How to Replace a Standard Outlet With a GFCI Outlet
Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets block electrical power to prevent potentially dangerous shocks — they should be installed in any area that water is present such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms. Changing a standard outlet to a GFCI is a fairly easy and inexpensive project that will help protect you and your family.
A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet has a special type of circuit breaker that can sense an electrical imbalance, or fault, and instantaneously shut off power at the outlet to prevent user shock or a short circuit. GFCI outlets should be installed in any area that can potentially be wet or damp areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, outdoors, basements, garages and workshops. Electrical systems in many existing homes have not been upgraded with these modern protection devices, but they are easy to install in standard outlets.
Note: If the existing electrical box is too small to accommodate a GFCI outlet, or if the house wiring is aluminum instead of copper, you may need to hire an electrician to do this job.
Tools + Materials
- GFCI receptacle
- voltage tester
- flat-head screwdriver
- Phillips screwdriver
- masking tape and pen for labeling
- T-stripper wire strippers
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Step 1: Safety First
Turn off power from the home’s electrical panel to the outlet you will be working on. Place some tape over the switch in the breaker box so no one accidentally flips the breaker. Use a voltage tester or voltage meter to confirm power is disconnected (Image 1). Remove the outlet cover (Image 2).
Step 2: Remove Old Receptacle
Unscrew receptacle outlet from the box (Image 1). Once out, detach and separate the wires (Image 2). There are two types of wires attached to the receptacle. The “line” wires are the incoming power from the breaker box and the “load” wires are the outgoing power that travels down the circuit to the next outlet.
Turn the power back on. Use a voltage tester to determine which of the wires are the line wires (the ones with incoming power); once determined, label them (Images 3 and 4). Cut the power to the outlet again.
Step 3: Attach Live Lines
Test line wire again to make sure the power is off before beginning any work. The GFCI receptacle is labeled on the back (Image 1). Place the black line wire in hot line hole and tighten the screw (Images 2 and 3). The neutral white line wire goes into the line hole and gets tightened the same way (Image 4). Give the wires a tug to make sure they are secure.
Step 4: Attach Load Lines
At this point if you were to (but don’t!) turn the power back on you would have power to the outlet, you are just not transferring it to the next receptacle in the circuit. Connecting the load wires allows power to transfer forward to the next outlet. The black load goes into the hot load hole and the white load into the neutral load hole. Screw the wires into place to secure (Image 1). The last wire to connect is the “ground” copper wire. Curl it around the ground screw and then tighten the screw (Images 2 and 3).
Step 5: Reinstall Outlet Box
When all wires are secure, push them and the receptacle back into the box and screw it into place. Attach the outlet cover and turn the power back on. Adding a GFCI outlet around water areas is a great way to add protection and bring your house up to code.