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What are GFCIs?

by Hickerson Brothers on May 19, 2016

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters GFCIWhen it comes to the electricity in our homes, we do our best to keep ourselves and our families safe from electrical shocks and fires.  But we can’t see everything all the time.  In fact, one of the most common electrical faults, a ground fault, can occur without you being aware there was even a problem to begin with.

You see, electricity is always pushing its way towards an electrical common (known as a ground).  To do that, it will move through anything it has the power pass as soon as a path is open.  That includes easily heated wiring and metals, yourself, and water.  A ground fault cuts around the traditional path used by an electrical circuit and can lead to house fires when components heat up and ignite or electrocution if the current passes through your body.  Ground-fault circuit interrupters prevent this.

How they Work

So a GFCI works to protect us from electrical shocks and fires.  In short, a GFCI disconnects your electrical circuit as soon as it detects an electrical fault.  In fact, GFCIs respond so quickly that they’re able to disconnect the circuit before a shock can deliver more than just a light buzz to you (see the in-depth NEMA presentation at the end of this article for more information).

You may be thinking “œDoesn’t my circuit breaker already do that?” Yes, but not as quickly.  See an electrical circuit breaker has to reach a certain amount of load before it will trip, which allows dangerous arcs and sudden faults a chance at injury.  GFCIs are quicker and will not only save you, but your electrical breaker as well.

A GFCI watches the current entering an outlet, the on in your bathroom for instance.  The outlet compares the current entering and returning to make sure that the values are the same.  If a difference is detected ““ because power has found a shorter path to a common ground through a hair dyer with an exposed cable ““ the circuit protector trips and shuts off power.  In the case of Class A GFCIs, this is done at roughly 4-5 mA of current.  Which is enough to be felt, but not to the level of causing severe burns or an inability to let-go of an electrical cable.

NEC Rules

When it comes to the National Electric Code, there are very clear rules for where and when to use GFCI receptacles in the home.

  • Outlets on Kitchen Countertops
  • All Bathroom Outlets
  • Outlets in Garages and Storage or work Areas
  • Outlets Under Eaves of Roofs
  • Any Connections for Equipment Near Swimming Pools

Essentially, if there’s a chance you’re going to plug in a high-power device, or place a device near a water source such as a sink, tub, or pool, use a GFCI.  This will reduce risk to you and your family on a daily basis.

Regular Testing

You should test your GFCI outlets once a month.  Testing is simple and takes only a second to do.

  • Press the TEST button on your GFCI
  • If you hear a loud click, and the RESET button pops out the GFCI is good
  • Press RESET to restore the unit to operation

If you do not hear a click, or the reset button does not work, use a voltage tester to see if the unit is still conducting electricity after the TEST button has been pressed.  If it is still powered after the reset button is pressed, the unit is faulty.  Turn off power to outlet and have it replaced immediately.

NEMA GFCI 2012 Field Representative Presentation

Hickerson Electrical is your source for all home electrical services.  We’re ready and willing to deliver top-quality service to your home at a moment’s notice.  So call today at (703) 594-3913.

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