Ground Fault Circuit Interrupts - GFCI

Electricity makes our lives easier. But electricity is also dangerous. If it escapes an appliance’s wiring through faulty insulation or misuse it might cause serious injury or death. Ground fault circuit interrupts, or GFCI, are designed to protect you by preventing electricity from using the human body as a path to the ground.

Electricity and the GFCI

Most household appliances are fed by two types of wires, hot wires and neutral wires. Hot wires carry current to your appliances and neutral wires take electricity away from them. When your wiring is working properly, both the hot and neutral wires have the same amount of current running through them. If the currents are unequal, electricity is escaping and “looking” for a way to reach the ground directly. A ground fault circuit interrupt works by monitoring the amount of electricity entering and leaving your appliances in use. If the GFCI finds there is a difference, your GFCI will trip and instantly cut off the flow of electricity.

To regain electrical flow to the appliance you must press the ground fault circuit interrupt’s reset button.

Types of GFCI Outlets

Ground fault circuit interrupts are available in three forms, receptacle, circuit breaker, and portable. The GFCI receptacle is the most common type used today. A GFCI receptacle fits into a wall outlet and will handle most common appliances.

A GFCI circuit breaker can be added to your electrical panel box. If tripped, the GFCI circuit breaker will cut the electricity to all electrical appliances on that circuit. Use a master electrician to install this type of breaker.

A plug in, also called a portable GFCI, is a self-contained unit designed for temporary use. The ground fault circuit interrupt unit has blades on one side and slots on the other so that the unit can be plugged into a wall outlet and an appliance can then be plugged into the GFCI. Extension cords with GFCI are another type of portable ground fault circuit interrupt.

GFCI Locations

Water and electricity do not mix. New buildings are required to have bathroom outlets and kitchen outlets with GFCI protection. Ground fault circuit interrupt protection is also required in garages, kitchen countertops, crawl spaces, and other areas that can become damp or wet.

If you’re planning a kitchen or bathroom remodel and your home has old wiring, including ungrounded wiring systems you’ll be required to modernize your wiring with ground fault circuit interrupt protection.

When to Replace your GFCI

GFCIs are sensitive. They’ll trip many times – during thunder storms, when using electric lawn tools on wet grass or when a small appliance is faulty - when you’d rather see them stay quiet. But it’s when they aren’t sensitive that’s the issue. Luckily for us, GFCIs come with their own test equipment in the form of a little button. Press the test button and the GFCI should trip. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to replace the receptacle. Test your GFCI once a month or, in the case of portable GFCI units, before every use.

GFCI can save lives. If you’re unsure as to whether your home includes GFCI, look at your wall sockets or in your electrical panel box for the telltale test and reset buttons. If your home does not include GFCI, installing GFCI, especially where water and electricity could mix, is a good way to receive protection from your home’s electricity.

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