Monday, January 7, 2013

What are GFCI outlets? How are they saving lives every day?


What is a GFCI you say? Well, let me explain. GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt. You probably have some in your home. If not, you need some! GFCIs can be in the form of an electrical outlet or a circuit breaker. They both have test buttons on them. The outlets have a reset button too.
GFCI outlet
So what does a GFCI do? Glad you asked. Electricity runs in a loop. When you plug something into an electrical outlet, electricity travels out of the outlet into the appliance and then back into the outlet. A GFCI electrical outlet, or circuit breaker, monitors that power flow to make sure the outbound and inbound power remains the same. If for some reason not as much power comes back as went out, the GFCI will trip and the power will turn off.
You normally find GFCI protection at electrical outlets near a water source. Why? Because water is a very good conductor of electricity. If you were to drop a plugged in electrical appliance into a sink filled with water, and the electrical circuit was not GFCI protected, you could get a shock, (or worse)! Now if that electrical circuit is GFCI protected, the GFCI would recognize that not as much power was returning to the outlet (it’s going into the water, or you) and it would immediately turn the power off.
How do we test GFCI outlets? During a home inspection, inspectors test an outlet's proper function with a special tester device. Pictured here:
GFCI tester
The red device can test a GFCI. Pressing that black button on top causes the current imbalance that trips the GFCI circuit. The yellow device is another tool we use. It's simply an outlet tester which helps determine if the wiring to an electrical socket is correct. Depending upon how the 3 lights at the bottom illuminate, we can identify various issues. The red Tester does both functions, it checks wiring and has the additional button to test the GFCI circuit. U.S. Inspect inspectors use both.
And that’s it, in a nut shell. GFCI electrical outlets and circuit breakers literally save lives every day. If you already have them in your home, test them regularly as they can fail. If you don’t have any, you might just want to contact your electrical contractor. They are an inexpensive but vital safety feature every home should have.
If your home was built after 2007, GFCI outlets are also required to be Tamper Resistant (TR), but then that's material we'll talk about in a later blog.

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