Can GFCI Outlets Go Bad? Yes (Here’s Why)


Electricity is such an integral part of everyday life that we sometimes take its power for granted. GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) are devices in electrical outlets that make using electric power in homes and offices safe. 

GFCI outlets were introduced in the 1960s, and you are likely familiar with them in your own home. But have you ever wondered if GFCI outlets go bad?

GFCI outlets do go bad and they must be replaced or you may be at risk of being electrocuted or having a fire hazard. This often happens when a GFCI won’t reset properly, usually due to age. 

What Is A GFCI Outlet And Where Is One Needed?

A GFCI is a device that monitors the electrical current and then shuts it off if there is a disruption. It is made as a part of an electrical outlet. These outlets are used in outdoor spaces and in areas that are near a water source. 

This also applies to indoor outlets that might be used for outdoor purposes. This is in case an extension cord is connected to an indoor outlet to extend electricity outdoors. 

What Is The Difference Between A GFI And A GFCI?

A GFI (ground fault interrupter) and a GFCI are one and the same. You will more commonly see GFCI than GFI, but the meaning and the device are the same. 

Do I Need GFCI On Every Outlet?

The National Electric Code (NEC) requires that there be a GFCI receptacle (or outlet) in or close to the following places: 

  • Sinks
  • Water heaters
  • Washing machines
  • Wetbars
  • On kitchen countertops
  • Bathrooms
  • Laundry closets or utility rooms
  • Garages
  • Unfinished basements
  • Marinas and docks

Do GFCI Outlets Wear Out?

Yes, GFCI outlets wear out eventually – pretty much like anything else. These outlets have a lifespan of about a decade. However, you should generally test them around once a month to make sure they work properly.

What Causes GFCI Outlets to Fail?

If a ground fault occurs, it will trip your GFCI breaker. An overloaded circuit will cause this as well. Loose, corroded or faulty GFCI outlet wiring could be to blame, too. If your GFCI outlet keeps tripping it may be related to a structural wiring issue. 

Do Outdoor GFCI Outlets Go Bad?

Outdoor GFCI outlets may have covers to protect them from outdoor elements but that does not mean they aren’t susceptible to damage. Just like their indoor counterparts, outdoor GFCI outlets can go bad, too. They should also be checked monthly. 

GFCI outlets usually go bad because of age, faulty wiring, or contact with moisture.

How Do You Know When A GFCI Outlet Is Bad?

The TEST and RESET buttons are included on your outlet so that you will be able to easily test if your GFCI outlet is working. Additionally, you may follow the steps to test a GFCI outlet below. 

You can also use a multimeter to test if your outlet is in proper working order. Check out this video below to learn how to test a GFCI outlet with a multimeter:

How to Test a GFCI Outlet

The easiest way to test a GFCI outlet is to follow these steps.

1. Plug a small lamp into the outlet

This test will work with any small electrical appliance. You can use a clock, radio, or something else, as long as you can easily see that it is on. 

When you plug in the lamp make sure that you have it switched on. The light should come on with no problem. 

2. Press the TEST button

When you press the test button, the current will be cut off. Your light should go out. If it stays on there is a serious problem with your outlet. 

3. Press the RESET button

When you press the reset button, the outlet should go back to working normally.

How to Reset a GFCI Outlet

If your FCI is tripped, it is very easy to reset. All you need to do is simply press the RESET button. 

What Happens When a GFCI Won’t Reset?

If you have tried to reset a tripped GFCI and it won’t reset, it is likely that the outlet is not getting any power. If the outlet is getting power, this is a sure symptom of a bad GFCI. 

Will A Bad GFCI Outlet Trip A Breaker?

The GFCI functions as a breaker itself, so under normal circumstances, it does not trip a breaker in your breaker box. 

However, you may notice several outlets or light fixtures go out at the same time as your GFCI outlet. This is because the GFCI outlet can support up to six normal outlets or fixtures. 

Can I Install A GFCI Outlet Myself?

If you have a GFCI outlet that is not working, you may wonder if it is something that you can fix yourself. 

Basic electrical understanding will be necessary to complete this job safely as a do-it-yourself project. 

If you feel comfortable with it, you should be able to tackle the job yourself. However, if you are at all unsure, it is better to call for a professional electrician to install a GFCI outlet. 

How to Replace GFCI Outlet

First, gather the items you will need to complete the job and put on rubber gloves before starting anything to protect yourself from electrical shock. 

You Will Need

  • Rubber gloves
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Multimeter, voltage tester, and outlet tester

1. Turn off the breaker

Find the correct breaker in your breaker box and turn it off. 

2. Access outlet

You can access the outlet by removing the wall plate.

3. Ensure the electricity is off

Use a multimeter, voltage tester, or outlet tester to make sure there is no voltage flowing to the outlet. 

4. Identify lines and loads

The lines that deliver the electricity from your breaker box and the load are any other outlets or lights attached to the GFCI. These will be labeled on the outlet itself.

5. Remove loads from the existing unit

Use rubber gloves to protect from accidental shock. Remove the load wires from the existing outlet. 

6. Attach loads to the new unit

Attach the loads to the new GFCI outlet. 

7. Remove lines from the existing unit

Remove the load wires from the existing outlet. 

8. Attach lines to the new unit

Attach the lines to the new GFCI outlet. 

9. Test the GFCI outlet wiring

Test the GFCI outlet wiring with a voltage tester. At this point, the lines should still be testing at zero. The loads will show a very small amount of voltage still running through them. 

10. Test the outlet

Replace the outlet cover. Turn the breaker back on at the breaker box. Use a multimeter or an outlet tester to ensure the outlet is working properly.

Conclusion: A Note About Safety

GFCI outlets can go bad due to age, loose wires, or wires damaged by a circuit overload. If you have or suspect that you have a bad GFCI outlet, it is important to get it fixed right away. A broken GFCI outlet is more than an inconvenience; it could be a safety hazard.

Julianna Nasif

Julianna Nasif is a blogger and copywriter from Columbus, Ohio. She attended Ohio Wesleyan University and has a decade of retail and marketing experience. Her expertise is in the area of property management, home improvement and maintenance.

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