Electricity always flows in one direction, positive to negative, aka ground. When you plug in an electrical device to an outlet it completes a circuit allowing electricity to flow through the device, giving it power. A ground fault occurs when a current takes an unintended path to ground, causing a shock.
When outlets were first created, they had no safety features. If you were to drop a hair dryer in the bathtub, for example, it could cause a dangerous amount of electricity to flow through the water into the metal pipes and if you were in the water, could cause immediate death from electrocution. Obviously this is an outcome no one wants, so to combat this, the GFCI outlet was created.
How do GFCI outlets work?
A GFCI or ground fault circuit interrupter senses any unwanted mismatches in current as small as 4 or 5 milliamps(mA) and can react as quickly as 1/30th of a second. Currents above 10 mA can shock humans rendering them frozen, and in some cases, as little as 2 seconds of continued exposure can lead to death. But do not fear, safety standards imposed in the 1970’s require GFCIs to be placed in areas of high electrical shock risk such as, bathrooms, kitchens and garages.
Identifying, Operating and Testing GFCI Outlets
A GFCI can be identified by a reset and test button on the outlet. If the outlet is tripped, it can be manually reset with the reset button. If you are worried your outlets may not be operating properly, utilize the test feature. Simply plug an electrical device into the outlet and press test. If it will not turn on after this, your outlet is safe! Remember to reset it afterwards. If your outlet is tripping on its own often, it may be worth getting an electrician to investigate the matter.
Installation and DIY
In older homes GFCI outlets may not be in use, so make sure to look around for these outlets and if you do not have them, immediately contact an electrician to install them. If you are familiar with basic electrical wiring and you prefer the DIY method, follow these simple steps from this installation guide.
- Remove the outlet: Turn off the power at the main circuit panel and remove the old outlet. Disconnect the wires by clipping them close to the outlet.
- Strip the wires: Strip the insulation from the wires to expose the amount of wire shown on the stripping gauge located on the back of the GFCI plug receptacle. Connect the hot and neutral wires that provide power to the “line” terminals of the GFCI plug. The terminal for the neutral wire will be marked “white” or “neutral.”
- Connect other outlets: Remove the tape covering the “load” terminals and connect the wires leading to another outlet or outlets to these terminals. Again, the white neutral terminal will be marked. Fold the wires back into the box and screw on the GFCI receptacle and cover plate.
- Label the outlets: Attach the “GFCI-protected outlet” label to the downstream outlets. Test the downstream outlet by plugging in the GFCI tester and pressing the test button. The lights on the tester should go out. Press the reset button on the GFCI to reenergize the outlet.
Outlets with only 2 slots(missing the bottom hole) may indicate older outdated wiring and should only be replaced by a licensed electrician. Only outlets with 3 wires should be replaced by DIY’ers. An outlet with 5 wires indicates that it is located at the end of an electrical circuit, is more complicated and again will require a licensed electrician.
Ensure you don’t plug too many devices into one extension cord that is using a GFCI outlet. Also any appliance that generates over 240 amps and some appliances with heating elements are not compatible with GFCI outlets and can trip them. Some examples of these are:
- Some hair dryers
- Toaster ovens
Should you be using GFCI outlets?
Absolutely!!! Here are some of the benefits of using these outlets:
- First and foremost is protection from shock. This is especially important if you have young kids crawling around. Your GFCI outlet will prevent them from any damaging or potentially fatal shocks.
- They have the added benefit of preventing fires, working alongside your electrical fuses. One more level of protection is always desired.
- A GFCI outlet can also prevent damage to electronics and appliances. You don’t want that brand new flat screen TV to short circuit, and a GFCI outlet can prevent just that.
If you’re concerned your GFCI outlets may not be operating properly or just want some added protection in any location in your home, send us your info in the contact box below and we would love to share how we can help save your family from dangerous mishaps.