Why Did My Outlet with the Buttons Stop Working?

The Short Answer

The short answer is because the electricity traveling in the circuit connected to that outlet is deficient, and the “button,” for safety reasons, popped out to stop the flow of electricity through the circuit, thereby preventing what could have been, a very bad situation, such as sparking or someone getting shocked. Your circuit will remain off until you push the reset button back in. Think of the reset button as a shock protector.

But What Truly Caused the Issue?

But before you push the button, you might want to consider what was actually going on to cause the electrical circuit problem and how to permanently resolve.

First of all, understand that you most likely have a type of “monitoring” outlet. Your monitoring outlet is like a security person who is constantly checking to make sure there are no problems with the flow of electricity from the panel to the outlet where it is connected to a device like a toaster, and then back to the panel. It’s looking for an imbalance in the flow, detecting if current is going where it should not. Then, when a problem arises, rather than tripping the breaker in your electrical panel, the security person trips the reset button in the outlet.

Which Types of Monitoring Circuit Do You Have?

There are basically 3 types of monitoring circuits that have buttons on the outlet: Arc Fault, GFCI or Arc Fault / GFCI. The most common, by far, is GFCI, and if that’s what you have, the most common causes for the trip are:


Water is an excellent conductor of electricity and needs to be kept out of the circuit or it will trip. For example, flip cover outlets should never be installed where rain or snow can penetrate them.

Faulty equipment

Any faulty appliance can cause electricity to travel in the wrong direction and cause the circuit to trip. I remember, many years ago, touching a refrigerator and feeling a tingle of electricity. A loose connection in the appliance caused the tingle. Had the refrigerator been connected to a GFCI circuit, it would have tripped and I would not have felt the tingle. You can also think of a circuit using water for an analogy. Imagine a water hose in a loop. Water is turned on and an equal amount of water must leave and return in the loop for it to function properly. But a minor leak in the middle of the hose causes an imbalance – more water leaves than comes back. If that happens with a GFCI outlet, the circuit tips.

Faulty Outlet or wiring

Electrical outlets can go bad for no apparent reason. Their contacts can become loose, and the entire unit may simply need to be replaced. Older GFCI’s are a bit tricky to test. We recommend an electrician for safety purposes. First, unplug all devices on the load side of the GFCI and hit the reset button. If it trips, remove the GFCI from the outlet box, disconnect any loads or wire to the load terminals, then with power on, hit the reset button to see if it will reset. If it resets, turn the power off, connect your load wires back to the load terminals, turn the power back on, hit the reset button, and if it trips then there is a problem in the circuit. Newer GFCI’s monitor themselves more frequently and are more user friendly for diagnostics.

Of course there is an EASY BUTTON to learn more on why your outlet is tripping and how to fix – just call the professionals at EarlyBird Electric. EarlyBird electricians diagnose faulty outlets every day. Call (612) 843-2473.