How To Reset a GFI Outlet

Bob and Sue’s Home Maintenance Tips

Part 1: How to reset a GFI Outlet
By Bob and Sue Russo

What is a GFI/GFCI outlet?

GFCI Outlet All new home built today are required by law to have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI, more commonly referred to as GFI outlets). In 1975, the NEC [1] required GFI Outlet installation in bathrooms, but it wasn’t until 2005 that that this Federal Organization instructed that GFIs should be installed in Laundry Rooms. Based on what we’d read, it seems that it was up to individual states to determine if they would comply with this regulation. If you are moving into your new home from an older apartment or home you may not be accustom to seeing or using these GFI outlets.

A GFI Outlet is a potentially life-saving feature in your home. The following example illustrates the importance of a GFI. If you were to plug in a small appliance with an electrical problem, the GFI outlet would trip almost immediately. You may be thinking, “okay, no big deal”, but if you attempted to plug in the same electrical appliance (without a GFI) while touching your water faucet, the electrical current would travel through your body and into the water faucet, which could result in burns, electrical shock or death.

One GFI outlet can protect multiple outlets in your home, therefore all your outlets may not look like the one pictured above.  Let’s think about a series of outlets like a row of lined up dominoes.  When you knock the first domino down, the subsequent dominoes will also fall. In this analogy, the last domino to fall is the GFI outlet. Let’s say that the electrician installed a GFI in the outlet that you plug your toaster into. He then connected the GFI outlet to the next outlet he installed, which is a non-GFI outlet. This happens to be the outlet you plug your coffee pot into. Both appliances are GFI protected because they are both linked to the original GFI outlet. So if your coffee pot has a short, the GFI Outlet that your toaster is plugged into will trip.

In the example in the video, we figured out that we had a defective appliance, because Bob knew that the coffee pot sparked when he plugged it in. So our plan was to reset the GFI Outlet, return the Coffee Pot to the store, get a new one and be back in business. A GFI outlet can also be tripped by an electrical storm, any odd electrical surge or even excessive moisture.

How to Reset GFCI Outlet

To locate the outlet with the tripped GFI, look for the one with a small button popped out. Remember, when a GFI trips, it will trip any and all outlets connected to that GFI. Most kitchen and bathrooms in new homes have multiple (visible) GFI outlets, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find the GFI that’s tripped in one of these rooms. Once you have located the outlet with the tripped GFI, simply push the button back into place.

In rooms other than your bathroom or kitchen or even outside your home, it’ may be difficult to find the tripped GFI. This happened to us in our garage and we had to call an electrician to come help us. He came and helped us move an antique wardrobe in a garage, thus locating the GFI. We all had a good laugh and fortunately, we got away with just buying the electrician lunch. Calling an electrician to reset a GFI could really be costly and unnecessary, so we strongly recommend taking the time to locate the outlet with the GFI!

In our situation it was easy to tell what tripped our GFI. But, if you are unsure why yours has tripped, we recommend you follow the steps listed below.

  1. Unplug everything on that circuit. (the things that aren’t working )
  2. Try resetting the GFI again. If the GFI resets, one of the items plugged in along the circuit may be bad.
  3. Try plugging the items back in one at a time until the GFI trips again. Whatever item trips the GFI is most likely defective. Don’t use this item again until it’s rewired.
  4. If you are able to reset the GFI and none of the items tripped it again, that’s okay too. Remember we said a storm or some other temporary electrical anomaly can also trip the GFI.
  5. If the GFI does not reset, you may have also tripped a circuit breaker. A GFI Outlet will not reset if it is incorrectly wired or doesn’t have power running to it.

Now we are going to look and the circuit breaker panel!

All of the wires in your home are run from a circuit breaker panel. This panel might be located in your garage or laundry room.   Prior to drywall installation, the electrician fed the wires from your circuit breaker box through your walls, which will eventually lead to your outlets.

After you reset the circuit breaker panel, reset the GFI and you should be in business!
We love helping first time homeowners and we want you to be safe! A GFI will not trip repeatedly unless you have a more serious electrical problem or a defective GFI. In the very unlikely scenario that the circuit breaker panel or the same GFI repeatedly trips it’s time to call a certified electrician.

Enjoy your new McKee Home! Bob and Sue


[1] 1 The NEC is published by the National Fire Portection Association (NFPA 70). It is the most widely adopted building code for requirements for electrical system installations in the U.S. It may be adopted into law by states, counties or local jurisdictions for enforcement by inspection authorities and is currently revised every three years.

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