Answer to the Question: What do Line and Load mean when wiring a GFCI outlet?

If you are installing or replacing a GFCI outlet in a bathroom, kitchen, garage, basement, or other room in your home, you have likely asked what the yellow tape is for on the back of the new GFCI outlet. It says something about line and load but you may not be sure what that means and how you should properly wire the outlet.

Let me explain and give you the two options for wiring a GFCI outlet.

Line vs. Load

First, lets go over what the terms line and load refer to. Here’s a visual that will help you remember.

The line wires are those that bring the power into the box for this outlet. There will be black, white, and bare copper wires in most cases. The load wires are those that take power out of the box to other outlets or switches on the circuit. Again, there will likely be black, white, and bare copper wires. If this outlet is the end of the circuit, there will be no load wires in the box.

An easy way to remember is to use the visual above. LINE has the word IN in it, so those wires bring the power in to the box. LOAD has the letter O, so those wires take power out of the box.

Why this matters when wiring a GFCI outlet

When you are wiring a normal non-GFCI outlet, the line and load wires can be attached to either the top or bottom screws on the correct terminal screws (black wires to gold screws, white wires to silver screws), it doesn’t matter. But for GFCI outlets it does matter – a lot!

A GFCI outlet will stop power flowing when it detects a fault. It stops power flowing to the outlet and also to any wires attached to the load terminals on the outlet. This means there are two options when wiring a GFCI outlet.

Option 1: No protection of outlets further along the circuit

If you only need the protection for this outlet and not for any other outlets or switches after this outlet on the circuit, connect the line and load wires to the line terminals on the GFCI outlet. Leave the yellow tape on the GFCI outlet.

If the GFCI outlets trips, it will only shut off power to the GFCI outlet. Any outlets or switches further along the circuit will continue to work.

Option 2: Outlets further along the circuit protected

If you want any outlets or switches further along the circuit to also stop working when the GFCI outlet trips, connect the line wires to the line terminals and remove the yellow tape and connect the load wires to the load terminals.

Which option should you choose?

If you are replacing an existing GFCI outlet, you should wire the new outlet the same as the old outlet. Don’t change the protection approach unless you have a good reason to do so.

If you are installing a new GFCI outlet, consider what outlets or switches are further along this circuit. Do you need them to stop working if the GFCI trips? If you want them to keep working, choose option 1, if you want them to stop working, choose option 2.

Unsure? Hire a professional

If you are unsure or feel unsafe, hire a qualified electrician to help. Many GFCI outlets get wired incorrectly by homeowners and they do not offer the protection they are designed to deliver.