Occasionally, an electrical outlet in your home may quit working. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a major electrical problem.
This article will outline a few of the reasons why a GFCI Outlet or Circuit breaker may trip, how a GFCI outlet works, and how to reset the outlet or circuit breaker – possibly saving you the expense of a service call.
A GFCI outlet is an electrical outlet which is designed to protect people from deadly electric shock. In addition to preventing electrocution, GFCI outlets can also reduce the risk of house fires caused by electrical problems, and reduce damage to appliances caused by faulty electrical circuits.
A GFCI outlet monitors the flow of energy through the circuit. If an imbalance between the “hot” and “neutral” poles in the circuit occurs, indicating that there is a ground fault, the outlet will trip off cutting the power to the outlet.
Which outlets are GFCI outlets?
The picture on the right is what a standard GFCI outlet looks like in the U.S. The outlet includes two buttons labeled “Test” and “Reset”. Sometimes these buttons are colored (red/blue or red/black) to indicate which button is which. If the buttons are not colored, you can easily tell the reset button apart by it’s size, it is larger than the test button.
GFCI Outlets are usually installed in wet areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and pool areas, as well as places like garages, basements, workshops, and crawl spaces. While encouraged to install these outlets everywhere, these areas are of the most concern as they are prone to the developments of ground faults.
Testing and Resetting
GFCI outlets should be tested periodically to ensure that they are in proper working condition. This can be done by plugging a device with a power switch into the outlet, such as a lamp or nightlight, turning the device on, and pressing the test button. The device should turn off, and the reset button should pop out, allowing you to turn the outlet back on. Press the reset button, and you device should turn on again. To reset the outlet if it trips, simply press the “Reset” button.
Possible causes of a GFCI outlet trip could be a faulty device plugged into the outlet, a short in the wiring to the GFCI outlet, or having a GFCI outlet that is overly sensitive. GFCI outlets may also be tripped by an occurrence such as an electrical storm, or, in the case of outdoor outlets, moisture from rainfall.
Note: Most GFCI outlets rated for outdoor use usually come with a protective cover.
Circuit Breaker Trips most commonly caused by overloaded circuits. This usually happens when the household is attempting to pull a higher voltage of electricity through the breaker than it was intended to be able to handle. When this happens, the circuit breaker’s automatic safety settings cause it to shut itself down, or break.
Most people do not know which outlets are on the same circuits in their homes. Running too many energy consuming appliances at the same time, like a vacuum cleaner, window AC unit, and a hair dryer will put a strain on a circuit and may cause a circuit to overload.
Short Circuits are the second most common source of circuit breaker trips, and should be a cause for concern. When the black hot wires inside your electrical service panel come in contact with neutral wires, a large amount of current flows causing a short circuit and causing the circuit breaker to trip. Sometimes this is accompanied by sparks, a “popping” noise, and smoke.
Possible causes of a short circuit can include a loose connection of one of the two wires in a junction box, loose connections within an appliance, or even a pest (such as a mouse) chewing the wire insulation in your attic or basement.
Although ground faults are the least common cause of circuit breaker tripping, they ARE THE MOST SERIOUS. A ground fault occurs when the wires inside of your electrical panel come in contact with the metal of the panel box. Your electrical panel is connected directly to the ground wire so the contact of the panel box metal and your electrical wiring will cause a ground fault. You will need the services of an electrician to correct this issue, as well as check for damage.
NEVER TRY TO CORRECT A GROUND FAULT YOURSELF, as you may experience serious injury or possibly death!
Resetting a tripped circuit breaker
The picture at the top shows a tripped circuit breaker. Notice that the breaker is sitting in the middle. to reset the circuit breaker first turn the breaker to the OFF position, and then back on. If the breaker trips immediately after turning it back on, call Laudan Electric right away.