outlets rapidly trip the circuit, disconnecting power and preventing electrical shock. They are intended to detect minor imbalances and trip in as little as 1/40th of a second, making them extremely effective at protecting humans from electrical shocks.

What are the benefits of having a GFCI outlet?

GFCI outlets offer several benefits that make them an important safety feature in any home or building. Some of the key benefits of having these fixtures include the following:
  • Protection against electrical shock
When a ground fault is detected, these fixtures protect individuals from electrical shock by terminating the electrical circuit. It makes them especially handy in locations with water, such as restrooms, kitchens, and outdoor spaces.
  • Improved safety
These fixtures can help prevent electrical fires by detecting and interrupting electrical faults. It can greatly reduce the risk of injury or damage to property.
  • Code Compliance
Many local building codes require these fixtures in certain areas of the home or building. Installing them into properties can help ensure compliance with these codes.
  • Easy to install and use
These outlets are relatively easy to install that can be used just like a standard outlet. Most of these fixtures have "Test" and "Reset" buttons, making it easy to check for proper function.
  • Cost-effective
These fixtures are an affordable way to improve the electrical safety of a home or building. They are inexpensive to purchase and install that can provide peace of mind knowing that the electrical systems are safe.
Overall, GFCI outlets are a great addition to any property's safety and peace of mind. It is important to ensure they are working properly by testing them regularly and resetting them if necessary.

How to identify a GFCI outlet?

Here are a few ways to identify a GFCI outlet:
  1. Look for the "Test" and "Reset" buttons: These outlets feature two buttons, one for testing the fixture to check it is operational and the other for resetting when triggered.
  2. Check for the "GFCI" label: Many of these fixtures have a label or stamp that says "GFCI" on them, making them easy to identify.
  3. Look for the "Ground Fault" indicator light: Some of these fixtures have a light that indicates when a ground fault has occurred.
  4. Check the wiring: These outlets are typically wired differently than standard ones. They have two sets of wires, a "line" set, and a "load" set, and they are connected in a specific way.
It is critical to recognize these outlets because they protect individuals from electrical shock in situations where there is water. So whenever you are unclear whether an outlet is a GFCI, you should call a qualified electrician for further assistance.

What causes a GFCI to trip?

Sometimes, these electrical fixtures can trip without apparent reason, leaving people without power scratching their heads as to what might have caused it. The following are some of the most common causes of them tripping, as well as we will be discussing what steps you can take to prevent them from happening again in the future:
  • Ground Fault
It can happen when electricity leaks from a damaged or worn-out electrical appliance or someone comes into contact with live electrical wires. A ground fault can be dangerous or deadly. It is designed to detect and trip the circuit to interrupt the power and prevent an electrical shock.
  • Water or Moisture is Present
Moisture can cause electrical components within to fail and trigger the circuit. Water can cause a ground fault by acting as an additional channel for electricity. Installing these fixtures in places where there may be wetness or water, such as bathrooms and kitchens, can also aid in preventing tripping.
  • Overloading
When several electrical devices are connected to a circuit, the amount of power flowing through the circuit may surpass what the circuit is built to manage. It can cause the fixture to trip, interrupting the power to the circuit and preventing a fire. It's important to avoid plugging too many devices into a single circuit to prevent it from tripping due to overloading.
  • Defective GFCI
Electronic components in these fixtures might wear out or malfunction over time. When this happens, the circuit may trip even if there is no ground fault or other issue. It's critical to test it regularly and replace it if it's not working properly to avoid tripping due to a malfunctioning one.
  • Faulty Wiring
Finally, tripping might be triggered by faulty GFCI outlet wiring. A trip can occur if the wiring in a circuit is broken or wrongly fitted. To avoid tripping due to GFCI outlet's wiring issues, have a certified electrician inspect the wiring in your home or workplace.

What are the various methods for resetting a GFCI outlet?

There are several ways to reset a GFCI outlet, depending on the fixture type and the tripping cause. Here are the five most common methods you can do:
  • Method 1: Press the "Reset" button
Most GFCI outlets have a button labeled "Reset" that can be pressed manually - which is the most common way to reset a GFCI outlet.
  • Method 2: Turn off the power & turn it back on
If the outlet is not working properly, you can turn off the power at the GFCI breaker or fuse box and then turn it back on - this will reset the fixture, fixing the problem.
  • Method 3: Check for a tripped circuit breaker with GFCI or blown-out fuse
If the fixture's power is cut off, it might be due to a tripped circuit breaker or a blown fuse. Examine the breaker GFCI or fuse box and, if necessary, reset or replace the breaker or fuse.
  • Method 4: Unplug any appliances or devices
Sometimes, a malfunctioning appliance or device plugged into the GFCI outlet can cause it to trip. Unplug any devices connected to the fixture, then try resetting it.
  • Method 5: Replace the GFCI outlet
It may be damaged or faulty if none of the above methods work. It may need to be replaced. It's best to consult a qualified electrician to replace your electrical fixture.
It's important to reset a GFCI outlet as soon as possible after it has tripped, as it is a safety device, and if it's not working, it can lead to electrical shock and other hazards.

What are the installation requirements for GFCI outlets?

Installing Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets requires some basic knowledge of electrical systems and building codes. Here are a few key installation requirements to keep in mind:
  • Basic knowledge of electrical wiring and circuits
  • Compliance with local building codes and regulations
  • A power source, such as a circuit breaker or fuse box, is connected
  • Proper grounding to a ground wire, typically a green or bare wire
  • Location in areas where water is present, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoor areas
  • Testing the GFCI outlets after installation to ensure proper function
It's important to comply with the installation requirements for GFCI outlets to ensure they function properly, providing the necessary protection. It's best to consult a qualified electrician to ensure the installation is done safely and correctly.
Want to know more? Then check our website for other electrical blogs. As we at Home Alliance, we have all the information you need regarding your electrical systems at home. Also, we offer affordable, efficient electrical services, so you will have a fully functioning electrical system without breaking the bank! So book our services now!