A sparking electrical outlet is hazardous as it can lead to severe fire accidents. Though it isn’t unusual, you should investigate the problem immediately and address it soon before it takes a serious turn.
GFCI sparking while performing a reset is not normal. It indicates problems like overloading, loose connection, moisture, old age, and short circuits. Sometimes, sparks occur due to load downstream. If your GFCI is old, and the wires or the outlet have worn out, then changing the same can help.
This article will explore a few common culprits behind the spark and how to solve them. However, you should always call an electrician whenever you spot a sparking GFCI anytime or during resetting.
What is GFCI, and why does it spark when resetting?
GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.
These outlets and breakers specialize in tripping and interrupting the current flow when it detects an overload or short circuit.
Therefore, your house remains safe from severe electrical hazards.
If your GFCI is sparking while resetting, a common issue is a load downstream.
It means you have an appliance plugged in or a particular breaker is not turned off. So, the current will keep flowing.
When you flip the breaker for resetting, the electricity will flow through the circuit and spark for a moment or two.
Other reasons could be serious issues:
- Short circuits
- Loose wire connections
- Water exposure
- Negligent repairs
How does a GFCI protect against electrical shock?
A GFCI outlet increases the safety of your whole house.
A GFCI detects electricity friction as it keeps traveling through the outlet.
Whenever it detects problems, it will shut off and stop the electrical current from flowing through that particular outlet.
GFCIs can sense the current flow in the circuit and weigh it against the current flowing out of the circuit.
When it detects any current spike from any outside source, it interrupts the current flow to the outlet within a few seconds.
The GFCI contains a sensor to track the electricity flow.
The current flow will stay the same unless there is a ground fault.
The fault will make an imbalance that gets registered immediately by the GFCI so that it can cut off the power.
The GFCI works faster to protect you and your house from severe dangers.
It can detect the slightest imbalance as low as 4-5 milliamperes and immediately trips the breaker in 1/13 of a second.
These outlets are often used in moisture-related areas like the bathroom, kitchen, garage, and laundry rooms.
Is sparking while resetting a sign of faulty GFCI?
A sparking GFCI doesn’t always need to be faulty.
But, it is considered defective in most sparking cases.
If there is a load in the circuit breaker or some breaker has power in it.
As a result, you will see a slight flash or spark when you trip the breaker to the ON position.
If you unplug anything directly without turning off the power, you will experience a slight flash or spark.
A slight spark during reset is fine as long as the current load stays balanced.
But if there is no load in the circuit and no power is running in it, and your GFCI sparks during reset, it indicates a faulty GFCI.
In such a case, you should inspect the breaker or outlet and address it soon to avoid serious accidents.
Whether a sparkling GFCI is a sign of faulty or bad GFCI, check for the following spark types:
- Large sparks signify abnormal electrical output, interruption, or structural damage.
- Short sparks that appear and disappear in a minute are fine. If the spark is intermittent, something is serious.
- Yellow or white sparks indicate serious trouble. Ordinary sparks should be blue or pale.
- If you receive a spark with a burning smell, it is a sign of a hot outlet which can progress to fire hazards.
The dangers of sparking GFCI and how can you address them
GFCI sparking is dangerous as it can cause severe electrical and fire accidents.
Electrical fires cause 63% of house fires. It can put your whole family at high risk.
That is why you must take immediate steps when you notice sparks in your GFCI.
If your GFCI sparks while resetting or whenever you plug in or plug out any device, turn off the circuit of the particular GFCI to prevent any further damage.
Also, unplug and turn off the appliances connected to the damaged outlet.
Furthermore, you should avoid plugging any appliances in that circuit unless it gets addressed by a professional electrician.
Before you call a professional, you can diagnose the outlet using a voltage tester to check for any flowing current.
If the tester lights up, there is a current in the GFCI.
You have a bad breaker if the tester remains on after resetting the GFCI.
The only way to address sparkling GFCI issues is to turn off the circuit, unplug the appliances, and call a professional to look into the matter.
Common causes of sparking during GFCI resetting and how to fix them
Sparking during reset is common if there is a load in the circuit.
Besides this, other causes behind a GFCI sparking during reset should be addressed quickly. Here are a few of them:
Excessive heat and overloading can melt the wire insulation that covers and protect the wires.
The current running through these exposed wires can start a fire if they touch the wrong material or wire.
For example, bare hot and neutral wires can cause a short circuit and share a fire if they come in contact with each other.
First, the breaker will trip. If you flip to the ON position, the circuit will spark while resetting and trip off again.
You should hire a professional to fix the issue immediately.
GFCIs are mostly used in moist areas to trip when there is a moisture-related danger.
When moisture enters the circuit or the outlet, the breaker will trip off as a safety measure and prevent short circuits.
If moisture does not dry out and you flip the breaker back, the current will start flowing through it, creating a spark due to the presence of moisture.
Ensure the outlet or breaker is dry before you flip the reset button.
Over time, your GFCI will weaken and lose the ability to sense danger.
The internal components will become weak due to daily wear and tear and frequent tripping.
As a result, you will suddenly find a spark in the GFCI when resetting it. It can further start a fire.
Old and frayed wires will also cause sparkling in the outlet.
It would be best to replace the old and frayed wires and outlets to prevent sparkling.
If you have ever repaired your GFCI by someone without skill, there are higher chances of sparks during reset or any other time.
An inexperienced person may repair your problem, but he will make other mistakes for which your GFCI may spark at some point, for example, loose connections or wrongly connected wires.
So, always use a certified electrician with good knowledge about electrical fixes to fix the repairs.
Using indoor GFCIs for outdoors
The outdoor GFCIs contain special weather-resistant properties so they can handle the rough outside weather absent in the indoor GFCIs.
If you have used an indoor GFCI outdoor, it won’t be able to handle the rough weather outside.
If moisture gets inside the GFCI, it will end up sparkling during reset or other times.
Use indoor GFCIs for indoor purposes and outdoor GFCIs with weather protection for outdoor purposes.
Arcing occurs when the current jumps from one conductor to another. It can be dangerous as it generates excessive heat.
It happens between the GFCI and the appliance plug. Arcing can destroy the whole plug and the GFCI.
When arcing occurs, your GFCI will spark during reset or whenever you plug something in or take it off.
Contact an electrician to check the GFCI and fix it.
Loose wire connections
Loose wires will make the ordinary GFCIs spark and burn out.
When you reset the breaker, the power will come back. Since the current will flow when you reset the GFCI, it will spark for a moment.
You should call an electrician to fix the loose wires soon.
Dust accumulation on the GFCI will overheat the circuit.
Your GFCI can trip due to this overheating. When you reset the breaker, it may spark again and trip off.
Make sure to keep your GFCI or any ordinary outlets and breakers clean.
Adding too many devices to an outlet will increase the load.
If the load exceeds the outlet’s rated load, it will overheat and trip off the breaker.
When you try resetting it, the GFCI will spark during the reset again due to the load and trip off immediately.
It would be best to reduce the load before you reset your GFCI.
What to do if a GFCI continues to spark when resetting?
If your GFCI sparks and disappears after some time, there is no serious problem.
But you should turn off the circuit immediately if the GFCI is constantly sparking, burning, or releasing weird noises.
At this point, you should contact your local electrician to look into the matter.
Since they are professionals, they will understand the GFCIs, analyze the right issue and solve it.
If you have experience in fixing such matters, you can investigate the problem yourself and troubleshoot them.
Open the outlet, look for loose connections by tagging the wires gently, and search for damage signs and worn-out insulation.
Check the appliance rating, too, to confirm whether the spark is due to overloading.
Sparkling GFCIs with burnt marks will need experienced electricians, even if you are experienced.
Professionals will check your house wiring and circuit to find out the fault.
Once the GFCI is replaced, keep a fire extinguisher close to you for safety.
Use powder-based (CO2) extinguishers and avoid water.
How to maintain a GFCI to prevent sparking during resetting?
GFCIs are used in place of ordinary outlets for moisture-prone areas so they can trip off whenever moisture gets into them.
However, you should still take care of the GFCI and try to prevent it from sparking.
Here are some tips to prevent a GFCI from sparking further:
- You should ensure a licensed electrician does the wire installations. A trained professional will do everything correctly without any mistakes and prevent sparkling.
- Distribute your high-power appliance’s load to several circuit breakers and outlets to prevent overloading, overheating, and sparks.
- Repair or replace the damaged and old wires, circuits, and outlets. Even if it is a GFCI, it won’t save you throughout your life. Once it ages, it will stop saving you and lead to frequent sparks during reset and other times.
- If your GFCI outlet is defective or damaged, avoid plugging any appliance and repair or replace it soon.
- Always remove the load from your circuit and turn off other breakers before you reset your GFCI. Power running while you are resetting is a common reason behind GFCI sparking during reset.
- Use indoor GFCIs for indoor purposes only.
A GFCI sparking is not good news. You must find out the right cause behind it and solve it quickly. A blue spark that disappears after some time is ordinary. If the spark color is yellow or white, irregular, and stays for long, intermittent, or constant, something is wrong with the GFCI.
Get it examined and addressed immediately. Some common reasons include overloading, excessive moisture, aging, old and defective GFCIs, indoor GFCIs used outdoors, dust, loose wires, and arcing.
Prevent a GFCI from sparking further by reducing the load, replacing old and defective GFCIs, avoiding plugging appliances in the defective GFCIs, and calling only experienced electricians to solve electrical-related issues.
Is GFCI sparking always dangerous?
In most cases, a sparking GFCI is dangerous. But, if you are resetting the GFCI with load or power running, you may see a slight spark while resetting, which is normal.
Do GFCIs explode?
Generally, GFCIs rarely explode, especially if the condition has worsened too much and you have constantly neglected the warning signs. Since GFCI is an electronic device, it will explode if given the right conditions.
Reference: GFCI Wikipedia.