How to Provide GFCI Protection to an Outlet

Adding GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protection to an electrical outlet is an important safety measure that can prevent electrocution and electrical fires. With a few simple tools and following proper precautions, you can easily add this protection yourself.

Understanding GFCI Protection

A GFCI outlet monitors electricity flowing in a circuit. If it detects even a small difference between the hot and neutral wires, it will quickly cut off power to prevent injury or damage. This protects against ground faults that standard circuit breakers can’t detect.

GFCI outlets should be used in any area where water and electricity may come into contact, like bathrooms, kitchens, garages and basements. They can protect against electrocution from appliances falling into water or faulty wiring.

What You Need

  • Standard 15A, 120V GFCI outlet
  • Wire strippers
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Voltage tester
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Electrical tape

Turn Off Power

The first and most important step is to turn off power to the circuit you’ll be working on. Switch the breaker to the OFF position. Then double check with a voltage tester that the outlet is dead.

Remove the Old Outlet

  • Unscrew and remove the cover plate from the outlet.
  • Unscrew the top and bottom mounting screws that hold the outlet in its box.
  • Carefully pull the outlet out about halfway from the box. Do not disconnect any wires yet.
  • Double check with a voltage tester that power is off.
  • Disconnect the wires, making note of where they were connected. The brass screws are hot terminals. The silver screws are neutral.
  • Remove the old outlet and set it aside.

Connect the New GFCI Outlet

  • Connect the hot (usually black) wire to the hot brass terminal.
  • Connect the neutral (usually white) wire to the neutral silver terminal.
  • Connect the ground wire (if present) to the green ground screw.
  • No bare copper ground wire? Connect the neutral wire to the ground screw instead.
  • Push any excess wire back into the box to prevent crowding.

Mount and Finish Installation

  • Carefully tuck wires into the box and mount the GFCI outlet. Make sure all wires are tucked inside and clear of any moving parts.
  • Screw the top and bottom mounting screws back into place.
  • Reinstall the cover plate.
  • Label the outlet as GFCI protected if it isn’t already.
  • Restore power – switch the breaker back ON.

Test for Correct Operation

  • Plug a lamp into the outlet and turn it on. Verify power is on.
  • Press the “Test” button on the GFCI. The outlet should turn off, cutting power to the lamp.
  • Press the “Reset” button. The outlet should now work again.

If the GFCI tests correctly, it is installed properly! Add GFCI protection to any other at-risk outlets. Remember to never exceed the wattage rating of the GFCI outlet. With this essential safety extra in place, you can rest easier knowing you’ve reduced electrical hazards in your home.

FAQs About Installing GFCI Outlets

Does the GFCI need a ground wire?

No, GFCIs can work safely without a ground wire. Instead, connect the neutral wire to the ground screw.

Can I install it outside?

Yes, weather-resistant GFCI outlets are made specifically for outdoor installation.

Do I need to reset it after a power outage?

Usually not, but test the outlet by pressing the “Test” and then “Reset” buttons after any outage.

How often should it be replaced?

Electricians recommend replacing any GFCI outlet after 10 years of use.

Can I install it on any circuit?

Yes, you can add GFCI protection to any standard 120 volt, 15 or 20 amp circuit.

Why did the outlet stop working after installing GFCI?

Make sure you correctly wired line vs. load. The line terminals supply power IN.


Installing GFCI outlet protection requires attention to detail but it’s a straightforward project any homeowner can tackle. Following proper precautions and testing after installation ensures you’ve added an important layer of safety against electrical shocks and accidents. With this device guarding your outlets, you gain peace of mind knowing you’ve reduced electrical dangers in your home.