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Testing ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)  outlets

Ground fault circuit interrupter outlets, or GFCI outlets, are installed near water sources: sinks, basements, garages, deck and patios. These outlets are a safety enhancement of the electrical system in your house, especially in areas where the risk of shock may be higher.

GFCI outletElectricity travels in a path called a circuit. When you turn on a light or appliance, you complete the circuit. Electricity will not leave the circuit unless it can find an easier path to the ground. If you touch an energized wire or faulty cord or appliance, you can complete the circuit — which could result in a fatal electrical shock. But if the faulty appliance is plugged into a GFCI outlet, the outlet should trip, or lose power, when the circuit is overloaded or when an appliance has a short in it.

Overloaded circuits are caused when there are too many appliances running in one circuit, which causes the wires to overheat. Before that can happen, the GFCI trips or cuts power.

If the GFCI trips, safely unplug the appliances before resetting the GFCI. Then plug in one appliance at a time and see if that trips the circuit. If one appliance causes the GFCI to  trip, there’s probably a short, and the appliance should be repaired or replaced.

GFCIs can have multiple outlets on the main GFCI outlet, so check and make sure you know where the additional outlets are located. The GFCI outlets should be tested once a month. But realistically, they usually aren’t tested until something causes them to trip. AmeriSpec suggests tripping, or checking, your GFCI outlets every six months when you change the batteries in your smoke detector.

To test a GFCI outlet, plug in a small appliance like a night light or radio. Then push the test button (usually a black button). The outlet should loose power. Then just push the reset button (the red button) and power should be restored to that outlet. Do this on all of your GFCI outlets to ensure the safety of the electrical system in your home.