GFCI Outlets and Breakers

GFCI Outlets and Breakers

GFCI Outlets and Breakers

Jan 16, 2024

What is a GFCI Outlet?

GFCI, sometimes called GFI, stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. GFCIs play an important role in reducing the danger of electrical shock. Ground fault protection can be built into a receptacle (outlet) and/or into a breaker. These are designed to protect people from serious or fatal shocks.

What is a Ground Fault?

A ground fault is an unintentional electrical path between a power source and a grounded surface. This means that the hot wire inside the receptacle touches any area of a grounded device. This can happen when wiring is damaged or old. If a person were to be in the pathway that the electricity takes, then there is a serious risk of shock or burns. A real-life example would be if a bare wire inside an appliance touches its metal case. The case would then become charged with electricity. If you were to touch the appliance with one hand while another part of your body is touching a grounded metal object (like a faucet), you would get shocked. 

How do GFCIs work?

A GFCI monitors the current flowing through a circuit. If the current flowing into the circuit differs by a small amount, then the GFCI will interrupt the power and "trip" the outlet. If you were to drop your hairdryer into the sink, for example, the GFCI would detect the interruption in current and trip the outlet. This cuts off power and eliminates the danger for you. 

Where Do I need a GFCI?

The National Electrical Code (NEC) lays out where these types of receptacles are required. 

  • Outdoors

  • Bathrooms

  • Garages

  • Kitchens

  • Crawl Spaces 

  • Unfinished Basements

  • Wet Bar Sinks

  • Laundry/Utility Sinks

Note that most of these required spaces are exposed to water, which increases the risk of shock as well. Moisture is one of the biggest causes of ground faults. 

How to Test

Be sure to test your GFCI after installation, after a power failure, and at least once per month.

  • Plug a lamp into the outlet and turn the lamp on. 

  • Press the GFCI test button. The light should go out. If the light has not gone out, then it is not working correctly. Contact an electrician. 

  • Press the reset button. The light should come back on. If not, it needs to be replaced. 

  • Check your manufacturer's information for lifespan - most GFCIs last about 10 years, but they will eventually wear out. 

GFCI Circuit Breakers

These can be installed in your panel to protect the entire circuit and every outlet, lighting fixture or appliance that is connected to it. These will protect against both ground faults and circuit overloads. 

Safety Recommendations

Many older homes don't have GFCIs in the required areas listed by the NEC. Do an audit on your home to see where you could use added protection, and give us a call today for a free estimate on these upgrades.