$500 to install GFCI outlets? That’s outRAGEous! It seemed.

Date June 10, 2007

Ahhhhh. The joys of selling a 30-year-old house.

One of the items our buyer’s inspector turned up was that we didn’t have GFCI-protected outlets in our kitchen and bathrooms. This was pretty obvious, and we’re both surprised that it’s not something we’d already taken care of — surely it showed up when we had the house inspected before we bought it four years ago. We did a pretty good job of making a spreadsheet of those sorts of tasks and whittling away at them over time. Nonetheless, it seemed like a reasonable expectation on the part of the buyer. They’d SWAGged a cost of $500 to have them added. That seemed just silly — maybe getting an electrician out to do the work…on a Sunday…over a long weekend would have gotten somewhere close to that. But, I figured $15 or so apiece for three outlets, and I could replace them all in an hour or two. So, we committed to having that issue corrected prior to closing — we’d just do it ourselves.

The best laid plans…

I’ll skip the variety of missteps I took along the way — minor inefficiencies more than anything.

First off, I neglected to think through the number of circuits involved. I quickly calculated 1 kitchen + 2 bathrooms = 3 GFCI outlets required. From past projects, I’m well aware of the fact that we’ve got outlets on two different circuits in our kitchen. That required an additional trip to The Home Depot for a fourth GFCI outlet.

Then, I failed to get the most upstream outlet in one of the circuits…so I left a plug unprotected initially in the kitchen. Correcting that was a bit of a nuisance, in that I had to undo work I had already done. Count that as one of the aforementioned missteps.

Still, nothing major to that point.

Then, I tackled the kids’ bathroom. Easy enough, because there’s only one outlet in the room. So, even if there were other outlets on the circuit, they weren’t somewhere where they needed to be protected. I installed it. And it wouldn’t reset. I went in search of the other outlets on the circuit and finally found them…in the garage. For those of you who are not familiar with our house, the garage is pretty much the farthest point from the kids’ bathroom. Actually, I found out those outlets were involved because I was simultaneously working on some minor kitchen retrofitting for our next-door neighbors, and I’d decided to return to that project while mulling my next steps on the GFCI front. But…I had no power in the garage!

What followed was rather tedious. I could guess which outlet in the garage was probably next in line from the bathroom outlet, so I disconnected the wires and then tried resetting the GFCI outlet. It reset fine. I then used my voltmeter to figure out which wires in the garage outlet were the incoming line and wired them to a newer outlet (I had some floating around, so figured I might as well replace the outlet, since I was disconnecting the wires anyway) — leaving off the line running out. Again, the GFCI reset worked. I hooked up the lines out and moved on to the next outlet and repeated the whole process. Basically, I was just working my way along the circuit one outlet at a time, disconnecting everything downstream, and seeing if the circuit worked with the GFCI protection. Eventually, I figured out the culprit was an outlet that is now in our hot water heater closet — it used to be in the garage, but we had the hot water heater relocated before we moved in, so that outlet is now completely unusable. I just took the outlet off and capped the wires.

All told, I spent ~4 hours on that one GFCI installation. And, I didn’t make as much progress on our neighbors’ kitchen as I’d planned, either. I thought about tackling our bathroom…but if I ran into any sort of similar issues, I’d be up much later than I’d like. So, that’ll wait for another time.

I have to say, spending a hot June afternoon doing electrical work in a garage in central Texas, where the nature of the work meant I didn’t have an easy way to run the fan, made me look forward to our northward move!

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