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  • Writer's pictureJustin Leach

Electrical outlet has no power? It might be a GFCI

My outlet stopped working after a storm. What happened?

If there was a recent storm, and part of your basement or garage electrical system stopped working, your culprit might be an elusive GFCI. One of the most common calls we get for an electrician, centers around GFCI’s.

What is a GFCI?

GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interruption—It is the kind of outlets that have buttons on them, which are commonly found in an area that might have a chance of getting wet. The technology helps save countless lives from electrocution in areas particularly prone to getting wet like bathrooms, kitchens, and basements.

Essentially, a GFCI measures power going in and out of the outlet, and looks for discrepancies—if there’s more power going out than in, then perhaps the electricity is escaping into a sink full of water, or a puddle or something. These little devices are exceptionally fast as well, clocking in their work at approximately 1/40th of a second! Their tolerance for electrical variance is about .005 Amps, which is pretty small.

Unfortunately, lightning storms seem to often trip GFCI’s. The lightning hits the electrical grid somewhere locally, and it causes fluctuation in the electrical supply depending on how close it is to you. This can exceed the .005 amps GFCIs look for, resulting in a circuit interruption.

Where are the GFCIs in my house?

The problem is, homeowners don’t always know where these GFCIs are in their house, so they assume that the failure in the electrical circuit is due to a faulty breaker, or other more serious issues. This invariably leads to us being called over as electricians, to find and push a button.

I always feel really bad for a customer when we go to their house for an electrical service call, only to find it can be resolved with a push of a button. I can’t say it’s totally the homeowners fault either—electrical contractors in the past seem to have a tendency to hide these outlets in tucked away corners, cabinets, different rooms from the affected area, etc. I have personally found them behind doors, in utility rooms, behind laundry piles, outside, behind desks, etc. We basically walk every inch of the walls until we find it. As I’m looking in weird spots, customers often say “Well, I know one can’t be back there”, only to be proven incorrect. In the heat of the moment when people are moving in to their house, I think they tend to think, “I'll remember where that is,” but years later when it trips they’ve forgotten. I had one customer that had hired us because half of her kitchen outlets hadn’t worked for about 5 years. It turned out there was a GFCI tucked inside a cabinet behind a bunch of cook books—This more gal had a dysfunctional kitchen for half a decade all because of a button.

We typically do charge folks less for this type of electrical service call, only because of its simplicity, but customers are typically still disappointed that they didn’t think to look wherever it ends up being.

How do I fix the GFCI outlet myself?

If you’ve lost power to part of your home after a big storm, take a good look around your house, behind your furniture, and in those hard to reach areas for a tripped GFCI outlet. Press that Reset button! Otherwise, if you still can’t figure out the problem, you can call Heidikin Electric for your electrical troubleshooting needs!

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