Have you experienced problems with a GFCI receptacle? I recently had this experience and in this article I share how I resolved this situation.
The other day I went outside to do some much needed yard work. I went to plug in my leaf blower to my outside receptacle, and found I had no power. I checked the other outside outlets, and none of them worked either.
In our area of Arizona, it seems to be a common trade practice that the outdoor receptacle circuit is wired through a GFCI receptacle installed somewhere in the garage, and then the outside receptacles are fed from the load (downstream) side from there.
Such is the case at my house, so I went to check and test the GFCI receptacle.
Pushing the test button did nothing, nor did pushing the reset button.
These devices do fail; that’s the reason the manufacturer and industry experts recommend testing these devices at least once a month. I also plugged in a table lamp that was working in another receptacle on another circuit, and it didn’t work here either.
From my experience, this can be caused by one of two things, either there is no power coming to that GFCI receptacle, or the GFCI device has failed.
A quick check in the panel showed that the 20A single-pole breaker was not in the tripped position, and after a reset to full off, and back to on seemed to be functioning normally, so my suspicion was that the GFCI receptacle had failed.
What to do? Removing the receptacle from that device box and doing some testing was the best place to start.
Step 1: Shut Off the Breaker that Powers the Circuit
First things first, shut off the breaker!
The circuit was labelled as “garage GFI”, and I was certain it was properly labelled as I have had to work on this circuit before, but it’s still best to treat the circuit as if it were live, and not touch any exposed terminals or wires until the receptacle is out of the box and you can verify that there is no power by the use of a reliable voltage testing device, a multi-meter, or an approved tester of some type.
I pulled out the receptacle, tested for power, and had no power when testing from hot to neutral, or hot to ground on any of the terminals.
Step 2: Test the GFCI Receptacle to Determine if it is Faulty
Now to check and see if the GFCI receptacle is faulty, or if I have a problem somewhere else in the circuit.
Making sure the receptacle was free and clear from touching anything outside of the device box, I turned the breaker back on.
Using my Fluke T1000 multi-meter, I checked for voltage, and I had 120V on the terminals identified as the ‘LINE’ terminals, testing from hot (black wire on brass terminal) to neutral (white wire on silver terminal).
I also checked the integrity of the ground or earthing path by testing from the line hot terminal to the bare ground wire (green terminal) and had 120V as well.
Step 3: Check the Test and Reset buttons on the GFCI Receptacle
Next, I tested the ‘LOAD’ terminals of the receptacle, and had no voltage reading on my meter.
Again, I checked that the test and reset buttons still did nothing (no click on test, no response on reset), I confirmed my suspicion that the GFCI was faulty, and needed to be replaced.
Step 4: Replace the Faulty GFCI With a New GFCI Receptacle
I shut off the breaker again, tested that there was no power present, and replaced the receptacle with a new one. (This is a 20A circuit, so you need to make sure that the new one is also rated for 20A.)
Make note of what pair of wires are connected to the ‘LINE’ terminals as it is very important that you hook up the new one the same way.
The best way to do this is mark that pair of wires in some way, like placing a piece of tape around both of the wires in that cable pair and labelling them as ‘LINE’.
Connect the new receptacle in the same way – bare wire to the green ground terminal, the white wires to the proper ‘LOAD’ and ‘LINE’ (silver) terminals, and the black wires to the corresponding ‘LOAD’ and ‘LINE’ (brass) terminals.
With the new receptacle connected correctly, I carefully pushed all the wires back in the device box and fastened firmly in place with the device screws, and installed the cover plate.
Step 5: Test the New GFCI Receptacle
With the breaker back to the on position, I then pushed the test button and got the reassuring ‘click’ as the reset button popped out, and then pushed the reset button and it clicked back into the normal position.
Then I tested the outlet with my plug tester that is equipped with a GFCI test button.
With the tester plugged in and the two outside lights on indicating that the circuit is wired correctly, I pushed the test button, and the lights went out. Reset and repeat the test in the other half of the GFCI receptacle with the same response.
As a final measure, I went outside and tried the leaf blower, and now I had no more excuses, time to clean up that yard!
I don’t know what caused this GFCI receptacle to fail. It could have been a power surge, or just one of the inexplicable things that happen to electronic devices, but it’s a good reminder to check your GFCI circuits, and your AFCI (arc-fault circuit interrupter) circuits on a regular basis.
Using the test button is OK, but it’s best to use a plug tester with a GFI button as this ensures that the device trips, and that the power is removed from the outlet when it’s tripped.
I have seen these GFCI receptacles fail where they are tripped, and still have power at the outlet!
Step-by-Step Supplementary Video- Replace a Faulty GFCI Receptacle
I hope this article and supplementary video helped you out. If you have any questions about a faulty GFCI or require additional information, put your comments below or visit my Facebook page and post your question(s) there.
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