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Electrical 101: GFCI Outlets

February 24, 2021 | Blog

Understanding GFCI Electrical Outlets

The constant hum of electricity in the background of your life may not call attention to itself very often, but electricity can be very dangerous. Without controls on the flow of the current, electricity can cause shocks, fires and fatalities. GFCI outlets are an important part of any home and should be taken seriously to avoid any electrical accidents. Keep reading to find out more about GFCIs and where they should be installed in your home.

How does a GFCI outlet work?

Electricity runs along wires insulated by plastic or rubber, which cannot conduct electricity, keeping the current contained safely inside. But a damaged wire or a surge of lightning can cause some electricity to take an unintended path. The escaping electricity will find the quickest path back to the ground – even through people. This is called a ground fault.

In 1971, the National Electrical Code (NEC) began requiring ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs) in all new construction homes. GFCIs have sensors in them that can detect when a ground fault is occurring and automatically shut off the flow of electricity. A standard electrical outlet does not have this sensor, allowing electricity surges to flow in dangerous paths to the ground.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), there has been an 83% drop in electrocutions since the introduction of the GFCI outlet. Electrical surges may still result in a shock to a human, but the GFCI will protect against an open flow of electricity – a potentially fatal occurrence.

What does a GFCI outlet look like?

GFCI outlets look like standard electrical outlets with two three-prong plug slots. The difference can be seen in two small buttons which read ‘test’ and ‘reset’ on the face of the outlet. Some GFCIs even have a small, red light to alert the user if it is working or not.

The ‘reset’ button should be used when the GFCI has stopped the flow of power because of an electrical surge. Pressing ‘reset’ should turn the outlet back on.

The ‘test’ button can be used to test the functionality of the electrical flow. Plug a small device, such as a night light, into the plug. Press ‘test.’ If the night light shuts off, the GFCI is working and has stopped the electric flow.

Where should I have GFCI outlets in my home?

GFCIs are not required for every outlet in your home. Because water is highly conductive to electricity, GFCIs are only required in rooms with water access – these rooms are referred to as ‘wet rooms.’ Kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and wet bars should all have GFCI outlets within six feet of sinks, washing machines and water heaters. Any garages and unfinished basements should also have GFCIs.

Bedrooms, living rooms and other areas without access to water should use standard electrical outlets. Older homes are not required to have GFCIs unless their wiring is being updated, but it is always recommended that GFCIs are installed to ensure higher safety standards.

Can you install/replace GFCI outlets yourself?

While someone with experience with electrical wiring can install or replace GFCIs, the NFPA recommends using a qualified electrician. Wire outlets can house different numbers and types of wires, depending on the position in the home and where the electricity is flowing to. Complications can easily arise and should be handled with caution. Electricians are aware of all potential risks and hazards and can ensure the electrical wiring is set up safely.

Arnold Electric Services is happy to answer any questions you may have about installing or replacing your GFCI outlets. Contact us today for your electrical needs. Your home’s electrical safety is our priority!

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