A man installing a GFCI outlet to protect his home from power surges

GFCI Interview with Trevor

Imagine this. You’re cooking a glorious meal to entertain your closest friends in your home. You have all the bells and whistles planned for this pork chop feast, everything in the kitchen has a job, from slow cooker, to the oven, and even the microwave. Oh, and don’t forget the Ninja chopper, which is cutting your prep time in half! You plug your speaker into the wall, you are rocking it, all while dancing in the kitchen, with your music blasting. Things are going well, to say the least.

Your friends are in route and this dinner is what you have been talking about for the last week. You have about 15 minutes left on the chops in the slow cooker, and as you casually check on the temp inside, you notice the light on the cooker is off. The sauces inside aren’t bubbling and boiling like it should be. No matter what button you push, the slow cooker isn’t kicking back on. Did the darn thing break? You have guest arriving in 15 minutes and the pork chops in the cooker are no where near ready. You feel panic and pressure start to set in. What do you do now?

Some homeowners may know to check a GFCI in a situation like this. On the flipside, you may be asking yourself right now “what is a GFCI?”. Well, we went to the pros! Service Manager and certified journeyman electrician, Trevor Hollibaugh gave us his expert opinion in an internal interview at Magic Valley Electric.

Q1. Trevor, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. As a journeyman electrician, what is one common residential service call?

A tripped GFCI is actually pretty common. When it trips and won’t reset, the customer is without an appliance or something like a blow-dryer. It could be a toaster, blender, coffee maker, anything in the kitchen. Or like I said, a blow-dryer, curling iron, electric shaver or something of the sort in the bathroom.

Q2. Ok that makes sense. With that said, what exactly is a GFCI?

A GFCI is a ground fault circuit interrupter. In simple terms, it basically is a fast-action breaker designed to shut off power when a circuit is imbalanced by loads of outgoing and incoming currents. It provides safety in residential building, which is important in your home. Every home, by code, has at least 2 in the kitchen, and 1 in every bathroom or near a sink. Outlets outside also must be GFCI protected as well. It looks like a regular outlet but has the two buttons in the center.

Q3. Knowing it’s a safety component is good information. As a homeowner, is it beneficial to add more GFCI than what come’s standard?

In most circumstances, no. GFCI’s are placed strategically in the home, where there are hazards. Water from rain, sprinklers, or sinks is a perfect example of why GFCI’s are located in bathrooms, kitchens, and outside. Adding a GFCI in a living room doesn’t really offer a benefit, because the safety concern isn’t present in that particular area of the home.

Q4. Perfect. So, how do you know when the safety trips on a GFCI then?

Many GFCI’s have an indicator light on the receptacle. There is also the most common signal, which is loss of power. It’s also common if an outlet not working is located near an GFCI outlet, it could possibly mean you have a tripped GFCI. I know customers tell me often that they are using a blender or some counter appliance when they lose power. Or the wife’s blow-dryer quicks working.

Q5. So what exactly does it ‘do’ when the GFCI trips the circuit and shuts off power supply? And how do you reset it?

First, you call Magic Valley Electric. And then we will come fix it! But there are a couple trouble-shooting tips you can check before you call. There are two little buttons on the outlet. One is reset button, and the other is a test button. Push the reset button. If that doesn’t work, you can check your circuit breaker in the panel. Basically, you are looking for a tripped breaker that needs flipped to be reset. For safety, it’s recommended your GFCI should be tested monthly to ensure they are in working condition. By pushing the test button, it should turn off the power to the circuit, and cause the reset button to pop out. Then hit reset. And you know it’s working right.

Q7. Those are great tips! If the GFCI doesn’t reset and a customer does call the Electric Team to have an electrician out, what does the technician inspect or look for at that point?

Our certified techs come with a multi-meter and test the GFCI. This will tell us if it’s a faulty GFCI and need replaced or if it wasn’t reset correctly. Or there may an issue further down the line causing loss of power, like faulty wiring inside the walls. A mouse could have chewed through the wire. Someone could have drilled a screw through a wire. Or there may be a lose connection that happen over time. There are many factors that could impose on a wire. We have the training and knowledge to trace it back to the cause, and then get you back up and running safely and efficiently. That’s why we are you full service electric team. We have the power to do it right!