Understanding GFCI Outlets

If you own a home that was built before 1971, or after depending on where you live, your home may not have GFCI outlets. When you embark on a home remodel of any kind, an inspector or handyman will recommend (or require) that you install GFCI outlets for your protection.  GFCI stands for ground-fault circuit interrupter.  While it may seem like an irritation to have additional electrical work required, GFCIs are very important and provide a great deal of safety to your home and those inside it.

A GFCI outlet is designed to protect someone from an electrical shock.  GFCIs monitor the balance of electrical currents and stopping the provision of power to the outlet if there is a problem so that you do not get shocked.  This Old House explains where GFCI outlets are generally required in your home, “A ground fault happens whenever electricity escapes the confines of the wiring in an appliance, light fixture, or power tool and takes a shortcut to the ground. When that short cut is through a human, the results can be deadly. About 200 people in the U.S. alone die of ground faults each year, accounting for two-thirds of all electrocutions occurring in homes.GFCIs are required by the National Electric Code in all new kitchens, bathrooms, crawl spaces, unfinished basements, and most outdoor receptacles. Owners of older houses can retrofit $10 GFCI receptacles at those locations or have GFCI breaker switches (which run as much as $108 for 50-amp models) mounted in the main breaker panel. Portable GFCI adapters, which plug into regular wall receptacles, are available for about $40. ‘The great thing about GFCIs is that they protect you whether or not your wiring is grounded,’ says Bill Grande, manager for safety products at Leviton, a manufacturer of GFCIs.”

Once GFCI outlets have been installed, it is not an excuse to be careless about electrical current and general safety within your home.  GFCI outlets can fail and so it is important to regularly test your GFCIs to ensure they are in working order.  There is a test button on all GFCI outlets that you can press to ensure that the GFCI turns off the power load to the outlet.  GFCI outlets should always be installed by a professional electrician or contractor that understands electrical safety and best practices for installation.

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