As with most of our modern conveniences, we rarely think about our electrical outlets. In fact, they generally come to mind under only two circumstances:
- When our paint roller slips and our partner “sweetly” reminds us we should’ve taped over the outlets like they told us to.
- When we try to turn on our hair dryer, shop vac, or blender and nothing happens.
1. Understand how GFCI outlets work.GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter, and these specialized outlets have a critical job: Preventing you from getting electrocuted. Electricity flows through your home in wires coated in a non-conductive material. As long as the electricity stays contained in those insulated wires, all is well. But if it has a chance to escape—through faulty wiring, for example—it will. In that case, the rogue electrical current will find another conductor and head toward the ground. This is called a “ground fault.” When a ground fault occurs, there’s a surge in power as the electricity “jumps” from its normal, intended path (insulated wiring) to the next conductor. A GFCI outlet senses that power surge and interrupts the ground fault by immediately cutting power to the outlet and to whatever’s plugged into it, effectively preventing you from becoming the next conductor. Ground faults are more likely to occur near water sources—kitchen sinks, bathroom tubs, decks, water heaters, and washing machines for example—and so building codes now require GFCI outlets in all of these locations.
2. Test the GFCI outlet.If you haven’t already, unplug your blender. Notice that between the two plugs on the GFCI outlet, you’ll find two tiny, rectangular buttons—one reads “TEST” and the other “RESET.” Press the RESET button, plug your blender back in, and try turning it on. If the blender runs, high-five someone and take a load off. Otherwise, keep reading. Note: If your GFCI outlets were installed before 2006, the RESET button may not provide you with accurate information. Post-2006 outlets may not even have the TEST/RESET buttons. In either case, pick up an inexpensive outlet tester at your local hardware store.
3. Check the breaker.Head to your electrical panel, and see if the circuit breaker controlling the quitter outlet has tripped. If so, flip it. Then, push RESET on the GFCI outlet and try your blender again. All good? Super. Not so much? Your GFCI outlet is likely kaput, and you should have it swapped out right away. You should also replace a GFCI outlet:
- If it trips frequently.
- If you press the TEST button and it doesn’t immediately pop back out.
- If pressing RESET doesn’t restore power to the outlet.