Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (better known as GFCIs, and sometimes referred to as GFIs) are outlets that can prevent electrical shock in areas that are near water sources, including bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms and outdoor areas. GFCIs are required by the National Electric Code (NEC) in all kitchens, bathrooms, crawl spaces, unfinished basements, garages, and outdoor receptacle locations. Outdoor outlets also require special boxes and covers. Outdoor receptacles must be equipped with a weatherproof cover approved for both damp and wet locations.
GFCIs were invented in 1961, and were made to continuously monitor the current leaving the receptacle with the amount of current returning to the outlet. If they detect even a small imbalance they quickly (in as little as 1/40th of a second) shut off the electric flow, preventing harm. If properly installed and maintained, GFCIs save lives and protect against fire, overheating and destruction of wire insulation.
GFCIs protect people from electrocution, whereas circuit breakers protect from a fire. Circuit breakers are designed to shut off the flow of electricity to a wire when there is too much electricity demand (e.g. too many items plugged into a circuit). Shutting off the electricity in this situation, prevents the wire from getting excessively hot – in some cases hot enough to start a fire within the walls of the house.
Older homes that have been remodeled with an upgraded electrical system must upgrade outdoor outlets, or those that are within 6-feet of a plumbing fixture, to GFCI receptacles. GFCIs are designed to prevent electrocution, so they are essential for a family’s safety. In most cases, multiple bathroom receptacles throughout a home can be protected by one GFCI outlet. Similarly, only one GFCI is generally needed to protect all kitchen counter outlets. Because a shock hazard exists with both 120-volt and 240-volt equipment, in 2020 the National Electric Code was tightened up to require GFCI protection for any electrical receptacle rated 125-volt through 250-volt and installed in a GFCI-required location.
Testing your GFCIs is easy. Simply plug an appliance (such as a lamp) into the outlet. Turn the lamp on. When you press the “test” button, the lamp should turn off. The lamp should turn on again when you press the “reset” button. If the lamp stays on when you press the “test” button, it’s time to replace the GFCI.
For what they do, GFCIs are quite inexpensive and easy to install. However, as with most electrical jobs, it is highly recommended you have a professional perform the job. Better safe than sorry. If your GFCIs need replacing, or if your home is older and does not have any at all, call the experts at Milton Electric.