How to Address Ground Fault Issues Safely

Woman working on outlet

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Ground faults can threaten the safety and efficiency of your home. Here’s a quick look at how you can identify and eliminate the fault-related dangers around your house.

What Are Ground Faults?

A ground fault is caused by damaged wiring, faulty power tools, or old appliances allowing electricity to take an unplanned path to ground. These shortcuts can sometimes be taken through conductive items you touch—like metal appliance casings—which can lead to electric shock. Ground faults are especially dangerous in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas with high levels of moisture.

The Dangers of Ground Faults

The main threat of ground faults is electric shock. Electric currents running through conductive materials can also cause fires and burns.

Identifying Ground Faults

Ground faults can occur within appliances or your home’s electrical system itself. The best way to identify the cause and location of your fault is through simple troubleshooting. Fortunately, investigating a ground fault doesn’t require working with live wires. Here’s a quick how-to:

  • Locate the problem. Many homes are equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters or GFCI outlets. These outlets detect ground faults and shut off power to the affected circuit. Some models alert homeowners with a light or by tripping a reset switch on the outlet. Look for these alerts to locate the ground fault. If your home doesn’t have GFCI-equipped outlets, look at your breaker box. Tripped breakers will be in the off position. It’s important to note that ground faults don’t always trip breakers. If your electrical issue is overloading breakers, you could be dealing with an electrical short or too many appliances running on the same circuit. Call a pro if you suspect a ground fault and don’t have GFCI outlets. Older outlets don’t stop the grounded current and can cause shocks.
  • Disconnect your appliances. Unplug your appliances from the outlet and reset the breaker or GFCI.
  • Plug in your appliances. Plug each item back into the outlet until it trips again. This will determine which appliance is causing the ground fault. If nothing trips your outlet, or if your outlet doesn’t reset, your ground fault is likely located in another part of your home. Call a professional to look. Faults can occur due to other outlets leaking current, problems with exterior circuits, and other faulty appliances.

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Preventing Ground Fault Shocks

Installing a GFCI outlet is a simple and affordable way to eliminate the risk of ground fault-related shocks. Also, including GFCIs in your home will help you keep your property up to code. Many ordinances require GFCIs if you have an outlet within three feet of a water source or in your garage. Here’s a quick DIY guide to help you update your home’s outlets:

  1. Turn off the power. Flip the appropriate breaker to turn off the power to your work area. You can also cut the power to your entire home to avoid the possibility of working with live wires. Plug an appliance into the receptacle to ensure there’s no power.
  2. Remove your outlet. Once the power is off, unscrew the outlet plate and set it aside. Remove the screws above and below your outlet and gently pull it out of the wall. The wires connected to your outlet should now be visible. Use a flathead screwdriver to loosen the slots that secure the wires to the outlet. You can also cut the wires if the slots don’t open.
  3. Find and the ground screws. Your outlet’s ground screws should be located at the back of the outlet box. Use your screwdriver to loosen them.
  4. Locate your ground wire. Your ground wire will be green or uninsulated. Wrap the ground around the ground screw and tighten it.
  5. Connect your ground wire to the outlet. Your GFCI outlet will have a green ground screw. Loosen the screw, slide the wire in and tighten it. Be sure to keep the ground on the bottom of the outlet.
  6. Select the right screws. Begin by looking for a sticker covering two of the screws. The marked screws are only for linking your outlet with other outlets in a circuit. Your outlet will have two screws on either side. Use the unmarked screws to install a single GFCI.
  7. Insert the hot and neutral wires. The black wire will connect with the brass screw and the white wire with the silver screw. Most GFCIs will have holes in the back for inserting the wire. Push the wire into the corresponding hole until it stops. Tighten the screw.
  8. Push the outlet into the wall. Bend the wires slightly and push the outlet back toward the box. Screw the top and bottom of the outlet in place.
  9. Test the outlet. Turn the power back on and press your outlet’s reset button. Plug in an appliance to make sure your new GFCI is working properly.

Installing a GFCI outlet is a relatively simple project, but it can present challenges. Always call a pro if you’re unsure about tackling this job.