Non-technical PSA re GFI

If you live in the US, and your home has a modern electrical system, chances are good that you have some Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlets in your bathroom and kitchen.

You probably already know that if the outlet stops working, you can press the Reset button to make it start working again.

What you may not know--I didn't until five minutes ago--is that GFCI outlets affect each other.

In particular, if one of them trips, then others further along the line (on the same circuit, I assume) may also stop working. And if you try to press Reset on those downstream ones, it won't work.

So if you try to reset your GFCI and nothing happens, then look for other GFCIs and reset those first.

Apparently a common pattern in California is to have the first one in the garage, then one in each bathroom.

So, after literally months of no electricity in the outlets in my bathrooms, I just paid for an electrician to come fix them. Which turned out to mean he and I spent five minutes poking around in my garage. Eventually I found the GFCI in the garage (had no idea it was there), and he pressed the Reset button, and then he pressed Reset on the bathroom ones, and now they all work.

On the one hand, I feel dumb for paying for a service call that turned out to be so simple, and for waiting so long before getting this resolved when I could've done it myself in 30 seconds and saved myself a whole lot of bother. (Among other things, this has affected how often I trim my beard.) On the other hand, now I have electricity in my bathrooms again, and now I know things I didn't know before (like that I have a GFCI in the garage, and that GFCIs can affect each other), and now I can pass the information along to y'all so you can learn from my experience. So, all in all, a pretty good deal.

Also, the guy from Accurate Electric in San José was friendly, cheerful, and competent. He arrived about 20 minutes early for his time window, which usually bugs me (and if I had stepped into the shower a few minutes earlier, as I'd almost done, he would've missed me), but he did apologize when I commented on it, and he asked whether it was an okay time, and I said yes, so that was fine.

Btw, I made the service call through American Home Shield, a home-appliance insurance company. I'm not entirely convinced that they're worth what I'm paying them, especially because every service call requires a $45 co-pay/deductible; that's probably well worth it for most service calls, but in this case I suspect that I would've paid less if I hadn't gone through AHS. But I had no way of knowing that ahead of time.

And even though it takes me a very long time to get around to calling AHS, it probably takes me less time than it would take me to get around to finding service people and calling them on my own.

And theoretically, AHS will replace appliances that break. So if my ancient dishwasher or microwave finally give up the ghost anytime soon, it might be a good deal. Though really, I should probably just replace 'em anyway.

2 Responses to “Non-technical PSA re GFI”

  1. Michael

    Minimum charge is about $100 for many electricians and plumbers around here just to show up, so $45 would feel like a bargain to me.

    Any particular GFCI only protects the items electrically “downstream” in the circuit that it’s on. In addition to GFCI outlets, you can have GFCI breakers in your main panel, and that breaker will protect all outlets on its circuit. So if you have a dead outlet, even if it’s not a GFCI outlet, it may just mean that an upstream GFCI tripped.

  2. Twig

    I knew that GFIs were linked sometimes, but the house where I learned that had weird wiring, so I didn’t know it was a given. Thanks for the info!


Join the Conversation