GFCI Basics: Everything You Need to Know


As homeowners, especially if you have kids around the house, safety is of paramount concern. This is true in anything related to electricity in your household. Electricity is an indispensable feature in the house. We can’t deny how it is important to our day-to-day living. It makes our lives easier, as it powers the appliances and gadgets in your home, plus it also plays a big part when it comes to the comfort and entertainment of the whole household. All of these are amazing benefits that come with electricity. However, it also comes with danger. Electricity is powerful and could potentially injure, cause damage and even kill people.

The good thing with the advancement of technology, many safety features are now added concerning electricity. One of which is through Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter or GFCI. When electrical devices or plumbing fixtures are near outlets, chances are, water may get into the outlet. As we all know, water and electricity are a dangerous mix, and electric shock could follow. This is where GFCI comes in, it prevents those accidents, as it could detect any imbalances in the electrical current. After the detection, it will automatically shut off the power, reducing the risk of shock and any possible damages resulting from the water coming in contact with the outlet.

Difference of GFCI from regular outlets

Using20electricity20in20the20bathroomA person who is dripping wet, fresh from the bathtub, plugged in the hairdryer to a regular outlet. Unknowingly the hairdryer malfunctions, so what happens next? With the wet hand holding the plugged dryer, the electricity has now traveled from the handle of the dryer into the user’s hand. With the water and the human body being good conductors of electricity, the electric shock will follow, and in some cases, electrical currents could stop the heart.

In contrast, if you are using a GFCI outlet, your outlet will identify the leak in the current, so it will trip its internal breaker, thus cutting the power, no harm done. No electrical shocks. This is the main difference between an ordinary outlet with GFCI, the protection it provides against electrical harm.

In terms of appearance, regular outlets are usually smaller in size. And the best indicator of GFCI is the “Test” and “Reset” buttons. These buttons allow you to test your outlet’s function. If you want to test it, simply press the test button, and the snapping sound that you will hear will indicate that there was tripping in the plugs and the electricity has been cut off. Once you’ve completed the test, just press the Reset button next so that electricity can come back to the plug connection.

Why should you have GFCIs installed?

  1. National Electric Codes (NEC) and GFCINEC has mandated that GFCI outlets should be installed in specific areas of the house due to their ability to reduce and prevent electrical shocks. Before being required in households, almost 800 people die yearly from electric shocks, and this was reduced to 200 people annually. In addition, there is a high number of injuries and fires that are electrically related. Since the 1970s, GFCIs are required in bathrooms and since then areas, where GFCIs should be added, have broadened. On the recent 2020 code review, NEC also added an increase in amp protection ratings across all receptacle outlets. It should also be placed in an easily accessible location, meaning, there shouldn’t be any need to move an appliance to access the GFCI. If in case not accessible, at least the reset button should be located inside the electrical panel box or an accessible outlet in a nearby room.

    The NEC mandates GFCI protection in many areas of the home that are within six feet of a water source. 

    Make sure that the following areas have GFCIs outlets:

    • Bathrooms – all receptacles found in the bathroom should have GFCI outlets installed.
    • Basements and including crawl spaces – these areas are constantly exposed to moisture, especially if you don’t have a sump pump or you live in a not flood-free zone.
    • Sheds, Garages, Storages and work areas – this is for both inside and outside the house. These spaces are regarded as “not habitable” and requires GFCIs outlet.
    • Laundry area – as mentioned, any areas within 6 feet of water source like a sink should have GFCI outlets.
    • Kitchen – since 1987, kitchens are required to be outfitted with GFCIs especially since the kitchen contains major appliances and of course the sink.
    • Outdoor – for outdoor areas, ensure that all outlets are GFCI outlets.

    Whether you are renovating, buying, building, or selling your house, make sure that your home electrical system is up to date with the latest codes. This could make or break any electrical inspection.

  2. Protects users from electrical shocks

    Electric20ShockWe have established that the primary function of GFCIs is to protect users from electric shock. This is also the reason why NEC requires for it to be installed in homes. GFCIs outlets have a built-in monitor that keeps track of the outflow and inflow of electricity from an appliance, so GFCIs will detect if there is a change in the flow of energy. This function and the benefits it bring to the household are widely known; however, Electrical Safety Foundation International or ESFI reports that there are still more than 40 million houses in the US that do have GFCIs installed in areas with close to water sources and said that 47% of electrocution could have been stopped if older homes have GFCIs.

  3. Fire Prevention GFCIs detects ground faults, and ground faults can occur whenever an electrical current leaves the circuit, which then could cause electrical fires. Your home having circuit breakers plus GFCIs means a lower risk of electrical-related accidents, such as fire.
  4. Prevents damage to appliancesWith the wear and tear from usage, your appliances could start to leak electrical current. This constant leakage will eventually cause damage to your appliances. If you are using a GFCI outlet, your outlet will then detect the leak and shut it down to prevent damage. This is a good way to protect your investment and prevents you from those costly repairs and replacements.

What are the basic types of GFCIs?

  1. Receptacle – this is the most common type of GFCI and resembles the traditional outlets that we use at home. It could either be a multiple-location GFCI or a single-location outlet that protects one outlet only.
  2. Portable – also known as temporary GFCI, this type is often used in an outdoor setting, like for mowing and the like, and construction use. Note that this should be used in place of permanent ones and always remember to test one with each use.
  3. Circuit Breakers – this type of GFCI provides protection to an entire circuit. It is best to be used on garages and outdoor space that utilizes several GFCI outlets.

Your electrician will be there to help you with the specifics of the best type of GFCI for your home. But how will you know when to upgrade your GFCI outlets?

Half of the houses in the US were built before GFCI outlets were invented. So if you are living in an old house and there have been no electrical upgrades, chances are your GFCIs need to be changed.

In addition, GFCI outlets can last between 15 to 25 years, so it is imperative that your GFCIs are updated. An indicator that you need an upgrade is when you still have two-prong outlets in your home. Note that even if you have already upgraded your outlets, you have to check that all required rooms have those (check above for the spaces that need to be in GFCI)

Make sure that a licensed electrician will do the installation for safety.

How should I care for my GFCI outlets?

GFCI20testIf you already upgraded your outlets and it was done by a trusted electrician, then you have nothing to worry about. Your GFCIs don’t need any further maintenance except that you test it from time to time to make sure that it is working as intended.

However, note that nuisance tripping (or “ghost trips”) of a GFCI outlet could happen. So, what are these nuisance trips? This is when your outlet suddenly shuts itself without any apparent trigger. It only takes about 5 mA of current leakage to cause your GFCI outlet to trip, so there are times that static electricity, stationary motors, and fluorescent fixtures could produce enough leakage to cause the ghost trips.

Tip: Make sure that your GFCI is not supplying to circuits longer than 100 feet, as this could also cause nuisance tripping.

Electricity has shifted our lives and is continuously doing so with our modern society, We know all the positive benefits that it brings, but we also recognize its destructive power. With this, electrical precautions should be in place to avoid accidents, loss of property and even death. One of which is through GFCIs.

If you are living especially in an older house, its time to rethink the safety of your family in terms of electricity. Having GFCI is not actually a new concept but millions still do have this properly installed or updated in their house. Have an electrical assessment and make sure that a licensed electrician will handle the installation or replacement.

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