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I have a bank — circuit? — of outlets in the kitchen that have stopped working. One of these outlets is a GFCI but it is not tripped. The breakers for all the kitchen outlets have not tripped but I tried resetting them anyway. I took the outlets apart and tested to see if the outlets themselves were bad or if they weren't getting power. One of the outlets, the GFCI, has two wires leading into it that show they have power. The other two wires show they have no power.

How can two of these wires have power and two of them not? How do I know what is broken and how to fix it? Should I simply call an electrician?

Updated details:

The GFCI outlet, I just discovered, was the victim of water leaking across it while we were recently on vacation for thanksgiving. I suspect that has something to do with it.

There are three total outlets. One on the outside of the counter (the snack bar part of the counter) and two on the kitchen side, flanking the sink. To the left of the sink is the GFCI, and it is "upstream" from the other two outlets. Both plugs on the other two outlets are dead. On the GFCI outlet, both plugs are dead but upon taking the outlet out of the wall there is one combination of black /white wire that will produce a light on the 110VAC indicator with my voltmeter. I did not keep close enough track when removing the wires unfortunately so I don't know if this "hot combination" were paired on a single outlet or if they were one wire from either outlet. I'm not 100% sure if it's always this way, but the back panel of my GFCI plug says that the black wires are hot wires and the white wires are simply "white".

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It sounds like the regular outlets in the kitchen are being fed by the LOAD side of the GFCI outlet but based on your description I can't be sure. Pictures or diagrams of what you are talking about would help. If you feel in over your head then you are probably best to call an electrician. –  maple_shaft Dec 9 '13 at 0:48
    
@maple_shaft What information would you like diagramed? I will do my best. –  Bryson Dec 9 '13 at 0:56
    
what wires are hot, colors, what wires connect and where, which outlets are dead, where wires are on the gfci, what wires no longer carry power when you kill the breaker, and any other info would be helpful. –  maple_shaft Dec 9 '13 at 1:00
    
@maple_shaft I've included as much information as I know. The wiring is not accessible for me to see outside of the parts I can see attached to the outlets. –  Bryson Dec 9 '13 at 1:23
    
Sounds like the GFCI Line (power feed) wires are okay, but its Load wires (going to other receptacles) aren't, so the GFCI may be bad. Try (with breaker off) connecting the two GFCI blacks temporarily and the two GFCI whites temporarily. If the other receptacles now work, the problem is with the GFCI. The fact that it got wet is also reason to suspect it could be bad. –  getterdun Dec 9 '13 at 5:52
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2 Answers

It sounds based on your description that the GFCI outlet went bad when it got wet, and that it did exactly what it should have done when it had gotten wet and stopped feeding the upstream outlets.

The upstream outlets are chained together all starting at the LOAD side of the GFCI outlet. Generally on the back of most GFCI outlets you will see on the top where it will be marked LINE and on the bottom where it is marked LOAD. The black and white wires that are coming into the box with power should feed the GFCI outlet by being connected to LINE or to the top of the outlet. This in fact will power both the top and bottom receptacle of the outlet. The other black and white combination that doesn't have power should be connected to the bottom or LOAD of the GFCI outlet. These lines carry power through to the other chained outlets in the kitchen and back to the GFCI, which carries it back to the breaker completing the circuit.

In being wired this way, all of the outlets chained to the LOAD of this GFCI outlet are now GFCI protected, meaning that if any of them get wet then the GFCI should trip immediately before any of the outlets could hurt you. In this case it seems rather than trip it just stopped working.

When replacing the receptacle it is a good idea to take a picture on your phone of what it looks like before you start disconnecting anything and to be safe kill the power to the breaker before working. Test to make sure that none of the wires are carrying current, even the bare ground wires as well as the metal in the box. Even better would be to get a no-contact voltage tester. It will hum and light up if it detects voltage within a few inches, this has saved me from a few careless mistakes and I highly recommend it when doing anything electrical in your home, especially when you are not entirely sure what kind of electrical dangers the previous home owners might have previously put you in.

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You should't use "top" and "bottom" when taking about receptacle wiring, since receptacles can be oriented any which way ("being connected to LINE or to the top of the outlet", "should be connected to the bottom or LOAD"). –  Tester101 Dec 9 '13 at 11:03
    
@Tester101 Well I know that some of the older GFCI outlets didn't clearly mark line and load so I was offering that as a suggestion. When I ran into this situation usually the older ones had a red test button with the word TEST right side up, signifying top and bottom. –  maple_shaft Dec 9 '13 at 12:07
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Ground-fault circuit interruption (GFCI) receptacles, are not wired the same as regular duplex receptacles. In a standard duplex receptacle, both receptacles and all terminals are directly connected together (Unless modified). If one half of the receptacle is powered, then the other half is as well. With a GFCI receptacle there are LINE side terminals and LOAD side terminals, which are separated by an internal switching mechanism.

The wires feeding the circuit are connected to the LINE terminals, which supplies power to the device. If everything is wired correctly, there are not ground-faults, and the device is not tripped, then electricity is allowed to flow to the receptacles on the device and to the LOAD terminals. So if everything is functioning as it should, there should be be power at both the LINE and LOAD terminals. However, if the GFCI device is tripped, there will only be power at the LINE terminals.

Resetting the GFCI

If the GFCI has tripped, it can usually be reset simply by pressing the RESET button. If you press the RESET button and don't feel/hear a click and/or the button doesn't stay in, it means there is a problem and the internal mechanism is not allowing the GFCI to be reset. You can try pressing the TEST button, then pressing the RESET button again making sure you press the RESET button all the way in. If the device still will not reset, you'll have to try and determine the reason.

Why won't a GFCI device reset?

There are three reasons a GFCI device will not reset.

Wiring is wrong

If the GFCI device is not wired properly (LINE and LOAD reversed, hot and neutral reversed, etc.), the device will not allow a reset.

There is a ground-fault

Obviously, if there is a ground fault, the device will trip as soon as you try to reset it.

There is a problem with the device

If the device has gone bad, it will (should) not reset. Some devices will continue to hold, even if there is something wrong internally. However once they trip, they cannot be reset. Other devices will trip as soon as something internal dies, and will not reset. This is why monthly testing is suggested. If you press the TEST button, and then are unable to reset the device. You'll be made aware of a problem sooner, and can have it repaired (hopefully) before any damage is done.

Rewiring a new device

Before you begin, turn off the power at the fuse/breaker box and make sure it's off.

Locate the supply wire pair

There should be an ungrounded (hot) and grounded (neutral) conductor pair (likely as part of a cable assembly), that supplies power to the circuit. As it sounds like you've already located these, I won't go into detail as to how to locate them here (there are many other answers on the site that explain this procedure).

Terminate the supply wire pair

  • Connect the bare/green grounding conductor to the green grounding screw on the receptacle (and to the box if required), and to any other bare/green grounding conductors.
  • Connect the (white) grounded (neutral) conductor to the silver colored screw terminal labeled LINE on the device.
  • Connect the (black) ungrounded (hot) conductor to the brass colored screw terminal labeled LINE on the device.

Terminate load side wires

If there are devices downstream that require GFCI protection, you'll have to connect the wires feeding those devices to the LOAD side terminals on the device.

  • Connect the bare/green grounding conductor to the grounding conductors in the box.
  • Connect the (white) grounded (neutral) conductor to the silver screw terminal labeled LOAD on the device.
  • Connect the (black) ungrounded (hot) conductor to the brass screw terminal labeled LOAD on the device.

Set the device

Once all the wires are connected, install the device in the box using the mounting screws. Install the face plate, and turn the power back on.

  1. Press the RESET button.
    • You should have power to both receptacles, and any downstream devices.
  2. Press the TEST button.
    • You should no longer have power at the receptacles, or any downstream devices.
  3. Press the RESET button again.
    • Power should be restored to the receptacles, and downstream devices.
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This should be an article on the blog, superb answer! –  maple_shaft Dec 9 '13 at 12:04
    
I think a simpler and more focused answer would be more beneficial. This is more like all you ever wanted to know about GFCIs but were afraid to ask. –  getterdun Dec 9 '13 at 12:30
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@maple_shaft The point of providing a better understanding of what's going on and how things work, is to (hopefully) prevent the OP from doing something incorrectly. Understanding why something is done, is often more helpful than just knowing how to do it. –  Tester101 Dec 9 '13 at 13:49
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@Tester101 Your answer is clearly technically correct and very thorough as your posts normally are. I have personally learned a lot reading them. But in this particular instance, it just seemed to me to be overkill. I think folks usually want a simple answer, not such a erudite exposition. If you read my comment above, I think it is the kind of simple answer we should try to provide folks unless they ask for a detailed explanation. I really didn't want to offend you personally, and I was very reluctant to post my comment, but I just felt that my point needed to be made by someone. –  getterdun Dec 10 '13 at 2:13
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@getterdun When I write my answers, I try to write them to help not only the person who asked the question, but also anybody that comes along later. The purpose of the Stack Exchange network, is to make the internet better. To me that means providing accurate, informative answers. If it takes a bit of background and deeper understanding to do that, then that's what I'm going to do. Typically I try to provide a tl;dr section, that summarizes the information. In this case, I felt an understanding of GFCI devices would be useful for the user to understand what's going on. –  Tester101 Dec 10 '13 at 2:26
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