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Electrical  /  March 16, 2022

Calgary Electrical Services: What is a GFCI Outlet?

What is a GFCI outlet?

If your home was built during the 1980s or later, or has been rewired since that time, chances are you have a few GFCI outlets. An electrician in Calgary typically installs these in rooms where water is present, primarily kitchens and bathrooms. Before GFCI outlets were widely installed, death by electrocution in the home was a common hazard, claiming 800 victims a year. Today, GFCI outlets have reduced that figure by 75 percent.

What are GFCI Outlets?

“GFCI” stands for “ground fault circuit interrupter.” Their purpose is to reduce the risk of electrical shock and electrical fires, which were common in the old days. You can recognize these outlets by two rectangular buttons, labelled “test” and “reset.” Often, the former is black while the latter is red.

A GFCI outlet contains sensors that constantly monitor the flow of electrical current. If these sensors detect an irregularity in the flow of current or too much electricity travelling down the wrong path, it can cut off the flow within 1/40th of a second, before it can stop a human heart. This is far faster than traditional fuses and circuit breakers. Even if an outlet isn’t grounded, the GFCI sensor is an effective safety device that is required by most building and construction codes.

Where Should GFCI Outlets Be Used in the Home?

To meet modern building safety standards, GFCI is required in all rooms in which water or moisture is present.  The need for such a safety device in a bathroom and kitchen should be obvious. Other important locations include:

  • Outdoors
  • Laundry rooms
  • Wet bars
  • Hot tubs and swimming pools
  • Garages
  • Attics

New buildings are required to have GFCI outlets installed in all rooms. Even if yours is an older home and has been “grandfathered,” having your old outlets upgraded to GFCI is highly recommended.

How are GFCI Outlets Better Than Fuses and Circuit Breakers?

The purpose of fuses was to avert possible house fires. When a wire was damaged (for example, by a rodent chewing through it), the amount of current flowing through the fuse would increase, causing it to overheat and burn out. This would block the flow of current, shutting everything down in that particular room. 

Unlike a fuse box or a circuit breaker, a GFCI outlet is integrated into the home’s wiring system. You have noticed that most electrical outlets today are “polarized”, with one opening that is slightly larger than the other. One of these is “hot” while the other is “neutral” (the hole in the bottom is the “ground.”) When the GFCI sensor detects even the slightest imbalance (as little as 4 milliamps), it cuts off the current immediately. 

Once the power is shut down and the problem addressed (usually by unplugging the appliance), you can restore power by pressing the reset button instead of heading to the basement to replace a fuse or throw a breaker switch.

Are They Safe?

GFCI outlets are a vast improvement when it comes to home electrical safety. However, they can and do wear out over time. This is why it is important to test your GFCI outlets at least twice a year. This is done by pushing the reset button, then plugging in an appliance and turning it on. If it continues to run after you press the test button, your GFCI outlet needs to be replaced.

How an Electrician in Calgary can Help

Handyman Connection’s electrical repair services include GFCI outlet installation and retrofitting. One of their professionals will come to your home can do the job right. Installation of a GFCI outlet is a fairly fast and simple process as well as an investment in safety, so contact them today.

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