Why GFCI Outlets have a Blinking Red Light?

self-test gfci

You will see them in every newly built home today. Even in older homes, they are being installed as people recognize their usefulness and necessity.

I am talking of course about the GFCI outlets. They may come in different shapes and forms. GFCI outlets have been around since the 1970s but have advanced in several ways over the years.

The newer models have an auto-monitoring feature with an indicator light on them. When the outlet is working properly and passed the self-testing feature, the indicator light will be green.

So, why does the GFCI outlet have a blinking red light? Self-testing GFCI outlets have built-in indicator lights. If the GFCI outlet has a blinking (or solid) red light, this means that there is a problem. Self-testing GFCI outlets perform regular tests to make sure they work properly. If the device fails the test, it will trip, and the red light will turn on.

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That would be a quick and easy answer. However, there is more to GFCI outlets and how they operate.

Here I will also go into a bit more detail. And provide you with a better understanding of how they function, operate, and what we need to do in the case of red light.

Why Does My GFCI Receptacle Have a Blinking Red Light?


The newer GFCI receptacles (manufactured after 2015) are all required to have a self-monitoring system installed in them.

An auto-monitoring GFCI outlet will periodically test itself in order to make sure it works as intended.

You can generally find the light indicators on the GFCI outlets to be in three different states:

  • A green light – If the green light is on this means the outlet is working as intended, and it is providing the necessary protection.
  • A red light – A red light means that there is a problem with the device. Further investigation needs to be carried out.
  • No lights – If neither red nor green light is flashing, this means that no power is reaching the outlet or that the outlet may be tripped.

Self-Test Indications: If the Status Indicator Light is solid or flashing RED a problem may exist. Press the TEST button to trip the GFCI. If the outlet will not Reset, contact an electrician to replace the GFCI outlet.

The status indicator may momentarily flash Red at power “ON” and Reset. If the light turns Green the GFCI outlet is working properly and no further action is needed.

Think your GFCI outlets may be wearing out? Check out our article How Long Does a GFCI Outlet Last?

1. So, What Does a Red Blinking Light Mean?

A blinking red light will happen in the following scenarios:

  • The red light on the GFCI outlet may be blinking during the first self-test it makes after being powered up for the first time.
  • The red light will be blinking (or stay solid) if the GFCI outlet has been tripped.
  • If the GFCI has failed its self-testing, it will lock up and prevent the electricity from flowing. In this case, it needs to be replaced with a new GFCI outlet.

2. What to Do If Your GFCI Outlet Has a Red Flashing Light

A red light will signify a problem exists.

In that case, the best thing that can be done is:

  1. Press the test button on the receptacle to manually trip the GFCI outlet.
  2. Then press the reset button.

If the outlet resets and restores the power to the circuit, and no red light is present, then this means that the receptacle is working correctly.

But what do we do if the outlet does not reset?

However, if the outlet doesn’t reset and the red light continues to blink or stay solid, then this means that the outlet is not working properly and it needs to be changed with a new one.

4. What May Cause a GFCI Receptacle to Have a Blinking Red Light?

A red blinking light may signify that the breaker has been tripped.

In this case, we need to keep in mind what situations will cause a GFCI outlet to trip.

  • Ground fault – If the outlet registers a ground fault, it will automatically trip. A ground fault can happen due to bad wiring, worn out or frayed insulation, moisture and water, and more.
  • Bad wiring – Bad wiring may also cause the outlet to trip. In this case, even replacing the outlet will not make any difference, and the electrical circuit needs to be inspected.
  • Circuit overload – If an electrical circuit gets overloaded, the GFCI will most likely trip in order to prevent overheating. This can happen due to too many electrical appliances being plugged in on the same circuit. Also, faulty electrical equipment can cause that too.
  • Worn out GFCI outlet – Just like everything else GFCI outlets can go bad with time. Usually, they are expected to work as intended for at least 25 years. However, due to the natural wear and tear and other conditions, this time may be severely reduced, and they may fail way earlier.
  • Another tripped GFCI in the same circuit or a ground fault in an electrical circuit that is in very close proximity.

One more detail to keep in mind – especially if you have just replaced an old working outlet with a new one that keeps flashing red – is that you may have gotten yourself a faulty outlet. It is not that unusual to stumble upon a defective product.

What Is a GFCI Outlet?

A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (or GFCI) is a device that can be found installed in electrical outlets and electrical breakers. GFCIs can be considered a type of breaker.

The main purpose of the GFCI outlet is to protect us from electrical shocks that can happen from ground faults. Usually, this may occur when an electrical appliance or tool malfunctions.

When the GFCI registers a ground fault, it will immediately cut out the power to the corresponding outlet — thus protecting us from receiving an electrical shock.

You still may feel a tiny electrical shock, but it will be far from dangerous.

So what is a ground fault?

A ground fault means that the electricity is not following its predesignated path. Electricity is always trying to find the quickest path to the earth. And in the case of a ground fault, this usually means that the electricity has found a different path to reach the earth and frequently this path can be our body. In which case, we can receive an electrical shock and get electrocuted.

The GFCI also protects the electrical circuits from overheating during an electrical fault. That way it provides increased protection against electrical fires.

1. How Does a GFCI Work?

GFCI outlets work by constantly monitoring the electrical circuit they are installed on. They will keep track of the amount of electrical current that goes in (to the electrical appliance or tool used) and compare it to the electrical current that goes out.

If there is a significant loss of current the GFCI outlet will consider this a potential hazard. And will immediately cut out the power to the outlet.

GFCI outlets can detect imbalances of the electrical current that are as small as 0.005 amperage and can cut out the power in as little as just a 1/40th of a second.

2. Are GFCI Outlets Necessary?

GFCI outlets and circuits are a mandatory part of the National Electrical Code to prevent electrical shock.

The standard breakers we have in the electrical panels are usually adapted to cut out the power to the corresponding circuits at the amperage of about 10 – 20 amps. However, exposing ourselves to a mere 0.1 amps for two seconds might be fatal.

GFCI outlets are a necessary safety feature to provide ourselves and our families from the risk of electrical shock.

3. Where We Need to Have GFCIs Installed

GFCI has to be installed on all 120 volt, 15 to 20 amperage receptacles in our home.

They are required in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry areas, whirlpool tubs, and on any receptacles that are located in outdoor areas, porches, balconies, unfinished basements, garages, crawl spaces, etc.

In addition to that, every receptacle located within 6 feet from any sinks, showers, and bathtubs needs to be GFCI protected as well.

If you have questions about GFCI code requirements, see our article Common Questions About GFCI Code Requirements.

4. How to Recognize a GFCI Outlet?

GFCI outlets can easily be recognized by their two buttons (a Test and Reset labeled buttons) which are usually located in the middle of the receptacle.

Finally, GFCI outlets installed where ungrounded circuits are present must be labeled as No Ground Present. The GFCI can not be tested with an outlet tester, however, can be tested by the built-in Test button.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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