How to replace a GFCI outlet in 7 steps
A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is an outlet specifically designed for environments that might get wet. These outlets will shut off automatically when they detect an electrical fault, making them particularly essential in any area where the outlet might get exposed to water, such as in kitchens, the outdoors, basements, garages, laundry rooms or other potentially damp areas of the home.
Given the danger of electric shock if water reaches an outlet, using a GFCI is critical for homeowners, helping keep you and your loved ones safer from electrocution. In fact, the National Electrical Code (NEC) requires GFCI outlets in all wet or damp locations. However, it is important to note that the ease with which these outlets can trip means that a GFCI receptacle does not work well for appliances such as refrigerators.
Sometimes you need to install or replace one of these outlets. Here is what you need to know to do this successfully.
Should GFCI outlets be replaced?
Most homes will already have the appropriate electrical outlets installed around wet or moist environments for the needed GFCI protection. You will not need to install a new one unless your outlet stops working.
Sometimes, you will find that these outlets can stop working unexpectedly. If your outlet does not work, see if you can reset it to get it working again. To reset it, simply press the test button, then the reset button. If the indicator light does not respond and the outlet will not successfully reset, you will need to replace the outlet.
Can I replace a GFCI outlet myself?
Replacing a GFCI outlet is a DIY project that many homeowners can undertake with the proper preparation. It does involve some basic understanding of electricity, so those who have not done electrical work before should consider their comfort level before beginning this home improvement project.
If you are ready to proceed, review the steps below to know each part of the process before starting. If you decide to hire a professional, here is a guide to help you know what to expect.
How to replace a GFCI outlet
We will take you step-by-step through what you need to do to change your GFCI outlet successfully. Follow these instructions carefully to change your outlet correctly and feel confident that it is ready for use.
Step 1. Gather the right supplies
Before you move forward, gather all of the necessary tools to change your outlet. This will keep you from looking for additional materials at random, inconvenient points in the process. You will need the following tools:
- Your new GFCI outlet
- An insulated screwdriver
- An outlet tester
- A non-contact tester
- Electrician’s pliers
Once you have your materials together, prepare to move on to the next step of your outlet installation project.
Step 2. Turn off the power
Your next step is to turn off power to your outlet. You will work directly with the electrical wiring throughout this project, so ensuring the electricity has been turned off is essential. Double-check the power is off to the wires in the outlet before completing any steps that require dealing with the wires.
Use your voltage tester on the outlet to verify that the power has been disconnected. After you switch off the circuit, it is also a good idea to label it so that anyone around the home knows you have turned the outlet off for a reason. It would be dangerous for someone to unintentionally switch it back on before you finished.
Step 3. Remove the faceplate and the outlet
Next, use your screwdriver to remove the faceplate (also known as the wall plate) from the outlet. Unscrew the mounting screws and pull the switch out of the wall outlet box. If you need to replace an existing GFCI, carefully label the wires as you pull the outlet out. You will notice black and white wires on the line and load terminals. Label which wire is which and what they are connected to before fully disconnecting the outlet. You can use this to guide you as you reconnect your new outlet.
Step 4. Prepare the new GFCI outlet
Now it’s time to make sure your new outlet is ready to get connected. Verify first that the amp rating on your new GFCI outlet aligns with the rating on your wiring and circuit breaker. Once you have double-checked that your new outlet will fit the amp of your existing circuit, you will want to unscrew the terminal screws in the new GFCI.
Step 5. Wire the new GFCI outlet
Take your black line — your hot wire — and connect it to the brass screw-marked line. This wire brings the power to your outlet. This wire would have been labeled if you had previously installed GFCI outlets. To connect this line, insert it into the back-wire hole.
After you attach the black wire, do the same with the white line, known as your neutral wire. You will insert it through the back-wire hole, connect it to the silver screw, and tighten the terminal screw.
Some outlets have a second black wire and a second white wire. Connect the second black wire to the brass terminal marked “load” and the second white wire to the silver terminal marked “load.”
Then connect the ground wire to the ground screw. Insert it through the back-wire hole and again tighten the terminal screw. You can also wrap your GFCI wiring connections with electrical tape to keep them secure.
Step 6. Replace the outlet and new cover plate
Once you have all your wires properly connected, carefully bend the wires and push the GFCI into the wall box. Once the outlet has been pushed back into the wall, tighten the mounting screws and make sure the GFCI is tightly secured to the wall box.
You can then put your wall plate back on the outlet with your screwdriver.
Once you have the outlet fully installed, turn your power back on to see if the outlet works as intended.
Step 7. Test the GFCI outlet
Turn the circuit back on and then go to your outlet. You can use your circuit tester to make sure the power flows correctly to the outlet. When you plug in your circuit tester, you should see two amber lights appear; there should not be a red light. Then push the test button on your outlet.
When you do this, all the lights on your tester should turn off. When you hit the reset button again, the amber lights should switch back on. This sequence means you have successfully completed your installation process.
Note: Check for the required box size
When you pull out your old outlet, note the number of wires your old outlet used. You do not want to overcrowd your electrical box. If your existing box fits all the wires needed for your new outlet, then follow the instructions as listed. However, if it does not fit adequately, you will need to replace the box before moving forward with the replacement process.
Add together the following calculations:
- 1 inch for each hot and neutral wire that goes into the box.
- 1 inch for your ground wires
- 1 inch if you have any cable clamps
- 2 inches for each device, meaning switches or outlets, excluding light fixtures that will be used
Next, take this total and multiply it by two if you have a 14-gauge wire. If using a 12-gauge wire, then you need to multiply by two and a quarter. This will tell you the minimum cubic inches you need in your box. Your box will include the cubic capacity stamped on it so that you can quickly evaluate if it will work.
How much does it cost to replace a GFCI outlet?
The costs associated with replacing a GFCI outlet depend on factors such as how many outlets you need to replace and whether or not you decide to hire a professional to help.
Buying a single outlet typically costs between $7 and $25. If you do the work yourself, you can primarily calculate your costs based on the number of outlets you need. However, if you need to hire a professional, you can expect to spend $210 an average, with most jobs falling between $130 and $300.
Electrical system repairs are covered by Cinch
As you replace your outlets, you know the importance of having an electrical system you can count on. Cinch Home Services offers coverage for critical electrical elements such as electrical panels and circuit breakers. With this coverage plan, you can be confident that if a problem ever develops with your electrical system, Cinch will help get a vetted technician over to fix the issue as quickly as possible.
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