What is Reset & Test Switches on an Electrical Outlet?

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If you've never had a GFCI or AFCI outlet pop out its little buttons while you were baking, printing or otherwise working in your home, then it may be a mystery as to what those child-safety buttons do and how to fix them when they pop.

What is Reset & Test Switches on an Electrical Outlet?
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If an outlet isn't emitting all the electricity you need or if it is emitting none at all, it's not always a horrible thing. It could mean a simple reset of the GFI. There are a few things to know before you go traipsing around an electrical circuit.

Breakdown of an Outlet

An outlet that isn't operating at its full potential and trips breakers or has a GFI button that pops out regularly may need to be replaced or simply reset. Whether it's a bathroom outlet, wall socket in the kitchen or other electrical outlet, if it is placed in an area that comes in close contact with a lot of wet things, then it will be a GFCI or AFCI. These help to prevent fire hazards or electrical shocks that can be caused when the wiring is damaged or otherwise compromised or overloaded. They are built to stop electricity to the outlet, and the button pops out. A test button is also on the GFCI, which allows you to make sure the outlet is working correctly.

Outlet Reset Button

The outlet reset button is put in as a child-safety feature. If the test reset outlet buttons are popped out, check all appliances that are on the circuit or anything operating and remove them before popping the outlet reset button back in. If you have any long cords snaking from an outlet, this could be why it is tripping the breaker. Check the breaker and make sure it isn't the culprit.

Basics of GFCI

A ground-fault circuit interrupter monitors the imbalance of current between the hot and neutral components. The hot is the circuit's ungrounded conductor and the neutral is the grounded conductor. Its job is to cut off ground fault. When an electrical current goes haywire, a GFCI will keep it from making a connection with anyone who is plugging something into the outlet or touching the area around the outlet.

Basics of AFCI

An AFCI, or arc-fault receptacle, protects downstream branch circuit and outlets. It has short-circuited protection, meaning that a short occurs between two ungrounded conductors or between an ungrounded conductor and a neutral conductor. The AFCI has protection from an overload of the circuit. When a circuit has been overloaded over a long period of time, it can heat up. This can damage the conductor insulation, which can lead to damage of anything plugged into the outlet or other components along the electrical circuit.


Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.

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