Are you trippin? Test my GFCI breakers?

Home Inspector with Charles Buell Inspections Inc.

GFCI breakers and devices have been around for quite awhile--since the early 1970’s.  This one you see pictured here was installed in 1979 and provided GFCI protection to all of the bathroom receptacles and the receptacles at the exterior of the home.  It still tripped with the test button and shut off the power to all of the protected locations—just like it should.  If you have ever looked at the installation instructions that come with just about any GFCI device it recommends hitting that test button once a month.

GFCI BreakerNow I want a show of hands as to how many of you “actually” do that? 

I know that I do not.  I might do it once a year, but even that is only likely at the ones I walk by on a daily basis.

I also want a show of hands as to how many of you “actually” know the proper protocol for testing a GFCI device?

The only “recognized” test is to hit the test button.  However, that may not provide enough information, so it is important to have something (like a light) plugged into the receptacle so that you can actually tell that power has been shut down to the location with the test light.  This is especially true of some older GFCI type receptacles where the test buttons would trip, receptacles downstream of the device would be de-energized but the receptacle portion of the device itself would stay energized.  The newer devices are not allowed to do this and are integrated so that it cannot happen.

This problem is not associated with GFCI type breakers—only GFCI type receptacles.

The next $64,000.00 question, is how many check the little box on the sticker posted at the panel that keeps track of all the times that you test the GFCI breaker?

“What sticker,” you ask?

“You know—the one required to be posted on the panel that comes in the box with the GFCI breaker,” I answer. 

(You will only see these stickers at the panel if there are GFCI Breakers in the panel.  Most houses have nothing but "point of use" GFCI receptacles throughout the home--not in the panels.  AFCI type breakers will also come with these test reminder sheets.)

If you do not have such a sticker it does not surprise me, as they often were not installed.  I find them occasionally and typically they look like the one pictured here.


The sticker is pretty much a waste of paper, ink and sticky stuff as near as I can tell.  In all of 35 years NO ONE has apparently needed a reminder to test the device at all!

I wonder if any shortening of the device’s life would have occurred had it been tested the recommended 420+ times?  For all I know, since the home was a one owner home, I may have been the only person to test the device in 35 years.

While apparently someone thinks these stickers (they still come with the devices) are convenient, handy and possibly even required, they do not seem to serve any real purpose as near as I can tell.  It is a perfect example of how you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

Are you “trippin?”


Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Re-Blogged 3 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Jeanne Dufort 02/13/2014 11:25 PM
  2. Ann Heitland 02/14/2014 07:56 AM
  3. Winston Heverly 05/16/2014 10:45 PM
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James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

I do once in a blue moon see those stickers on a panel. I have even seen writing on them. That might be like seeing Sasquatch 

Feb 14, 2014 07:54 AM #62
Paul A. Perry
Certified Inspections, PC - Residential & Commercial Property Inspections - Crossville, TN
Home Inspector - Crossville & Cookeville, TN

Charles, why oh why did you pull this stunt on unsuspecting blog readers?  Yeah, sure, check your GFCI by pushing the test button, ha ha.  April fools on Valentines Day!   I get it.  What Charles is setting at home laughing about, is that a certain percentage of GFCI receptacles that are tested will never re-set.  You push the test button and that's it, the receptacle is dead, never to be of use again.  That receptacle and any receptacle feed through that receptacle will be without power until you replace the dead GFCI receptacle.  The older the receptacle the greater the likely hood of death-by-testing.  Charles is completely correct though, the manufacturer recommends that the device be tested by tripping once per month.  So it's really good advice, it will just be a little annoying, aggravating or humorous for the unsuspecting. 

Feb 14, 2014 09:50 AM #63
Rafi Footerman
Mid Jersey Inspections - Edison, NJ
Home Inspector, Mold Inspector, Radon and More!

Like Rob, I have never seen one of those sheets.  

NJ inspectors are required to test every one we can access.

Feb 14, 2014 01:31 PM #64
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Carolyn, typically you are only going to see this sticker in the panel for GFCI breakers installed in the panel itself---not when they are elsewhere around the home.

Amanda and Jared, thanks---titles are the most fun part :)

Don, you are welcome

Mike, like I said you can take a horse to water but..... :)

Robert, and you have to wonder just how necessary it is to do it EVERY month.

Jeanne, yes, we certainly find lots of defective ones.

Jane and Jeff, thanks

Ron, thanks---you are welcome

Suzanne, the problem with this safety item is that it can often still "function" but not as intended.

Richard & Beth, rememeber though, they are likely only going to be present if the GFCI breaker is in the panel

Roger, I have not heard of this---but I suppose anything is possible :)

Travis, it is always useful to collect trivia I guess :)

Marilyn, they sure don't and many don't even have batteries :)

Brian, yes I get calls from people occasionally complainging about them not working when all they have to do is push the reset button :)

Bill, and the modern receptacles are designed to only function together.  Older types were not required for the receptacle and the GFCI component to be interconnected in such a way that if the receptacle failed the whole device would fail.  Also keep in mind that these stickers will only be in the panel if the GFCI breaker is in the panel.

Dennis, and do you have GFCI breakers in the panel?

Victoria, some say so :)

Brian C, I would say that is a pretty safe bet :)

Robert, I have found that the majority of the GFCI receptacles that I have found that behaved that way were actually defective---not mis-wired.

Kat, always something isn't there? :)

Richard, how painfully true---called creative CYA

David, well I am obviously only talking about where they have been installed :)

Steven, all home inspectors should be doing this, and in Washington State Home Inspectors are required to recommend that GFCI protection be installed wherever "currently required"

Vicki, yes---set schedules can be helpful---especially if you can gunnysack it with something else like testing smoke detectors---who ever test them either? :)

Jack, you are welcome

Rob, actually when I am teaching I have a little demonstration I do with a hair dryer in a bucket of water for my students.  It just motors around in the bucket and never trips the GFCI  (and yes the GFCI is functional)  It is more of a demonstration to show that not all water is conductive (tap water)

Jim, I am thinking Sasquatch is much more likely :)

Paul, and if it indeed does fail under test then that is good information :)

Rafi, as are we here in WA

Feb 14, 2014 01:54 PM #65
Woody Edwards
First Choice Realty, Inc - Chesterfield, VA
A Realtor® Who Answers His Phone!

Wow, 20 years of going to and watching inspectors, and I've never noticed one of those stickers.  At least, it wasn't pointed out.  I definately didn't raise my hand, but I will start watching a little closer when the inspector takes off the electric panel cover!

Feb 14, 2014 11:08 PM #66
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Charlie, Ya just trying to push our buttons ;) I never see the sticker installed in the panel.

Feb 14, 2014 11:17 PM #67
Lyn Sims
RE/MAX Suburban - Schaumburg, IL
Schaumburg Real Estate

I was laughing when I read this because the answer all the way around is zero. Never even saw one of those test sheets in any home that I've sold.

Feb 14, 2014 11:58 PM #68
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Woody, they are usually located on the inside of the cover that covers the breakers

Don, they are pretty rare

Lyn, and that was kind of the point of the post---I kind of knew the reaction would be like this :)

Feb 15, 2014 01:14 AM #69
Gene Riemenschneider
Home Point Real Estate - Brentwood, CA
Turning Houses into Homes

Great advise and like most American's it will probably slip my mind and I will not follow it.  But I never even knew this before, so it is a step in the right direction.

Feb 15, 2014 01:14 AM #70
David Demangos
Keller Williams Realty Carmel Valley / Del Mar - San Diego, CA

Thanks for bringing us up to speed.

Feb 15, 2014 06:55 AM #71
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Gene, yes now that the cat is out of the bag it will be harder to get it back in :)

David, you are welcome

Feb 15, 2014 07:16 AM #72
Mary Yonkers
Alan Kells School of Real Estate/Howard Hanna Real Estate - Erie, PA
Erie/PA Real Estate Instructor

Charles, I could not find 'Test' breaker on the breaker box in my basement Which was installed in 1996.

Feb 15, 2014 09:20 AM #73
Jan Green
Value Added Service, 602-620-2699 - Scottsdale, AZ
HomeSmart Elite Group, REALTOR®, EcoBroker, GREEN

As you expected, probably barely any of us test our GFCI's.  I had no idea I was supposed to test them, let alone monthly. Thanks for this information!

Feb 16, 2014 03:08 AM #74
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Mary, GFCI breakers is only one way to provide GFCI protection in the home and is not very common.  Most of this protection, especially in homes of your time period, was provided at individual receptacles where needed throughout the home.

Jan, I doubt that even the people that designed these things test them every month :)

Feb 16, 2014 03:24 AM #75
Charles Sutton
Good post, and so true! I will inform people from here going forward. Few will probably do it!
Feb 17, 2014 12:26 AM #76
Mark Artesani
Keller Williams Realty - Fountain Valley, CA
Huntington & Newport Beach, Fountain Valley Homes

Gene, A lot of money has been made from handy men resetting tripped outlets that are stuck out in the garage or some other place a home owner would never think of looking.

Feb 17, 2014 05:30 AM #77
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Charles, I think we are all in that boat---even most electricians I am sure

Mark, I get asked it on occasion myself but I can usually tell them where to reset it from the phone

Feb 17, 2014 06:04 AM #78
Wayne Johnson
Coldwell Banker D'Ann Harper REALTORS® - San Antonio, TX
San Antonio REALTOR, San Antonio Homes For Sale

Charles-Your titles are awesome.

Feb 17, 2014 01:17 PM #79
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Wayne, thanks---they are the fun part for sure

Feb 17, 2014 02:27 PM #80
John Juarez
The Medford Real Estate Team - Fremont, CA


Breakers should have timers. Yeah! That’s the ticket! After a predetermined period of time, the breaker would “break” and interrupt the circuit. The homeowner would be forced to test the breaker on a regular basis.

Feb 23, 2014 10:36 AM #81
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