GFCI outlets and circuit breakers have been around since 1971. However, over the years has steadily been incorporated in more areas of our homes. These devices don’t last forever and eventually wear out, requiring replacement.
So, how long does a GFCI outlet last? The life expectancy of a GFCI outlet is between 15 and 25 years, and a GFCI breaker can last up to 30 years. However, certain conditions may reduce the life expectancy of GFCI outlets and breakers and cause them to break in just 5 or 10 years or even less in some cases.
The lifespan of an outlet is not an exact science. Like anything else we purchase, you get what you pay for. Cheaper unbranded GFCIs often break down quickly.
GFCI outlets are a staple in modern-day homes. The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires GFCI outlets in wet areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, garages, and exteriors. They are considered one of the must-have safety devices in any home.
At one time, GFCI outlets were only required around sinks in bathrooms and then later in kitchens. NEC did not require washing machines to have GFCI outlets; now they do.
GFCI technology has continued to advance over the years. Bad GFCI outlets are common in home inspection reports because most people fail to test them routinely.
GFCI Life Expectancy
GFCI outlets can last a long time. They should last anywhere from 10 to 25 years before needing replacement.
However, as we will find out, this time can vary greatly depending on many different factors.
In some cases, a GFCI receptacle can go bad in as little as 5 years.
What Causes a GFCI Outlet to Go Bad?
Two main things may cause a bad GFCI outlet.
Considering these will allow you to have the right expectations about how long your GFCI outlet may last.
1. The Environment
The life expectancy is affected by where the outlet is located.
The National Electric Code (NEC) requires GFCI protected receptacles on 120-volt 15 to 20 amps single phase outlets in wet areas. These are a few of the required areas:
- Laundry and other utility rooms
- Outdoor locations
- Unfinished basements and crawl spaces
- Pools and spas
GFCI outlets protect areas and rooms with a high risk of a ground fault.
Many of these can place the GFCI outlet in an environment which can expose it to a lot of water, humidity, moisture, high or low temperatures, excessive sunlight exposure, the elements, and more.
Each of these is very likely to affect the natural wear and tear of the outlet in different amounts, causing the GFCI outlets not to last as long as initially expected and break down sooner.
The other significant determining factor in how long a GFCI receptacle will last is the problems it has encountered and used, including:
- Overloaded electrical circuits
- Electrical faults
- Electrical surges
- Bad electrical wiring
- Reinstallation of the receptacle in different places
All of these and their frequency will speed up the wearing out of the outlet. And as a result, a GFCI can go bad sooner than expected.
Also, if there are any broken parts of the outlet, it can affect its life expectancy.
How to Find out If the GFCI Outlet Has Gone Bad
We recommend you regularly test the GFCI outlets you have installed in your home. Manufacturers suggest you test GFCI outlets once every month.
When considering the safety of a building or a home, GFCI outlets are a must-have, which is why the NEC continues to expand the use of GFCIs.
Although GFCIs may work for many years, they may also fail without any warning. Older GFCIs can even fail and not trip in the presence of electrical faults or overcurrents.
Following the troubleshooting recommendations, we can ensure they are working as intended.
How to Troubleshoot a GFCI Outlet
To troubleshoot your outlet, you need to:
- First, unplug any electrical devices that are plugged into the circuit you will be testing. Especially if you have plugged in more delicate equipment like computers, smartphones, and laptops.
- Press the Test button on the outlet. This will cause it to trip and cut out the power to the outlet.
- Using something small like a night lamp, test if there is any electricity running by plugging it in the outlet. It should not turn on. After that, unplug the lamp.
- Now press the Reset button. This will restore the power to the circuit. Using the lamp method again, plug it in. The lamp should turn on.
If the GFCI fails this test, it needs replacement.
Troubleshooting a Self-Testing GFCI
The newer models of GFCI receptacles (usually the ones produced after 2015) will most likely be self-testing.
They come with a light indicator that shows if the outlet is working correctly.
- A green indicator light is on the outlet is working as intended.
- And if the outlet has a flashing (or solid) red light, this means that it has been compromised in a certain way.
They will still have the usually Reset and Test buttons on them, so you can also manually test the outlet.
What Causes the GFCI Outlet to Constantly Trip?
Anyone who has dealt with a tripping GFCI knows how annoying it can be. And I want to stress the importance of never ignoring a GFCI outlet that constantly trips.
There are several reasons as to why a GFCI outlet may trip all the time:
1. Ground Fault
If a ground fault occurs somewhere along the electrical circuit, the GFCI will immediately detect it and trip.
2. Overloaded Electrical Circuit
Usually, the electrical circuits in our homes can be anywhere between 15 to 20 amperage.
If we plug in one too many electrical appliances into one circuit, we can easily overload it and cause the GFCI breaker to trip. The GFCI receptacle does that to prevent any damage from overheating.
Also, faulty or malfunctioning electrical tools, appliances, and devices can cause an electrical overload.
3. A Bad GFCI Outlet
The environmental conditions, any electrical surges and faults, any natural wear and tear, and more can influence and cause a GFCI outlet to go bad sooner than expected.
A faulty GFCi outlet may constantly trip or even trip in an open position where the electrical current flows.
4. The GFCI Is Subjected to Moisture
GFCI receptacles are used in such environments (in kitchens, and outside areas, for example) that can easily lead to the receptacles being subject to more than the normal moisture levels.
Moisture accumulation is hazardous and can cause different electrical faults that will cause the outlet to trip to prevent any electrical hazards.
5. Bad Wiring
Bad wiring can also cause the receptacles to trip more frequently than necessary.
Also, the presence of a ground fault in any electrical circuits found nearby can be detected by the GFCI receptacle and trip despite its circuit not being affected.
Some electrical appliances like freezers and refrigerators can cause GFCI outlets to trip frequently.
How to Have Your GFCI Outlet Last Longer
You can make these steps to extend the life of your GFCI as long as possible.
- Don’t unplug electrical devices by pulling on the cord as this can detach the outlet from the wall.
- Create a habit of switching off devices that you are not using.
- Do not overload the GFCI receptacle by plugging in high-demanding electrical appliances or using power strips.
- Have the wiring inspected in order to confirm it is up to code, and no bad wiring practices have been used.
- Avoid exposing the receptacle to water, chemicals, UV light, etc.
Can a GFCI outlet fail? Yes, a GFCI outlet can fail. You can expect a GFCI outlet to work correctly for 10 to 15 years before starting to wear out significantly and going bad or failing. See our article Bad GFCI Receptacle – Can a GFCI Outlet Fail?
How do GFCI outlets work, and do you need them? A GFCI (or Ground-fault circuit interrupter) equipped outlet is a safety device that protects against electrical shocks. The GFCI will automatically cut off power when it detects a problem in the electrical current. See our article How Do GFCI Outlets Work and Why We Need Them.
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