Ever been enjoying your favorite TV show or settling down for bed when you hear a strange click? You pause, “Did I hear something?” and then it continues on a rapid-fire click coming from somewhere – is it in the wall? Take a look and you might find an outlet that’s causing quite the commotion. This time on the ACE Home Services blog we’re going to answer why your outlet is clicking!
And before you get confused, no, ACE Home Services does not handle electrical, but we are home services experts and we’ve been around the block enough to dish some advice. We want everything to be working right in your home, even the stuff we don’t do. Having a bit of home improvement know-how can save you plenty of headaches down the line.
Diagnosing a Clicking Outlet
First things first, the outlet in question is without a doubt a GFCI outlet. The GFI stands for Ground Fault Interrupter, (sometimes called a GFCI or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) and these special types of outlets designed to protect against electrical shock, fire, and/or fatal electrocution.
The outlet monitors the flow of current and if it detects a ground fault (an unintentional path of electricity to the ground) it will cut the power to the outlet immediately. This protects anyone in physical contact with the circuits from getting an unwanted shock.
Why Do I Have a GFI Outlet?
Good question, with so many folks not understanding what makes some outlets GFCI and some not, it’s more likely than not the case that most laypeople don’t understand the need for them.
We owe GFIs to the National Electrical Code! First dreamed up in 1897, this regularly updated code (a new version is written and released every three years) provides the set of guides, laws, and safety that electricians work with. Now, some local laws may differ, using older versions of the NEC or what have you, but this is the foundation of electrical safety practices.
Starting in 1971, GFCI outlets became required. At first in any outside outlet, or outlets near a swimming pool, but over the years that requirement has increased to anywhere where a ground fault is likely to occur. If it’s somewhere water and electricity might meet like a bathroom or kitchen, those are prime locations where GFI outlets should be installed.
Ok, so what about the clicking?
Right, so, the clicking is caused by the outlet attempting to function as it’s supposed to. When the outlet detects a ground fault, it will trigger the outlet to break the circuit. The way it does this is by a small mechanical part, a spring that will trigger and push out a piece (usually a button) which … well, breaks the circuit. The electricity no longer flows to the outlet.
When it is working correctly it will push out a button on the outlet and make a single click. The circuit is broken, power isn’t flowing through the outlet and there is no danger for an unintentional shock should someone be nearby and a little wet from the shower for instance.
But we’re not here for a single click are we? No! So, sometimes an outlet is burned out or malfunctioning. For whatever reason it’s not working as it should. A clear sign of this is the constant clicking of the outlet attempting to break the circuit, even after it has successfully done so (as seen by the button sticking out). It’s entirely likely that the clicking will come and go, come and go, minutes of quiet before another click spree begins. At this stage there is no coming back for it.
GFI outlets are meant to give you peace of mind, protecting you from possible shocks. But they can only do that when they are working! If your outlet has gone on a clicking spree, it’s busted. The only recourse is to get it replaced. This will run you about $150-$300 and a short trip from an electrician but you’ll have a safe, working outlet again.
Hope that helps you navigate the nuisance of a clicking outlet. If your troubles don’t stop at the outlet, or you find yourself with some A/C worries as we head into summer, don’t hesitate to give us a call!