How to Install a GFCI Outlet

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What kind of electrical receptacle should you install in the kitchen or bath? The answer is a GFCI outlet, or a ground fault circuit interrupt outlet. A GFCI (or GFI) outlet should be installed in any place where electricity might come in contact with water; such as a kitchen, a bathroom, a laundry room, garage, or exterior space. Basically, a GFCI outlet will sense when electricity is going to pass through a person’s body and it will shut off before the shock is delivered. Installing this type of outlet is only slightly more complex than installing a standard three-pronged receptacle. Join the At Home channel’s host, Jeff Wilson, for a tutorial on how to install a GFCI electrical outlet.

Necessary Tools

  • Straight screwdriver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Wire strippers
  • Pliers
  • Wire nuts
  • 120-volt GFCI outlet
  • Matching cover plate

How to Install a GFCI Outlet

  1. Start by turning off the power at the outlet. See the article How to Install an Electrical Outlet for more information on electrical testers to aid in determining whether the current has been shut off to a particular electrical device.
  2. Remove the existing electrical outlet by removing the cover plate, the two screws that hold the device to the box, and disconnecting the wires from the existing outlet.
  3. Straighten the existing electrical feeds as the wires will typical insert straight into slots on the back of the new GFCI outlet. Cut and trim back the insulation as necessary for making the connection to the new device. Be sure not to trim too much wire making it more difficult to connect to the new device.
  4. Open the GFCI outlet and review the printed instructions. If you have more than one set of wires in the box, you will need to identify which set of wires comes from the electric panel and which set feeds the next outlet in the circuit.
    • You should notice yellow tape across one end – this is to identify the LOAD side of the outlet, as opposed to the LINE side.
    • The LINE side is the wires that come from the electrical panel to the GFCI outlet and carry the current to the device.
    • The LOAD side carries current from the GFCI outlet to the next outlet in the circuit.
    • The connection points for these wires are indicated on the back of the device.
  5. Connect the outlet by inserting the wires into the appropriate slots on the back of the device and tightening the adjacent screws on the side to clamp the wires into place.
    • As with a standard electrical outlet, the black wire is considered the hot wire, while the white wire is the neutral wire.
    • It may be necessary to loosen the screws on the side to allow the wires to insert into the slots on the back, as many GFCI outlets have the load side screws tightened to prevent you from being able to insert the wires. This minimizes the chances of connecting the line side wires to the wrong ports on the device.
  6. The bare wire is the ground and connects to the green screw on the bottom of the device.
  7. Gently fold the wires behind the device and set the outlet into the box.
  8. Tighten the top and bottom screws to secure the outlet to the box.
  9. Finally, install the cover plate to the outlet.
  10. Turn the power to the outlet back on at the electrical panel and test it to make sure it works correctly.
    • A GFCI outlet has a test and reset button to make sure it is always functioning properly. If it is not wired correctly, it will not reset.

Additional Notes on GFCI Outlets

  • If you install a GFCI outlet at the beginning of the circuit, the GFCI outlet will protect all of the other standard outlets on the circuit. Included in the package you will find little blue stickers that say, “GFCI PROTECTED OUTLET,” which should be used to identify the other protected outlets in the circuit.
  • GFCI outlet cost about 10 times as much as standard outlet because of the functions that it serves.
  • Do not install a GFCI outlet on a refrigerator or freezer outlet, as you will unknowingly lose appliance function if the circuit is broken.
Ryan Carpico

Ryan is a Registered Architect who earned a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Kentucky in 1998. His experience in a broad spectrum of architectural projects includes design and project management in multi-family residential, general commercial, and institutional projects. This architectural experience is balanced with a background in general contracting of residential and light commercial construction projects. Ryan’s knowledge and ability as both architect and builder enable him to address both the technical and practical sides of the comprehensive body of construction knowledge.

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