How To Test Ground Fault Interrupter Outlets

How To Test Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Outlets

This week's question of the week concerns GFCI outlets. The reader asks how to know the GFCI really is protecting him. Is there a way to test the ground fault circuit interrupter to be sure it is working? The next question is how often should I test it? Both of these are great questions. The only good ground fault circuit interrupter outlet is one that works properly.

I have personally seen GFCI's that were tripped and would not reset. I've also seen some that the buttons would not press. What good is a button that won't either set or trip the device? Without these two functions, how can we be sure the device is working properly? 

This is a very good question and I have an answer. It's apparent that you added a GFCI outlet to your home but you aren't sure that is works. This simple test will put your mind at ease.

Look at the face of the GFCI outlet and notice there are two places to plug cords into the outlet. Notice that between these two plug-in areas, there are two small buttons. They are labeled test and reset.

To test your ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), simply press the test button in. You will hear a snap sound that trips the outlet and cuts power off to the two plugin connections.

This can be checked with a voltage tester or a multimeter to be certain it has turned off the power.

You could also plug in a light or device into the outlet and when it quits working when you hit the test button, you'll know the outlet's safety mechanism works.

Now that you know it is functioning properly, press the reset button and the outlet should once again be on. Again, you can test this with a tester or by plugging something into the outlet.

This is a simple test that most anyone can try, but there is an easier way if you have a few special electrical tools in your toolbox. I am talking about a specific tester that is designed just for testing ground fault circuit interrupters. It's a GFCI tester and incorporates three LED lights to show if the device is wired correctly, if it has an open ground, or is functioning properly. There is also a test button on it to trip the GFCI so you can determine if it is working. Set up with a plug-type style, simply plug it into the GFCI outlet and give it a test.

GFCI's are required throughout your home in many different locations. You may be familiar with their use in kitchens around faucets. In bathrooms, GFCI's are used again around the sink and anywhere within five feet of water.

Garages have been added to the list of required spots needing GFCI outlets or protection. Basements often are places that have wet floors and walls from seepage, not to mention sump pits, faucets, and other water-based appliances. These too require GFCI outlets for your safety.

Don't forget the outdoors! If you are lucky, you likely have outlets on the outside of your home on the outer walls. You may also have one mounted on an out building, pole light, or doghouse.

All of these should be GFCI outlets. And who can forget the areas around swimming pools, spas, and hot tubs? These areas are probably the most dangerous areas around your home. There might be children playing in these wet areas and that increases the dangers. If you are like me, you like to listen to the radio while relaxing by the pool or spa. Since water and electricity don't mix, a wet radio or the radio getting bumped into the pool could spell disaster!

As a rule of thumb, I suggest testing the GFCI once a month to ensure the outlet is providing protection for your family. There is no doubt that GFCI outlets save lives. Water and electricity don't mix and that is why these safety devices were developed, to save lives!