Lost Power In Your Bathrooms? Here’s The Fix!

Date Published: December 13, 2021

Have you lost power in not one, but all of your bathrooms? Or maybe you have lost power in the outlets but the lights and fans still work? Or possibly, just the outlets and the lights above the vanity?

This odd occurrence is easily explained but can be concerning if you don’t understand the electrical workings of a modern home.

Luckily, there is usually a simple fix for this. But first, let’s talk about how bathrooms are wired according to today’s building code.

Electrical Requirements for Bathrooms

The International Code Council has very specific requirements for how bathrooms are wired in homes. We are not electricians and won’t get into specific code language, but one requirement is that all bathroom outlets be wired on a 20A circuit.

In even newer code versions, the lights and the bathroom outlets have to be on separate circuits.

Because 20A is a larger amount of power, it can power multiple bathrooms with no issues. So, to save space in the panel and not have multiple unique 20A circuits for each bathroom, you often see all bathrooms tied together on one 20A breaker. While this is not required, it is a practice that has gone back for multiple decades now.

Another requirement is that all bathrooms have GFCI protection. If you are not familiar with what GFCI outlets or breakers are, read our article about this topic here.

On a circuit, you only need one GFCI outlet, or a GFCI breaker to protect the entire chain of outlets. This is convenient from an electrician’s perspective but can be confusing to homeowners.

Knowing this information, let’s go through the steps to restoring power in your bathrooms.

Step 1: Check the GFCI

One of the bathrooms likely hosts a GFCI outlet. This is the outlet with 2 small buttons between the plugs. Reset and Test.

The most common reason for losing power in the bathrooms is a trip of this GFCI outlet. However, as we stated above, only 1 is needed on the circuit so the bathroom you were in when you lost power might not be the bathroom where the GFCI outlet is located.

Most electricians will install the GFCI outlet in the master bathroom. This is a logical place to put it but is also not a hard set rule. Check each bathroom for a GFCI outlet and ensure that it is reset.

Lost power in your bathrooms? Check the main GFCI outlet.

When looking, there will likely be an orange light glowing in one of the corners indicating it has been tripped. Reset the outlet and the problem should be fixed! Nice work.

During our home inspections, we test all GFCI’s we come across. If we find this specific bathroom GFCI that controls multiple bathrooms, we notate that in our reports as well.

Couple tips:

  • Just because you found one GFCI that isn’t tripped, doesn’t mean this is not the issue. Ensure that you check every bathroom outlet as only the first GFCI in the chain will trip. Many homeowners and DIYers assume that every outlet around water needs to be a GFCI outlet. This is not the case and only the GFCI outlet closest to the breaker will actually trip if there is an issue.
  • Check inside cabinets. We have seen some pretty interesting locations for these outlets. Look everywhere you can think of.
  • On rare occasions, we have seen the bathrooms share a circuit with a GFCI outlet in the garage. If you can’t find anything in the bathrooms, consider checking inside the garage.
  • GFCI outlets are prone to failure. We have run into many outlets that will not reset after they have tripped and need to be replaced. If the outlet is clearly tripped, but the reset button does not snap into place when you push it, then the outlet may need a full replacement.

Step 2: Check the Panel

This could arguably be step 1 as well. If the electrical issue that occurred wasn’t a ground fault, then the breaker itself may have tripped.

Take a look at the 20 amp breaker for the bathrooms. Hopefully your panel is labeled, but there is a good chance it isn’t. If there are no labels, you will need to look for a tripped breaker.

If you haven’t seen a tripped breaker before, it will appear as though the switch itself is halfway switched between on and off. If the panel is older it may appear all the way off. If a tripped breaker is found, you first need to flip the switch into the off position, then turn the breaker back on. If this solves your issue, then you are done!

There is a chance on newer homes that the breaker itself is a GFCI breaker and there are no GFCI outlets within the house. If this is the case, the 20A breaker that powers the bathrooms will have a small button next to the switch. This is a test button, the same as the test button on the outlets. If the power is lost due to a ground fault, the breaker will trip just as described above. Follow the same steps, and power should be restored.

During our inspections, we evaluate the panel and if GFCI breakers are present, we note them in our report for this very reason.

Step 3: Call an Electrician

If power is on at the panel, and you have looked at every outlet you can think of for a GFCI reset, then it may be time to call an electrician. There could be something bigger happening. When dealing with GFCI protection, correct wiring is very important and polarity issues or connection issues can cause power failures on these circuits.

At this point, you will need to have a professional electrician evaluate your system and make the necessary repairs to restore power. Hopefully it doesn’t come to this, but if it does you will at least know it wasn’t something as simple as a tripped GFCI.

 

 

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About the Author: Chris Scott

Chris Scott is an ASHI certified home inspector with multiple years of experience in home inspections, blower door testing, duct leakage testing, and Boulder Rental License Inspections. Chris is also the Website Coordinator for Scott Home Inspection.

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