Troubleshooting Dead Outlets And Why GFCI Won’t Reset (9-Step Guide)

Have you plugged something in only to find it didn't turn on, but when moved to a different outlet it turned on just fine?

In this guide, you will learn:

  • How to troubleshoot outlets that aren't working!
  • A GFCI outlet not working may be a ground fault from an appliance
  • Why multiple outlets are not working
  • And more!
gfci outlet not working

Just because you have found that you have an outlet not working doesn't mean you have to immediately call your local electrician to come out.  Many times a dead outlet can be a relatively simple fix requiring minimal hand tools, if any at all.  So, before calling in the professionals and ending up with costly service call, take the time to try a few easy troubleshooting tips.

Sometimes a professional will need to be called in, but hopefully not this time! 

Keep reading to learn the 9 steps on how to troubleshoot dead outlets and what to do when a GFCI won't reset!

A GFCI Outlet Not Working Could Be One of Several Problems

A GFCI is installed anywhere where an outlet could come into contact with water. These outlets with reset buttons are rated to trip quickly to protect against electrocution from a ground fault—where the ground wire becomes energized. 

According to the University of Washington, you can still get shocked from a GFCI outlet but it shouldn't be deadly.

If one doesn't reset it could be faulty, problems with your wiring, a problem with something that is plugged in, or even problems with another outlet it is protecting.

Outlets Downstream of GFCI Could Be Issue

A GFCI is rated to protect 7 outlets downstream of it when wired properly.  This could be a cause of multiple outlets being dead at the same time. It is not uncommon for bathroom and outside outlets to be wired together. Both require a GFCI, so to save money only one needs to be installed and wired to protect the rest downstream.

GFCI LED Indicator Lights

Most newer homes have GFCI outlets that have a light indicator built in to indicate proper operation.  A small green LED will change to red to indicate a fault has occurred in the wiring or the device itself.  Older GFCI outlets will need to be tested manually using the test and reset buttons on the face of the outlet. If the light doesn't go out when you hit the test button, the GFCI is not working.

Loose connections can play a major part in dead outlets.  This can be at the outlet itself or even a wire nut.

Read Also >> How To Wire Outlet And Add It To Existing Circuit?

Supplies And Tools Needed

  • Voltage Meter - Used to verify power is off 
  • Outlet Tester - Used to help diagnose wiring problems in outlets
  • Screwdriver - Used to make wire terminations, remove and install outlet covers
  • Wire Strippers - Used to strip the insulation off the individual wires
  • Flashlight - Used to inspect wiring and outlets closely

9 Steps To Troubleshoot Dead Outlets And Broken GFCI.

  1. Find Out How Many Outlets Are Dead
  2. Check For A GFCI In The Area
  3. Check the Breaker Panel
  4. Turn Off Power
  5. Check for Loose Connections and Wire Damage At The Outlet
  6. Check for Loose Wire Nuts
  7. Replace Outlets
  8. Reinstall Outlets and Cover Plates
  9. Turn Power Back On

Step 1 - Find Out How Many Outlets Are Dead

To find out how many outlets are dead, you can use the outlet tester by plugging it in.  There is a light chart on the tester to help decide what is going on.  If none of the LEDs light up, there is no power on that outlet.  To make it easy to remember what outlets are dead and what ones are not, mark the outlet with painter's tape or something similar.  

Step 2 - Check For A GFCI In The Area

Check for a GFCI in the area of your dead outlet.  A GFCI outlet not working may be as simple as the GFCI is tripped. 

Plug the outlet tester into your GFCI, if it doesn't have power on it, press the reset button. If it was tripped there will be a little bit of resistance when you go to push it in; it will click as it restores power. The outlet tester LEDs will light up.  Following the chart on the tester, make sure it shows everything is wired correctly.  Check your dead outlets to verify they have power.  If you do, you are all done! 

If you pushed the reset button and it clicked but trips off right away, it means you have a ground fault situation. Before rushing to call in the pro, check to see what is plugged into the circuit that the GFCI is on. Sometimes it could be an appliance that is causing problems and not your circuitry.

Read Also >> What Is The Cost To Replace Knob & Tube Wiring?

gfci outlet not working (1)

If there is nothing plugged in and the GFCI still has no power and will not reset, you will have to dig a little deeper. It could be the GFCI is faulty and needs to be replaced or there is a problem in the wiring.  

If at this point, you are no longer comfortable working on it, get a hold of your local electrician and have them come look into it!

Step 3 - Check The Breaker Panel 

If there is still no power, check the breaker panel; look for any tripped breakers.  

A tripped breaker handle will be slightly offset to the rest of the breakers. 

To reset the breaker, push the handle to off, then turn it on.  If it stays on, go check your dead outlets; if they all have power on them, you are back in business! 

If it instantly trips again, there is something causing a short.  This could be a faulty outlet, damaged wire, or a loose connection.  Again, if you find this is something that you are not confident in doing yourself, give that local electrician a holler to come take a look!

Read Also >> How To Wire A Light Fixture With Red, Black, And White Wires?

Step 4 - Turn Power Off 

If none of the previous troubleshooting tips have gotten the power back on to your outlets, its time to turn the power off to the outlets at the breaker.  You must be very careful when working on things when you can not verify what breaker turned the power off.  

There is the option to turn your main breaker off and shut power off to your entire house.  This will ensure that anything you work on will have no power on it. 

If you know what breaker it is, turn that breaker off.  Don't always assume that your panel schedule is correct.  People make changes but don't update the schedule to reflect changes that were made. 

The best thing you can do in this type of scenario if you don't want to shut the main breaker off is test before touching!  Before you touch any bare wire, use your voltage meter to verify there is no power on the wires.  

Step 5 - Check For Loose Connections and Wire Damage At The Outlet

Now check for loose connections or damaged wires if the previous troubleshooting tips have not resolved the issue.  

After double-checking to be sure there is no power on the outlets, remove the cover plate, carefully remove the mounting screws, and pull the outlet out of the box. 

Inspect all the wires that are in the box, pulling them out as far as you can.  Use your flashlight to shine in the box to get a good look at the wire where it enters the box. Follow the wire all the way to where it terminates on the outlet and make sure there are no signs of heating in the wire or on the back of the outlet. 

If you find there are wires that show signs of heating or arcing, try and remove the damaged part, if you have enough wire to do so. 

There are two ways wires are typically terminated on an outlet. 

  • Stab-in the back 
  • Terminal screws

If the outlet is wired with the wires just stabbed in the back, try tugging on them and slightly twisting to ensure there is a good connection inside. 

If the outlet is wired using the terminal screws, wiggle the wire and see if it will twist underneath the screw. 

Do this for every outlet that had no power, including the GFCI.

Read Also >> How To Wire A Standard Light Switch?

Step 6 - Check For Loose Wire Nuts 

Check all the wire nuts for loose wires.   

Give each wire under the wire nut a good tug. If any of the wires appear to be loose inside, or if one pops out, be sure to redo the connection.  

Take the wire nut off, regroup all the wires, and put the wire nut back on. You may need to use the tip of your wire strippers to straighten the wires back out before putting the wire nut back on.  

Again, do this for every outlet that had no power, including the GFCI. 

Step 7 - Replace Outlets 

It is best to replace any outlet that had a loose wire going to it.  Loose connections can cause heat and can damage the integrity of the outlet.  This can cause short circuit and ground fault situations or explain when a GFCI won't reset or why the GFCI test button won't push in.

It doesn't hurt to replace your GFCI even if it didn't have loose connections. They do only have an expected lifespan of 7-10 years. If you do change your GFCI out, pay close attention to how it was wired.  It must be wired in a specific way for it to protect other outlets downstream of it. 

If the outlet was wired using the stab-in method and there was a loose wire, be sure to just replace the outlet instead of just stabbing the wire back in.  When you go to rewire the outlet by stripping the ends and then making a hook.  Then loop the hook over the termination screw and tighten down. This creates a much more secure termination.

If you come across an outlet that had 2 sets of wires with a wired landed under every screw, you should redo this and use a pigtail to land on the outlet.  

To do this you group each of the like-colored wires together with roughly a 6-inch long piece of wire the same color and connect them together with a wire nut.  Then strip about 3/4-inch of insulation off the end of the pigtail; using your strippers, create a hook and terminated this under the screw.  Do this for each set of wires.

Step 8 - Reinstall Outlets and Cover Plates 

Once you have checked everything over and replaced what needed to be, you can reinstall the outlets and cover plates.  

Fold the wires in and tuck them back in so they don't get pinched while putting the outlet back in the box.  Make sure when you are pushing the wires in that the bare wire doesn't bend and end up touching the brass or silver screw.  This will cause a short circuit. 

Step 9 - Turn Power Back On 

Once everything is safely reinstalled you can turn the power back on at the breaker panel.  Once power is back on, test your GFCI.  When resetting it, you should hear a click.  Use your outlet tester to verify you have power and it is wired correctly. Proceed to check any other outlets that had no power.

If you still have no power to the GFCI outlet, it is probably time to call in an electrician.  You could have problems with your wiring that is hidden behind walls or even in your main breaker panel.  It is best to address these types of issues as soon as possible so you don't end up with bigger problems on your hands.

Read Also >> Is The White Or Black Wire Hot? (Basic Wire Identification)  

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Happens When A GFCI Outlet Won't Reset? 

There may be no power. Check your breaker box for a tripped breaker. It also could be the GFCI is faulty or there is a ground fault in your wiring. 

What Does It Mean If A GFCI Won't Reset?

If a GFCI won't reset it could be one of three things. There could be no power, the GFCI could be faulty, or there is a ground fault in your wiring. 

Why Are All My GFCI Outlets Not Working? 

The GFCI could have tripped, from something causing a ground fault situation. The circuit breaker could be tripped. The GFCI could be faulty and needs to be replaced. 

What To Do If Outlet Will Not Reset? 

Check for any tripped breakers in your panel.  Unplug anything plugged into that circuit and try again.

What Is The Point of a GFCI Outlet?

A GFCI outlet is designed to instantly trip and cut off power to prevent electrocution. You still may get shocked with a GFCI but it shouldn't be deadly. These outlets are usually installed in 'wet' locations such as the kitchen, bathroom, garage, and outside.

Final Thoughts On How To Troubleshoot Dead Outlets and What To Do If A GFCI Won't Reset

There are many reasons why outlets may be dead and a GFCI won't reset.  Often it can be an easy fix that you can do on your own. If you followed all the troubleshooting tips and still have no power, its time to throw in the towel and get an electrician to come and look at it. Its better to have problems looked at and solved before they develop into bigger issues or cause a house fire. 

Safety needs to be the top priority when working on electrical problems.  Take your time, pay attention to what you are doing, and admit when you are in over your head!

I hope you enjoyed this Home Inspector Secrets guide!

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2 thoughts on “Troubleshooting Dead Outlets And Why GFCI Won’t Reset (9-Step Guide)”

  1. I just moved into a townhouse with 2 1/2 baths. The primary bathroom has 3 outlets with 2 of them working (they just started working; I tested them previously and were not). The other full bath has 2 of 2 outlets that are inop. And the 1/2 bath has the 1 outlet that is inop. The lights in each bathroom work. No breakers are tripped. Is it feasible that all of these inoperative outlets are faulty? The townhouse was not occupied for about 8 months before we moved in.


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