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GFCI Outlet Installation – Homeowner DIY Project

electrical outlet on blue wall

Photo by Brian Patrick Tagalog on Unsplash

Outlets with ground fault circuit interrupters, or GFCIs, are designed to detect electrical imbalances (called faults) in order to protect against short circuits or shocks. These outlets are generally used in “wet” areas, such as bathrooms and kitchens—both locations where short circuits are more likely to occur.

GFCI outlet installation is fairly simple and very inexpensive. This project can easily be completed in a single afternoon.

GFCI Outlet Installation Tools

assortment of electrical wiring tools

Image by Pixabay

To install a GFCI outlet, you’ll need a few tools. These include:

  • A screwdriver
  • Wire cutter/stripper
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • A voltage tester
  • Utility knife
  • Electrical tape
  • Wire nuts

Naturally, you’ll also need a GFCI outlet for each outlet you want to replace. Newer models have two buttons on the front: a black one to test, and a red one to reset if the breaker flips, making them easy to reset if they should trip.

Step 1: Shut off the Power

Before starting any electrical project, always make sure you shut off power to the area where you’ll be working. Go to your breaker box and check which switch corresponds to the outlet (each switch should be labeled with the area). Flip the switch to the off position.

If you’re not certain which switch you need to turn off, try plugging a lamp into the outlet you want to replace and turn it on. When you switch the breaker that you think corresponds to that outlet, check on the lamp. If it’s off when you get back, then you got the right one. If not, try again with another switch.

Step 2: Out with the Old

Once you have the power off, it’s time to remove the old outlet. Follow these steps:

  • Remove the screws holding the outlet plate in place.
  • Carefully pull the assembly out.
  • Disconnect the wires using your wire cutter.

The outlet should have three wires: a green or bare copper wire, a white neutral wire, and a black hot wire. If you have two pairs of white and black each, then you need to do some testing since that outlet feeds power to others on the circuit.

This is where your voltage tester comes in. Make sure you spread the wires out so they don’t touch each other and strip the ends with your wire stripper. Flip the power back on and use the tester to see which wires carry the load. Mark them and turn the power back off before moving on to the next step.

Step 3: In with the New

Now comes the actual GFCI outlet installation. Each outlet comes prewired, which makes this process fairly simple. The attached wires are marked “load” and “line.” The “line” wire performs the same role as the black “hot” wire on the old outlet, whereas the “load” wire distributes power back to other outlets on the circuit.

  • Connect the black wires (marked “line”). If there are more than one, connect the one you marked.
  • Connect the white wires (marked “load”). If you had more than one, connect the marked wire.
  • Secure the wire connections with wire nuts and some electrical tape.
  • Connect the grounding wire (green or bare) to the green screw on the GFCI outlet.
  • Fold the wires into the outlet box, and insert the outlet. Screw the cover plate into place.

If all went well, your GFCI outlet should be functional.

Step 4: Test Run

Once everything is attached and put into place, it’s time to test it. Turn the power back on, plug a lamp into the outlet, and turn it on. If it doesn’t come on, press the red button on the outlet. At that point, the lamp should come on. If so, your GFCI outlet installation is a success!

Should there be any imbalance in the electrical current, the GFCI will shut off power to the outlet, sort of like a miniature breaker switch. If that happens, pressing the red reset button will restore power.

Final Notes

If you live in an especially humid area, such as Florida, you may experience “nuisance tripping,” in which the outlet switches off seemingly at random. A waterproof GFCI may help prevent that from happening if your area has a damp climate.

Overall, this project shouldn’t cost very much (less than $20), and it’s pretty straightforward to complete. However, if you’re not comfortable doing your own electrical work, it may be best to hire a professional to do the job.

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