How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manfuactured and modular homes

A receptacle outlet is dead and I think I tripped a GFCI, but can't locate it. Where do I find the GFCI reset?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Let’s start with the era in which the house was built. Late 1970s to mid-80s homes usually have a GFCI-breaker in the electric panel, like the one shown below, and it protects all the bathroom and exterior receptacles.


    For homes built in the late 1980s thru the 90s, there is typically one GFCI-receptacle in the garage that covers the bathrooms, exterior, spa tub, and other garage receptacles. That should be the one. Or it may be located in one of the bathrooms, especially if it is a mobile home. They were expensive back then, and one GFCI-receptacle placed at the head of a circuit protected everything downstream on a circuit that ran all around the house.

    The spa tub sometimes had its own GFCI-breaker in the panel, and the newer ones have tiny reset buttons compared to the old ones. Some GFCI-breakers trip half-way between ON and OFF, so it may not be obvious by the switch position at first glance that it is tripped. The switch must be pushed all the way to OFF, and then back to ON to reset.

    As we get into the 2000s and newer homes, it gets more complicated because of the requirements for GFCI-protection in more wet locations, such as the kitchen, laundry, utility rooms, and wet bars. The GFCI-device can be a breaker in an electric panel, a receptacle with push-buttons, or a dead front GFCI like the one shown below, which looks like a GFCI-receptacle without any place to plug in a power cord.

A few more pointers if your are still searching:

• The GFCI for a spa tub can be at a GFCI-receptacle in the bathroom, in the compartment with the spa pump, a GFCI-breaker in the electric panel, or a dead front GFCI nearby in the bathroom, in an adjacent closet, or on the wall next to the electric panel.

• If the receptacle has GFCI test and reset buttons, but the reset button doesn’t work, it is may be because the receptacle was originally protected by a GFCI-breaker in the main panel or a GFCI-receptacle in the garage. Someone unwittingly changed out a regular receptacle for a GFCI, to add shock protection that was already there. When this is done, the new GFCI-receptacle often does not actually trip (the reset button will be popped out if it’s tripped), but the one in the garage or panel does trip. And it needs to be reset. 

• Sometimes a GFCI-receptacle under a bar-height countertop on the other side of the kitchen counter from an open kitchen protects counter receptacles nearby in the kitchen. Check under the bar top.

• Scan nearby “wet” rooms that would require GFCI-protection for the receptacles. We once found a GFCI-receptacle on the wall of a laundry that protected receptacles in an adjacent half-bathroom and garage. Receptacles in the dining room, breakfast room, and pantry are often in the same circuit as a kitchen counter GFCI.

• GFCI-protection is accepted by the National Electrical Code (NEC) as an alternative to grounding for a three-slot receptacle. Most homes built before 1960 had two-slot ungrounded receptacles. If the they were upgraded to three-slot, putting a GFCI-receptacle at the head of each circuit or in the panel, is a way to comply with safety requirements without actually retrofitting a ground connection for the grould slot in every receptacle.
    Many of the receptacles in non-wet areas, such as living room and bedrooms, may be protected by a nearby GFCI-receptacle where you would not expect to find one. Look around. These receptacles are supposed to have stickers on them to advise of GFCI-protection but no equipment ground. They are often missing.

• The GFCI-receptacle may be concealed by a multi-plug outlet adapter mounted over it. This is especially common in a garage.

    Also, see our blog posts Are Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) really necessary and worth the trouble? and What is the difference between what trips a GFCI (ground fault) receptacle and a circuit breaker?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about AFCI and GFCI RECEPTACLES AND CIRCUIT BREAKERS:

• Does a septic pump or sump pump require a GFCI-receptacle?

• What is the code requirement for GFCI protection for receptacles near a wet bar sink?

• When was GFCI-protection for kitchen dishwasher receptacle outlet first required? 

• When did arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) breakers first become required?

• Does a washing machine receptacle outlet require GFCI protection?

• My spa tub stopped working. What's wrong?  

• How do I identify a combination AFCI (CAFCI) circuit breaker? 

• What does "listed and labeled" mean for an electrical component? 

• What electrical hazards does a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) NOT protect against?  

• What is the difference between GFCI and AFCI circuit breakers? 

• Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?

• When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

• What happens when you press the "TEST" button on a circuit breaker in an electric panel?

• What is the difference between the electric service to a mobile home and a site built home? 

• Why is there a wall switch next to the furnace or indoor unit of the air conditioner in the garage?

• What is a Dual Function Circuit Interrupter (DFCI)? 

• How I can tell if a receptacle outlet is tamper resistant?

• What is the difference between a Combination Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (CAFCI) and an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) circuit breaker?  

• What is the difference between "grounded" and "grounding" electrical conductors? 

• What does it mean when a wire is "overstripped" at a circuit breaker?

• Why is there a GFCI breaker in the electric panel for the bathroom shower light and exhaust fan?

• What is the switch on the wall with two pushbuttons? 

• How far apart should kitchen counter receptacles be spaced?  

• How far above a kitchen countertop do electrical outlets have to be? 

• How is it possible to provide both GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) and CAFCI (Combination Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) protection for kitchen and laundry circuits?

• My bathroom electric receptacle/outlet is dead and there are no tripped breakers in the electric panel. What's wrong?  

• My GFCI reset button is hard to push and won't reset. What's wrong?

• Why do some breakers in my electric panel have a "TEST" button on them?

    Visit our AFCI AND GFCI page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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