Every homeowner has experienced a moment when they plugged in an appliance, only for it to go dead. However, in most cases, the problem is not the appliance but the outlet. It needs to be reset. But how do you reset an electrical outlet? To start, you’ll need to know something about modern outlets and why they trip.
Most modern electrical outlets are built with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI), to protect people from shocks. GFCI outlets measure the amount of electricity flowing out of a circuit and the amount flowing back in. Any difference means a ground fault has occurred. Because the Earth contains a large amount of positively charged particles, electricity is naturally drawn to it. When an electrical circuit connects to the ground, that’s a ground fault.
Ground faults can be caused by water, debris, damaged wires, or even a person. Anyone who triggers a ground fault is in for a nasty shock. Ground faults are also a leading cause of fire, which is why GFCI outlets trip automatically whenever they detect one. GFCI outlets are also programmed to trip if the circuit is drawing too much power ‒ another potential fire hazard.
How to Reset a GFCI Outlet
Regardless of why the outlet has tripped, resetting it is simple. Every GFCI outlet has two buttons in front: “test” and “reset.” Pressing the test button breaks the circuit, demonstrating that it’s working as intended. Pressing the reset button restores the circuit and allows electricity to start flowing again. You’ll hear a click, which means the outlet is ready to go.
Before resetting the circuit, disconnect any appliances plugged into it. Otherwise, the circuit may overload and trip again. Keep in mind that not every outlet has buttons. To reset those outlets, you’ll have to find the GFCI outlet controlling them, normally located somewhere else in the room. Resetting that will reset all the other outlets connected to it.
If resetting the outlet doesn’t work, the breaker might have tripped instead. Check the breaker box, normally located in your basement, garage, or hallway. Find the breaker switch that’s centered in its slot. Make sure it’s fully deactivated by pushing it all the way to the “off” position. Then flip it back into the “on” position to reset.
What to Do If the Outlet Trips Again
Outlets normally trip because they have too many appliances plugged into them. This is especially common if you’re using a power strip connected to multiple devices. Try distributing your devices to other outlets around the room.
GFCI outlets are also designed to trip if there is any moisture inside. If the outlet trips repeatedly, remove the front cover and dry it out with a hairdryer. Be sure to use the lowest setting to avoid damaging the wires. It’s also possible the wires may be loose.
Shut off the breaker that controls the outlet, then unscrew it and carefully pull it out of the wall. Gently tighten the screws holding the wires in place to make sure they have a firm connection, then replace the outlet and turn the breaker back on. Never handle wires without shutting off the breaker first.
If none of that works, consult an electrician. You may have a fault in your wiring or perhaps it needs to be upgraded to handle more current. Installing additional outlets may also help distribute power more evenly throughout the room and avoid overloading any single outlet.
Protecting Your Electrical System
Like every other part of your house, electrical outlets wear down over time. Rewiring them can be expensive and it’s the type of damage that’s not covered by home insurance. However, Agway customers automatically receive repair coverage through our EnergyGuardTM program. EnergyGuardTM protects your heating, cooling, and electrical system in the event of a breakdown.
While most homeowners are stuck paying out-of-pocket, Agway customers can call us when something goes wrong. We schedule the repair and pay the cost of the technician and all covered parts. There are no service fees or deductibles. Best of all, you’re automatically enrolled as soon as your application is accepted! So don’t wait. Sign up today!