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 and why do I need to reset GFCI outlet?
All new homes built today are required by law to have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI, more commonly referred to as GFI outlets). In 1975, the NEC  required GFCI Outlet installation in bathrooms, but it wasn’t until 2005 that that this Federal Organization instructed that GFCIs 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 GFCI Outlet is a potentially life-saving feature in your home. The following example illustrates the importance of a GFCI. If you were to plug in a small appliance with an electrical problem, the GFCI 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 GFCI) 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 GFCI outlet. Let’s say that the electrician installed a GFCI in the outlet that you plug your toaster into. He then connected the GFCI outlet to the next outlet he installed, which is a non-GFCI outlet. This happens to be the outlet you plug your coffee pot into. Both appliances are GFCI protected because they are both linked to the original GFCI outlet. So if your coffee pot has a short, the GFCI Outlet that your toaster is plugged into will trip.
How to Reset GFCI Outlet
To locate the outlet with the tripped GFCI, look for the one with a small button popped out. Remember, when a GFCI trips, it will trip any and all outlets connected to that GFI. Most kitchen and bathrooms in new homes have multiple (visible) GFCI 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 GFCI, 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 GFCI outlet could really be costly and unnecessary, so we strongly recommend taking the time to locate the outlet with the GFCI!
In our situation it was easy to tell what tripped our GFCI. But, if you are unsure why yours has tripped, we recommend you follow the steps listed below.
- Unplug everything on that circuit. (the things that aren’t working )
- Try resetting the GFCI again. If the GFCI resets, one of the items plugged in along the circuit may be bad.
- Try plugging the items back in one at a time until the GFCI trips again. Whatever item trips the GFCI is most likely defective. Don’t use this item again until it’s rewired.
- If you are able to reset GFCI outlet 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.
- If the GFCI does not reset, you may have also tripped a circuit breaker. A GFCI 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. Check if any of the breakers have tripped. They will be in a different position somewhere between all the way on and off. If you see any tripped breakers, reset them by switching them off and then back on.
After you reset the circuit breaker panel, reset the GFCI and you should be in business!
We love helping first time homeowners and we want you to be safe! A GFCI 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 GFCI repeatedly trips it’s time to call a certified electrician.
 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.