Sunday, December 22, 2019

What's the expected duty cycle of a GFCI receptacle?

Almost 10 years ago, we remodeled our kitchen. In the process, our contractors brought the house up to date with 30 years of code enhancements, which included installing some additional receptacles in the kitchen, and additionally replacing all the kitchen receptacles with GFCI units.

Two weeks ago, one of the GFCI receptacles failed. I didn't notice it at the time; I'm not even sure anything was plugged in. Just, one day, Donna went to plug something in and got no power. And then I noticed that the green LED was off. And then I noticed that the test/reset buttons did not reset that receptacle.

It was a very simple fix:

  1. I bought a new 20A GFCI receptacle from the local hardware store,
  2. shut off the circuit breaker
  3. Unfastened the old receptacle from the wall box, pulled it out partway, and took a careful picture of how it was wired
    1. (Happily, this receptacle was the last in the line, so it only had one set of cables leading to it
  4. Unscrewed the old cable nuts, removed the old receptacle from the wall box, and examined the wall box carefully for any signs of problems (nothing that I could see)
  5. Wired the new receptacle using the same cables (still in perfect condition) in exactly the same configuration
  6. Refastened the new receptacle to the wall box
  7. Turned the circuit breaker back on, reset the receptacle, saw that the green LED was on, quadruple-checked by plugging in my handy-dandy 3-wire receptacle tester, and declared victory

It seems entirely straightforward.

By the way, it seems like the code has changed again, and my new receptacle has both a green LED and a red LED. The red LED blinks once every few minutes. The green LED just stays steady on.

But my question is: what's the expected duty cycle of a GFCI receptacle? Is it odd that one of them failed after 10 years, and I just got unlucky? Or is that about what you usually get, and I should expect all the rest of them to fail in the coming months? Or is there possibly a deeper issue that was only revealed by the failure of the GFCI receptacle?

I haven't seen any evidence of a larger issue, so I'm going to optimistically assume that I just had a GFCI receptacle fail, and that these things happen.

But if you know otherwise, let me know.

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