Introduction A GFCI outlet (which stands for ground fault circuit interrupter) is a receptacle with its own built-in circuit breaker. It is intended to protect you from electric shock and your wiring and breaker panel from being “shorted out”.
Building codes require that you have a GFCI outlet in areas near water (e.g. in your kitchen, bathroom or garage.) You don’t need to install a GFCI outlet for all your outlets near water, just the first one in a series. This way the single GFCI can “trip” or shut off if one of the receptacles further down the line are shorted out.
Electrical basics are easy to understand, but working on electrical projects can be hazardous. You should always take the proper precautions – turn off the circuit you are working on and use tools with insulated handles.
Skill Level & Time
• Beginner - 30 to 45 minutes
• Intermediate - 20 to 30 minutes
• Advanced - 15 to 20 minutes
Cautions Make sure you turn off the circuit you will be working on. Locate the breaker or fuse and properly disable.
Make sure that the amp rating of your new GFCI outlet is consistent with the amp rating of the wiring and the breaker or fuse.
Common Mistakes Make sure you connect the wiring to the correct terminals on your new GFCI outlet. The black wires (hot) go to the gold terminals. The white wires (neutral) go to the silver terminals. Green or bare wires go to the grounding terminal.
Helpful Tips Use insulated tools as an extra safety measure.
The first and most important step is to turn off the circuit that you will be working on. Find the correct breaker in the breaker box and flip it to the “Off” position. If you have a fuse box, find the right fuse and remove it completely from the panel.
Using a circuit tester, verify that the power has been turned off. If the tester glows, try turning off a different breaker or removing a different fuse.
Remove the old receptacle plate.
Remove the old receptacle from the workbox.
Disconnect the wiring from the old receptacle.
If you have 2 wires in the box (plus a ground wire), then the receptacle is probably at the end of a series of receptacles. If you have 4 wires (plus 2 ground wires) then the old receptacle is in the middle of a series of receptacles.
If you have 4 wires and 2 grounds coming into the workbox, you need to determine which wires are coming from the breaker panel. If you are not sure, spread the wires apart and turn the breaker back on. Carefully use your circuit tester to determine which wires are hot. Turn the breaker back off.
The black and white wires that you determined come from the breaker panel need to be attached to the two terminals on the new GFCI outlet that say “LINE”. Loop each wire so that it wraps around the screw in a clockwise direction.
This will keep the wire from slipping off as you tighten the screw.
If you have a second set of wires that continue on to other receptacles, attach them to the other two terminals on the GFCI outlet. Again, loop the wires so that they wrap around the screw in a clockwise direction.
Take the one or two ground wires coming into the box and attach them to the grounding terminal on the GFCI outlet.
Wrap electrical tape around the GFCI outlet so that it covers all of the screw heads on both sides.
Bend the wires in a zigzag pattern so that they easily fold into the workbox. Push the new outlet into place. Adjust the outlet so that it is perpendicular to the floor. Tighten the two screws that hold it in position.
Install the new receptacle plate over the receptacle.
Switch the breaker back on (or reinstall the fuse). Test the new GFCI outlet to make sure the installation was successful by pressing the TEST button on the front of the outlet. You should hear a “click” as the breaker inside the outlet trips. Press the RESET button to reactivate the outlet.
If you installed the GFCI outlet in the middle of a series, you should also test receptacles further down the line using a circuit tester to confirm that you maintained the integrity of the series.