Troubleshooting a Ground Fault Circuit

  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Mary in California is having an electrical issue at her money pit. Tell us what’s going on.

    MARY: Well, the bathroom plug-ins, where you’d plug in a razor or a hair dryer, in two different bathrooms – opposite ends; one upstairs, one downstairs of the same house – suddenly have no power to them.

    TOM: Right.

    MARY: And I checked the circuit-breaker box and everything is on. I bought one of those little tools to stick in the holes and there’s no power to either of them but I have power all over the house; everything else.

    TOM: Well, there is a very simple solution.

    MARY: Oh, there is?

    TOM: And it’s so simple, it’s going to – you’re just going to laugh.

    MARY: Move?

    TOM: No. No, the outlets that you talk about are covered by a ground-fault circuit interrupter; GFCI.

    MARY: No, they’re not.

    TOM: Well, it sounds like they are. And you’re saying they’re not but I’m going to tell you where to look, OK?

    MARY: OK.

    TOM: Because the – somewhere in this circuit – and the circuit could include – do you have a garage?

    MARY: Yes.

    TOM: OK. Circuit very often includes the garage. It also includes the outside and it could include the basement. Somewhere in those rooms, you’re going to find an outlet that has a ground fault.

    LESLIE: That has a ground-fault circuit interrupter.

    TOM: And you’re going to see one outlet with a test and a reset button on it.

    MARY: Right.

    TOM: And the reset button is going to be popped out and you’re going to push it back in and instantly you’re going to have power in your bathrooms again.

    MARY: Well, I do – in the third bathroom, I have one of those things and it’s connected. It works. It works.

    TOM: But that might just be for that bathroom. The other bathrooms may be on a bigger circuit that covers the entire house. This is a very common problem. We hear it all the time. And people swear that they don’t have one or they can’t find it or they’ve checked. And I’ve had people call me on the phone, when I was a home inspector and had this conversation and I’d say, “Get a cordless. Walk with me around the house. Go to your garage.” “It’s not here, it’s not here. Tom, it’s not here. Oh.”

    It’s right there, OK? Go find this little outlet with the test and reset button on it.

    MARY: OK.

    TOM: Because what happens is all of the wet-location outlets are wired together and the ground faults turn them off if somebody’s getting a shock. A regular circuit breaker only turns itself off if there’s – the wires are overheating. And if you’re part of that circuit, you’re in trouble. But a ground-fault breaker turns it off if there’s someone getting a shock and very, very quickly.

    So, you’ve got to find the ground fault. It’s somewhere in an outlet in your house. It could also be outside, by the way. Most typically, it’s in the garage, OK?

    MARY: OK. I will look for that.

    TOM: Alright. Alright, Mary. Let us know how you make out, OK? Good luck with that project.

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