A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet is an important safety device found in bathrooms, kitchens, garages, and other areas where electrical outlets are located near water. However, like any electrical device, GFCI outlets can malfunction or break over time. When a GFCI trips frequently or fails to reset, there’s no need to immediately call an expensive electrician. With a few simple tools and safety precautions, you can often diagnose and resolve a faulty GFCI outlet yourself.

What Causes a GFCI Outlet to Malfunction?

There are a few common reasons why a GFCI outlet may fail or trip repeatedly:

Safety Precautions When Working on a GFCI Outlet

When DIY troubleshooting a faulty GFCI outlet, safety should always come first to avoid electrocution. Follow these precautions:

How to Troubleshoot and Fix a Faulty GFCI Outlet

Step 1: Verify the outlet is getting power

The first step is to check that the GFCI outlet is getting power from the circuit breaker. Here's how:

  1. Shut off the circuit breaker controlling the outlet.

  2. Remove the outlet cover and unscrew the outlet from the electrical box.

  3. Visually inspect the wiring. Make sure all wires are securely connected.

  4. Carefully restore power at the breaker.

  5. With a multimeter or voltage tester, check for power at the outlet. If there's no power, the problem is likely with the circuit breaker or main service panel, not the outlet.

Step 2: Check for loose wiring connections

If the outlet is getting power but still doesn't work, loose wiring is a common culprit:

  1. Turn the power back off at the circuit breaker.

  2. Disassemble the outlet and inspect all wires and terminals closely.

  3. Re-seat any loose wires firmly under the screws. Make sure no copper conductor is exposed.

  4. Tug on each wire to ensure a tight connection.

  5. Re-assemble the outlet and turn power back on to test. Many GFCI issues are solved at this step.

Step 3: Test and reset the GFCI outlet

The GFCI has a test and reset button to check proper functioning after any repairs.

  1. With the outlet re-installed and powered on, press the "Test" button. This should trip the circuit.

  2. Press the "Reset" button. The reset should now work properly. If not, there is still an issue.

  3. Repeat the test and reset several times to verify consistent operation. The outlet should reset each time.

Step 4: Replace the faulty GFCI outlet

If the GFCI outlet still fails to operate correctly after above troubleshooting, replacing the outlet is the solution.

  1. After power is turned off, detach all wires from the faulty outlet.

  2. Carefully attach each wire to the same terminal on the new outlet. Follow diagrams on the back.

  3. Screw the new GFCI outlet into the electrical box and mount the cover plate.

  4. Restore power and perform test/reset on the new outlet to verify normal operation.

With a basic understanding of how GFCIs work and what can go wrong, a malfunctioning GFCI outlet is often an easy DIY repair. Carefully following safety procedures andoutlet troubleshooting steps can save the hassle and expense of calling an electrician. Always err on the side of caution and call a professional if at any point you don't feel comfortable working on your electrical wiring. But in most cases, you can fix that tripping GFCI in no time without external help!