GFCIs are important in keeping people safe!
A properly wired home is a safer home. An important part of your electrical safety is the proper installation and use of GFCIs.
What is a GFCI?
The NEC defines GFCI as “a device intended for the protection of personnel that functions to de-energize a circuit or portion thereof within an established period of time when a current to ground exceeds some predetermined value that is less than that required to operate the overcurrent protective device of the supply circuit.
GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. Nearly two-thirds of all home-related electrical deaths are due to ground-fault conditions and could have been prevented by the proper installation of a GFCI device. GFCIs greatly reduce this risk of electrocution by shutting off an electric circuit when it detects that current is following along an unintended path. Believe it or not, GFCIs have been around for more than 50 years and were first required in the National Electrical Code (NEC) in 1962. The application of GFCI receptacles in residential homes has been an NFPA requirement since the early 1970’s.
How does a GFCI work?
GFCI’s interrupt the electrical supply faster than a breaker or fuse can, responding in milliseconds. GFCI receptacles are designed to protect the users of electrical appliances from electrocution because of hazardous ground faults or short circuits, by automatically turning off electricity when a fault is detected. They should be installed by qualified electrician.
Do I need to install GFCIs in my house?
GFCI wiring regulations only apply to newer wiring installations and new construction.
Older homes are not obliged to install GFCI’s unless they are been rewired or a new outlet is being added in a location that would require a GFCI in a new house. Owners of homes that do not have GFCls installed in all those critical areas specified in the latest version of the Code should consider having them installed. Simply put, GFCI’s save lives. In the event of an electric shock, current runs through the victim away from the source. GFCI’s sense this and shut off automatically saving you, your family, and pets from electrocution.
What GFCI should I use?
The three basic types used in homes are the GFCI circuit breaker, GFCI outlet, and the portable GFCI. All perform the same function each has different applications and limitations.
1. GFCI Circuit Breaker – The GFCI circuit breaker controls an entire circuit, and is installed as a replacement for a circuit breaker on your home’s main circuit board. Rather than install multiple GFCI outlets, one GFCI circuit breaker can protect the entire circuit. Some homes are wired so that all bathrooms or all outdoor fixtures are on the same circuit. Rather than install multiple GFI outlets, one GFI circuit breaker can protect the entire circuit.
*** If you decide that the GFI circuit breaker is your best option, you must purchase one that is a match for your main electrical panel. If you have an older panel that utilizes fuses, you cannot use a GFI circuit breaker and must use GFI outlets instead.
2. Receptacle GFCI – The GFCI receptacle is actually a replacement for a standard electrical outlet found throughout the house. It fits into the standard outlet box and protects you against “ground faults” whenever an electrical product is plugged into the outlet. Most receptacle-type GFCls can be installed so that they also protect other electrical outlets further “downstream” in the branch circuit.
3. Temporary or Portable GFCIs – These are frequently used in construction and in outdoor settings with electric tools, mowers, trimmers, and similar devices. They should not be used as a permanent alternative to a regular GFCI. They can also be attached to appliance cords. GFCIs that attach to appliance cords, or are built in to extension cords, are also available. Newer hair dryers may have them, too, appearing as a small box at the end of the power cord or on the handle itself.
*** Always perform a safety test on your portable GFI each time before using it. It is also recommended by the manufacturers that the GFCI be used at the power source so that the entire extension cord is protected.
Where do I need a GFCI?
GFCI outlets must be installed in any area where electricity and water may come into contact, including basements, pools, spas, utility rooms, attached garages and outdoors. At least one GFCI outlet is required in an unfinished basement and for most outdoor outlets. GFCIs should be installed in all circuits near water (Kitchens, bathrooms, unfinished basements, garages, outdoors, sinks). Code requires that any bathroom or garage outlet within 6′ of a sink must be GFCI protected and all kitchen outlets for countertop use to be GFCI protected.
**** In homes built to comply with the National Electrical Code (the Code), GFCI protection is required for most outdoor receptacles (since 1973), bathroom receptacle circuits (since 1975), garage wall outlets (since 1978), kitchen receptacles (since 1987), and all receptacles in crawl spaces and unfinished basements (since 1990).
How reliable are GFCIs?
A GFCI is only as good as its installation and inspection. GFCIs are excellent devices when properly wired. However, never assume a GFCI protection device is operational unless you test it. GFCIs need to be tested every after installation, every month, and after a power failure.
How to Test a Ground Fault Circuit Interruption:
- Push the RESET button.
- Plug in a nightlight or similar device.
- The nightlight should be ON.
- Press the TEST button.
- The nightlight should turn OFF.
- Push the RESET button again.
- The nightlight should turn back ON.
- If the nightlight did not turn OFF, the GFCI is not working properly
Conversely, if you have a GFI that has tripped and will not reset, you may have a wiring short in the circuit, a defective appliance on the circuit, or the GFI itself has become defective.
*** You could also buy a GFCI tester—just be aware that if someone installed GFCIs on two-wire systems (old house wiring), the trip will function on the GFCI itself, but it will not trip when using a tester.
Where should I not use GFCIs?
The most common place NOT to use GFCIs is on refrigerators and freezers. When lightning strikes nearby, or a surge on the power company’s line occurs, GFCIs can trip—and your fridge or freezer will be without power.