GFCI Outlet Installation & Methods to Do It In 4 Easy Steps

Did not didn’t prepare this GFCI outlet installation guide for conditions where everything is ideal and nothing can go wrong, that is why it’s a little bit longer than others. So don’t start your project without reading description of items 1-4, it’s extremely important on your safety. Good luck in your GFCI outlet installation project!

1. Disconnect power supply to the electrical outlet you’re planning to remove and install GFCI receptacle in its place. The safest method is to show off the primary breaker in the electrical panel or remove the principle fuse
2. Remove wires from an old electrical outlet
3. Correctly install wires on the brand new GFCI receptacle terminals
4. Secure the new GFCI receptacle in place, install GFCI receptacle cover plate and test installation

Easy, is not it… and safe if you happen to follow the steps below.

The minimum required tools for this 4 step GFCI outlet installation are:

– The table lamp – for testing (or some other devices like those on my picture)
– The screwdriver (flat and Philips recommended)
– Electrical tape – to insulate GFCI receptacle terminals
– Electrical pliers and wire strippers – this won’t be necessary, but in some cases it will make this GFCI installation much easier
– Wire nuts and 6″ of #14 or #12 copper wire – if some slightly more advanced testing or installation is necessary

1. This is crucial part of the GFCI receptacle installation process – it’s a must to be sure that the wires you are installing receptacle on Don’t have any POWER!

The best way could be to show off the primary breaker or pull out the main fuse within the electrical panel. By doing this you would not have to fret about testing and figuring out unmarked circuits. In case you have loads of daylight or a superb flashlight / another source of light for this project – that is the safest, easiest, and the fastest technique to go.

Before turning off the breakers or removing fuses and starting GFCI outlet installation – manually turn off electronic devices (computers, video game consoles, etc.) – they may be sensitive to an abrupt power loss.

Also, if you have a burglar alarm or every other device that requires constant power supply or it can otherwise notify your provider, make a phone call and let them know that your power will likely be out for a few minutes (that is how long it usually takes to put in a GFCI receptacle).

Even in case your electrical panel has a fuse or circuit breaker, pointing (labeled) on to the spot that the new GFCI outlet installation is going to take place, check that circuit with some type of a testing device or a table lamp after the breaker (or fuse) have been turned off / removed.

There are a few reasons for this double-checking:

1. Because the time of electrical panel original installation or labeling, there might be some changes / remodeling performed, and description contained in the panel is no longer pointing out to the same spot. By turning the breaker off or removing the fuse, you could be disconnecting power from something aside from the outlet you’re assuming it is protected by this fuse / breaker. Double check it, triple check it, because installing GFCI outlet on hot wires might hurt or even kill you.
2. Always test for power in both sockets of your existing outlet. There may be a separate power supply for each side of your receptacle. Small tabs between the wire terminals on both sides of the receptacle are sometimes removed and two separate sets of wires from two breakers / fuses connected on each side.

You can’t install GFCI receptacle in such configuration – do not even try! You’ve got either to eliminate one of many circuits or install two separate GFCI receptacles – get a licensed electrician for that.

If your testing device plugged into the power outlet shows no activity with the breaker / fuse in either “on” or “off” position there is perhaps a broken wire on the receptacle terminal, faulty outlet itself or many other reasons. In such case, to make it possible for there’s no power in the wiring supplying this receptacle (since you can’t test it without removing it from the box), I might advise you to turn of the main breaker / pull the primary fuse or call an electrician (when you’ve got previously decided otherwise).

– After you are 100% sure that the facility is OFF, GFCI outlet installation itself becomes quick and simple… almost always.

#2. GFCI receptacle installation – removing wires from an old outlet

– Unscrew the outlet cover plate
– Unscrew the receptacle and carefully pull it out from the box

Because electrical box plate edges could be sharp and damage the wire insulation (while you pulling it out) that is extremely important when dealing with old, cloth & rubber-insulated wiring. This old insulation will sometimes disintegrate while you’re working in your outlet – for those who notice cracks / gaps in insulating material, call the electrician, don’t force those bare wires back into the box!

Also, if instead of a copper you’ll notice an aluminum wire connected to the electrical outlet… it is an entire different story, call a certified electrician / do not install GFCI receptacle on an aluminum wire – it is a safety hazard, and such installations are usually not permitted.

– For those who only have 2 wires (not counting the bottom wire – green, bare or other color marked with a green tape / connected to the green screw) attached to the receptacle (one must be white or light gray plus a second color), those are called LINE wires – remove them from the receptacle and proceed to the subsequent #3 step of the GFCI receptacle installation.
– When you have 3 wires – white and two color (plus ground), and open tab(s) between the receptacle hot terminals (between color wires), there’s either 2 separate circuits (explained earlier), or half of the outlet may be controlled by the switch. You possibly can eliminate switching by capping the switch leg (color wire from the switch) with a wire nut (make it tight and use some electrical tape so it would not fall off the wire) or cap the opposite wire if you might want to have a GFCI controlled by the switch.
– If you have 4 wires (plus ground), and closed tabs between the receptacle terminals, one pair of wires is a LINE (main power supply) and second is known as LOAD (feeds power to other receptacle). To find out which one is LOAD and LINE – you should know this to properly install GFCI receptacle (use this also to identify switched / constant power wires location) – follow those steps:

Remove one set of wires from the receptacle terminals – one white and one color wire coming out of the single conduit or cable inside the electrical box – this is essential / do not use white and color from different cables / conduits!

– Place wire nuts on each of the removed wires
– Carefully push the wires back into the electrical box
– Re-install the receptacle / cover plate
– Turn on the facility at the electrical panel
– Using your favorite tester check if there’s power on the receptacle

If there isn’t any power – capped / disconnected wires are the road and two wires still attached to the receptacle are the LOAD

To find out switched and hot wire (one white and two color wires connected to the outlet / tab broken between color wires), perform the same test as above apart from removing white wire from the outlet terminal. If you may toggle the lamp ON/OFF with a wall switch, your single, disconnected and capped wire contained in the box has a continuing power ON.

Turn the power back OFF on the service panel, carefully remove the receptacle from the electrical box, mark pairs of wires LOAD & LINE, or LINE & SWITCH LEG and take away the remaining wires from the receptacle.

3. GFCI receptacle installation – attaching wires to the new GFCI receptacle terminals

GFCI receptacle terminals are marked LINE & LOAD, with the LOAD being usually covered with a yellow tape, if you do not need them (only two wires in the box), you’ll be able to leave the tape on.

After preparing wire ends, secure the two LINE marked wires to the road marked terminals on the GFCI receptacle:

– White or light gray color wire to the GFCI receptacle white / silver terminal screw
– Color wire to the GFCI receptacle black (gold / brass) terminal screw

Secure LOAD marked wires to the LOAD marked GFCI receptacle terminal.

Secure ground wire (you probably have one, or if your local code requires one) to the GREEN screw on the GFCI receptacle. If using any apart from green color insulated wire for grounding purposes, mark both ends of the wire with green color electrical tape.

EMT pipe (electrical metal conduit) – some jurisdictions require extra ground wire between the receptacle and a metal box, or receptacle – box – electrical panel.

NM cable (nonmetallic sheathed cable) – the commonest residential wiring today (probably not in Illinois) – if used with a metal box, bare ground wire bonded to the box terminal and / or on to the GFCI receptacle ground screw (the one option for plastic boxes)

AC Cable generally known as BX – it has an aluminum bond wire – do not use it as a GFCI receptacle ground

Remember, if your own home electrical wiring system has no ground, properly installed GFCI receptacle WILL PROTECT YOU from electrical shock, but it is not going to provide grounding path for the connected equipment.

Use electrical tape to cover installed GFCI receptacle wire terminals. This can help to stop any loose wire from snapping off the device (even partially) and touching electrical box (common for stranded wires if improperly installed – see pictures under #3 section). Electrical tape can be to protect anyone who would forget to turn OFF the power before attempting to service GFCI receptacle.

4. GFCI receptacle installation – securing GFCI receptacle in place and testing

Carefully fold the installed wires behind the GFCI outlet and push it back into the electrical box, secure the receptacle with screws and re-install cover plate. Use your favorite testing device / lamp for this next step. Plug the lamp into the GFCI receptacle and turn on the power at the primary electrical panel.

Smart Lock type GFCI receptacles are shipped in a tripped / OFF position, so the lamp ought to be OFF until you fully depress RESET button. If nothing happens when you do this, LOAD & LINE wires on the newly installed GFCI receptacle have been most probably switched, or you have a faulty device – DISCONNECT the ability and check the installation.

With the newly installed GFCI receptacles showing the “Smart Lock” sign, miswiring will simply prevent it from operating / there will probably be no power in the GFCI receptacle sockets and for the outlets connected to it down the stream.

However, older GFCI receptacles without the “Smart Lock” feature will still have power after tripping if LOAD & LINE wires have been switched. Unfortunately, there’s still millions of those devices installed in our homes, so take your table lamp and TEST IT! Or get a GFCI tester for under ten dollars, and use it every month.

You might be in a situation where installing GFCI outlet is just not be possible because of an overfilled (too many wires) or undersized / shallow electrical box – GFCI receptacle is 1.5 to 2 times larger (deeper) than a regular outlet and a few electrical boxes will not have the ability to accommodate it. One of many possible solutions in such case is to put in a GFCI breaker that may protect entire circuit.

Important thing to remember – should you decide to install GFCI receptacle in a place of the existing electrical outlet, you should perform this installation following your current local jurisdiction requirements – this might not be entirely the newest NEC (National Electrical Code) but must be very near it – find out required GFCI locations based on the newest NEC.

A number of the examples can be a kitchen GFCI, bathroom GFCI, and a laundry GFCI installation. Should you remove a regular electrical outlet from either of those locations in order to replace it with a GFCI receptacle, this new device needs to be:

– 20-ampere rated
– installed on a #12 AWG wire
– protected by a 20-ampere rated breaker / fuse

In lots of cases, this could require spending a few hundred $$$ (for the electrician). However, if your plan was to replace those wires anyway, do it right – shortcuts sometimes cause fires…

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