Test Your GFCI Outlets and Why It Matters

GFCI OutletsGround fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) on outlets and breaker switches are designed to protect you from potentially deadly electrical shocks or fires in areas where risks are highest. But they only protect you if they’re working properly. That’s why it’s important to test them regularly and fix any problems as soon as they appear.

You can have GFCIs on both wall outlets and at your breaker box. If they’re at the box, they protect the entire circuit controlled by that breaker. GFCIs in outlets protect that particular point and possibly other outlets farther along the circuit. They are similar to regular circuit breakers in that they trip when a fault occurs, but they’re more sensitive and faster-acting, offering extra protection where it’s needed most, such as in bathrooms, kitchens, garages and outdoor outlets. Properly installed, they protect only the desired outlets, but sometimes they’re wired so that light fixtures and other places on a circuit are shut off when they trip. While that’s mostly an inconvenience, it’s also an indication that someone didn’t do the wiring correctly and that you should have it checked by a pro to make sure there aren’t other, potentially serious, problems with your wiring.

Testing GFCI outlets is simple, and we recommend doing it monthly since the outlets themselves can fail over time. Whether it’s an outlet or a breaker, you will find two small buttons on the device. One says “TEST” and the other says “RESET.” Just like a regular breaker, your GFCI will trip if something plugged into the outlet causes a problem. If that’s the case, you should move, repair or discard the item causing the problem, because it’s potentially dangerous, and reset the breaker. If the appliance is the problem, the circuit should work properly when it’s removed.

Of course, if the GFCI isn’t working properly, it won’t protect you. That’s what the TEST button is for.

To test a GFCI, plug a light or radio into the outlet and turn it on. Press the TEST button. The item plugged into the outlet should go off. Then press the RESET button and the item should come back on. If either or both of these things don’t happen, it’s an indication of a problem and may mean the outlet needs to be replaced. If you have other outlets protected on the same circuit, such as an adjoining bathroom, you should test them also to be sure they are, in fact, protected. Properly installed, they should look like a regular outlet, but should be labeled GFCI or something similar. Of course, anyone can stick a label on an outlet, so check them, too, to be sure. You may find it more convenient to buy a GFCI tester rather than drag a light or radio from room to room. They’re available at any store that carries electric parts and most cost less than ten dollars.

While replacing a faulty GFCI is relatively simple and inexpensive, unless you understand circuitry and proper wiring techniques, it’s not something you should undertake yourself. While wiring one improperly may still give power to the outlet, you could lose its protection for either the outlet itself or other outlets downstream that it’s supposed to protect. Licensed electricians know how to do it right to ensure the protection you and your family need.

If you have electrical problems or need additional electric service, call Allstar Electrical. Our Residential Service Division will gladly give you a thorough, professional assessment of your needs as well as point out any future concerns you should have.

Allstar Electrical brings over 25 years’ experience in working with designers, builders and contractors into play for you. Visit our website, AllstarElectrical.com, to see the many services we offer homeowners and businesses in the Metro Denver area. We’re A+ rated by the BBB and have won a Super Service Award from Angie’s List®.

Why risk annoying problems and costly emergencies? Contact the pros at Allstar Electrical Service today. It’s as simple as calling 303.399.7420 or using our online service request, available anytime, day or night.

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