GFCI devices can come in a few different forms, but one of the most popular types is the ‘outlet’ or receptacle. This is a common upgrade to a regular home’s power outlet, which provides a safer and more secure electrical circuit.
These devices are designed to prevent harmful and potentially lethal electric shocks by monitoring the electrical current and cutting it off as soon as it detects something unusual within the circuit. A GFCI outlet has a small LED at the bottom of the device, and depending on which color is being displayed; it can indicate several different issues which need to be addressed.
In this article, we’re going to cover why your GFCI outlet may be blinking red and how to fix it so you can be sure your home’s electric system is as safe and secure as possible.
Why is there a red light on my GFCI Outlet?
In the broadest sense, a red light or blinking red light means it has detected something wrong with the circuit. The issue comes down to identifying exactly the cause, as many potential problems can cause the red light to begin blinking.
Generally speaking, it’s due to some kind of an electrical fault such as a tripped or circuit electrical overload. Let’s go through the causes in detail so you can better understand what’s wrong with your outlet.
1. A faulty wiring issue
For the most part, GFCI outlets are reliable devices. After all, they are not susceptible to the same damages that can cause a traditional outlet to fail.
However, there are also other elements contained within that circuit that the GFCI outlet monitors. One of the primary things it keeps an eye on is the wiring.
So when there is a wiring problem, the red light will start blinking. It may be due to a loose connection, something has burned out, or perhaps even a mouse has chewed through a wire.
Visually inspecting the wires and fixing any damaged ones will usually restore the outlet to working order.
2. A ground fault has been detected
While the terminology may initially seem confusing, a ground fault simply means that electricity within the circuit has taken an unexpected route to the ground.
This usually occurs because of a circuit failure which means the current cannot take its intended route, or because two energized conductors which shouldn’t have touched have touched for some reason providing an alternate path to ground.
There are many contributors to a ground fault occurring; a device may have failed, the wires may have worn down, or the appliance plugged into the outlet may have been damaged.
In either case, a thorough investigation of the circuit and outlet is needed to identify the root cause of the ground fault.
3. The outlet is worn out
The general life expectancy for one of these outlets is 25 years; they are very robust little devices.
However, this can be sped up dramatically due to natural wear and tear from poor weather conditions or high moisture/humidity. It is quite common to see these outlets go bad much quicker than anticipated due to harsh use conditions.
Fortunately, there is an easy standard testing sequence we can follow to ascertain whether the outlet is faulty or not.
4. Electrical overload
One of the primary purposes of this outlet is to keep a keen eye on the electrical levels passing through the circuit.
If this should exceed a certain threshold, then the outlet will kill the circuit to protect you, the circuit, and the appliance from harm.
There are a few potential causes that can trigger an electrical overload, but the most common is that an appliance plugged into the outlet itself (or that is on the same closed circuit) has malfunctioned, causing an unexpected electrical surge.
A thorough inspection of any appliances that may have failed is needed to ascertain what exactly caused the electrical surge.
In some rarer cases, it may also be caused by an outside source, such as a bolt of lightning or an error on the energy suppliers’ side.
5. Another outlet on the circuit has failed
Depending on your home’s electricity setup, you may have two or more of these outlet types on a single circuit.
They all work together to monitor each other too, so if an appliance that’s plugged into a completely different outlet goes bad, it may trip all of the GFCI breaker outlets wired into that circuit for safety reasons.
You will need to note which outlets are on a given circuit and inspect them for faulty appliances.
6. The self-test has failed
When you first set up or restart a GFCI breaker outlet, it will perform a self-test to ensure it’s working before you go and plug your valuable devices into it.
If this initial startup test fails, a flashing red indicator light will reveal that the self-test has failed and something is wrong.
7. The GFCI receptacle is faulty
While it’s certainly rare to see a faulty GFCI outlet be bad straight out of the box (it’s usually an installation error if you receive the red indicator light while it’s new), but it is still a possibility.
So if you have exhausted all other means of rectifying the issue, it may simply be that you got a bad one, and the manufacturer will need to supply you with a new, working one.
How to fix the Red Light on a GFCI Outlet
As you can see, this problem is most commonly triggered by something within the circuit going bad, whether it be bad wiring, a ground fault, or an appliance plugged into the GFCI receptacle failing.
Let’s walk through the necessary steps to fix this problem so you can get your GFCI outlet LED back to green.
1. Fix and replace any faulty wires
The red light commonly indicates faulty wires, but sometimes a blinking yellow light can also suggest a bad wiring problem.
Either way, a full inspection of the wiring used within the circuit is required, and any faulty, damaged, burned, or broken wires/connections will need to be replaced.
We highly suggest you hire a trained electrician to do this as unless you are also trained, this can be extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
2. Find the ground fault culprit
There are several potential causes of a ground fault. It could be that wire nuts have come loose, causing the wire to escape and touch something it shouldn’t, the insulation may have failed, or water may have entered the circuit.
Whatever the cause, maybe you will need to inspect the circuit, correct whatever caused the ground fault, and repair any damage to the wiring it has caused.
3. Test to see if it’s worn out
There is a simple test we can perform to check the functionality of the outlet before we rush out and replace it.
- Between the two slot sets where you plug in your power cords, there will be two buttons labeled ‘TEST’ and ‘RESET’. Press the test button with your finger; if it’s working, you should hear a snap, indicating the power is now switched off.
- You can check the power is now off by plugging an appliance in or checking the voltage using a multimeter.
- Once you’re sure the power is off, press the red reset button to restore power to the outlet.
If this has not corrected the issue, the outlet will need to be replaced.
4. Locate and remove the defective appliance
The most common cause of an electrical overload triggering the red light is due an appliance going bad.
Inspect each appliance, and not just the ones plugged into the outlet itself; each one on the circuit should be checked even if it’s plugged into another outlet.
If any shorted and broken appliances are located, then remove them from the circuit and reset each outlet.
5. Inspect the other outlets on the circuit
As we mentioned, if one outlet has an issue, it may trigger all the ground fault circuit outlets on that system to start flashing red.
Perform a thorough inspection of any other outlets used on that circuit for the same errors, which include faulty appliances, wiring, etc.
Once again, you will need to reset the outlets and ensure each one is working before the red light disappears.
6. Continued self-test failures
If all the wiring, appliances, and outlets have been inspected and deemed working, yet the red light still re-appears, it may indicate the outlet itself has gone bad and will simply need to be replaced.
7. Replace the faulty outlet
Similarly, if the self-test fails, yet it’s a brand-new outlet you’ve only just received, you may have been given a defective product.
Although this occurrence is quite rare, as these are generally considered reliable products, it happens occasionally.
Contact the retailer you bought it from, or you can contact the manufacturer, who should be happy to send you a replacement device.