We all know that GFCI outlets are a great way to protect your house and electronics from getting fried by an unexpected surge in energy, but have you ever wondered id GFCI outlets go bad?
While it’s true that these devices are nearly tamper-proof, GFCI outlets can fail due to overuse, age, and/or faulty installation. Usually, the lifespan of GFCI outlets ranges between 10 and 15 years, after which they’ll start to fail or go bad. Sometimes, they don’t make it longer than 5 years.
Keep reading to find out more about how GFCI outlets work, what causes them to go bad, what happens when they do, and how can you tell if they’re failing.
What are GFCI Outlets and How do they Work
Short for ground-fault circuit interrupter outlets, these are specialized outlets designed to pick up any imbalance in your house’s electrical current and cut the power off to the culprit outlet to prevent shock hazards and protect any electronics against damage.
As the name gives away, these outlets are installed to prevent ground faults. The term “ground fault” refers to when electricity moves to the ground unintentionally, usually because of damaged cables and defective wiring, where electricity escapes from insulated cords and moves through another conductor.
If the other conductor is a person, it could result in grave consequences such as life-threatening electrocution. The conductor may also be water -an excellent electrical conductor-, which can increase the risk of encountering a ground fault in areas around the house where water is typically used, such as bathrooms and kitchens.
As such, GFCI outlets are the best solution to prevent electrical damage and shock in case water gets in the outlet or splashes against a plugged-in device. If that happens, GFCI outlets will immediately cut off the current.
Then, once it becomes safe to restore electricity in the said outlet, all you need to do is just press the reset button.
How do GFCI Outlets Fail
A GFCI outlet is considered bad if:
- It doesn’t cut off the power to the receptacle even though it’s tripped
- It doesn’t trip when you push the “Test” button
- It doesn’t restore the current after pushing the “Reset” button
Why do GFCI Outlets Go Bad
The most common reason that GFCI outlets go bad is the current transformer in the outlet being damaged.
Too much exposure to moisture can also reduce the longevity of your outlets by causing the rusting of interior components. Similarly, UV radiation and other elements can cause significant wear to GFCI outlets.
This is why weatherproof covers are essential for the life expectancy of GFCI outlets.
How to Test if a GFCI Outlet Has Gone Bad
Although it’s becoming more common to see self-testing GFCI outlets being installed in homes, especially newer households, most homes still have manual outlets that require regular testing.
Do note that you can manually test any GFCI outlet, regardless of being self-testing or not.
To perform this process, you should first locate 2 buttons on the outlet labeled “Test” (at the top) and “Reset” (at the bottom). In the case of color-coding, the “Test button” would be black while the “Reset” button would be red.
Before we proceed to the steps, be sure that you’re using a 3-prong voltage tester to check whether or not the GFCI outlet is bad. This is a better choice than a 2-prong tester because it lets you know if the issue is with the wiring or the outlet itself is malfunctioning.
Now, let’s get started with the testing procedure following the steps below:
1. Press the “Test” Button
Push the test button and observe for one of two possibilities:
- If the GFCI outlet has no problems and the power is connected, you should hear a click sound, the test button will remain pushed in, and the power will be cut off from the outlet.
- If the GFCI outlet is bad or incorrectly wired, the won’t remain pushed in. This can also be a sign that the power is off and the outlet isn’t receiving any electrical current.
2: Test for the Presence of Power
To eliminate the possibility of the power being off, you should use a voltage tester. Plug it into the outlet and observe the LED lights.
If the LEDs on the tester don’t light up, you’ll need to inspect the circuit breaker and see if it’s tripped. If so, reset it, but if the breaker is working, check for other tripped outlets along the same circuit and reset those.
If the LEDs light up after that, this indicates that the electric current is flowing but the wiring of the GFCI outlet is faulty. However, if the LEDs still won’t work, chances are that the outlet has gone bad.
3. Press the Reset Button
Next, push the reset button and observe for one of two possibilities:
- If the test button had clicked and remained pushed in, cutting the power off the outlet, then pressing the reset button should restore the power. You should hear a click sound when you press the reset button and it should remain in.
- If the rest button doesn’t stay in, it could be a sign that there’s no current flowing through the circuit. So if you’ve already checked that the breaker and other GFCI outlets are working fine, this means that the outlet in question is bad and requires replacement.
As you can tell by now, the answer to the question “do GFCI outlets go bad?” is yes. Even though GFCI outlets have come a long way when it comes to life expectancy, there’s a probability of failing due to overuse, age, and/or faulty installation.
Usually, the lifespan of GFCI outlets ranges between 10 and 15 years, after which they’ll start to fail or go bad. Sometimes, they don’t make it longer than 5 years.
Unless you have self-testing GFCI outlets installed, be sure to manually test the outlets around your home at least once a month to avoid shock hazards.