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Troubleshooting A Dead Outlet

Outlet Not Working? Check For A Tripped GFCI Outlet

I once had a customer who went two years without a shower light because they didn’t realize the shower light was controlled by a GFCI Outlet that was tripped.  Before the customer could finish explaining the issue I reset the tripped GFCI Outlet, and the lights were back up running, and he was in disbelief.  In this situation there was a dead front GFCI Outlet (description below) in the adjacent closet that needed to be reset.

GFCI Breaker


Troubleshooting a dead outlet, and resetting a tripped GFCI Outlet (Ground Fault Circuit interrupter) is one of my most common service calls.  In this article I am going to give you a brief description of what a GFCI is, the different GFCI types, and how they work, to help you from having to call your local electrician.

What is a GFCI

A GFCI Outlet is designed to trip when there is a ground fault by sensing an imbalance between the hot and neutral.  If there is a difference of potential of 5 milliamps between the hot and neutral the GFCI will trip.  When an appliance is working properly it will pull power from the hot leg and goes back on the neutral staying balanced.

For example if your toaster had a power leakage instead of the toaster becoming electrified and potentially harming whoever touches the toaster, the GFCI will trip because power is not returning on the neutral. The GFCI reacts in less than one-tenth of a second to trip or shut off the circuit.

Different Types of GFCI Outlets

What Locations Needs GFCI Protection

You will find GFCI’s protecting circuits in kitchens, bathrooms, shower fans, unfinished basements, garages, wet bars, crawlspaces, hot tubs, swimming pools  and outside.

Troubleshooting A Dead Outlet – Tripped GFCI’s

It’s usually not hard to figure out why your kitchen or bathroom outlet may of stopped working if it’s just a tripped GFCI.   In areas where the a tripped GFCI is next to, or right near the outlet that isn’t working; I am rarely called. It’s the situations that aren’t as obvious, that stump folks.

When troubleshooting a dead outlet, look at the indicator lights on the face of the outlet for instant feedback. Depending on the type of GFCI outlet, you may see a red or green light.  Often times the GFCI reset button sticking out, and a red light is showing.  A green light indicated normal operation.

GFCI Outlet in the tripped position

Troubleshooting A Dead Outlet – Uncommon Situations

By connecting to the load side of a GCFI outlet other outlets, lights or even a bathroom exhaust fan can also be GFCI protected.  Here are some wiring situations that many people are not aware of:


More often then not the problem is the simplest one and you shouldn’t assume the worst.  Before you call a licensed electrician try a few simple steps to safe yourself from having to pay for a service call.


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