What is a GFCI Outlet and Do I Need to Install Them?

GFCI outlet


GFCI  outlets and breakers save lives by limiting the duration of electrical shocks. How is it different from a circuit breaker? Circuit breakers  and GFCI outlets both interrupt the circuit current but a GFCI is more sensitive and smarter as a circuit breaker will work only when the current is over its capacity  (due to an overload or short circuit).  Some key dates:


1971: First introduced and required to be used within 15 feet of a swimming pool and on portable pool equipment.

1973: Outdoor receptacles must be GFCI protected.

1975: Bathrooms & 120-volt pool lights required to have GFCI protection.

1978: Garages and spa tubs required to have GFCI protection.

1984: Distance from swimming pools extended to 20 feet.

1987: Required on kitchen countertops within 6 feet of the sink.

1996: Required on ALL kitchen countertops.

Q. Does every home need to be brought up to current code?
The electrical code is not applied retroactively, however, if you change the receptacles than you must bring them up to the current code. For safety it is recommended that you update to GFCI outlets anyway.  Sometimes a GFCI circuit breaker is installed instead.  Consult a licensed electrician.

Often an outlet in a bathroom or outside is GFCI protected but the outlet does not have a button.    There may be one GFCI outlet that protects all the bathrooms.  This could be in one bathroom or on the wall of the garage.  An older homes it may be a GFCI breaker in the electrical panel.  Newer homes often have a GFCI breaker in the panel as well as a GFCI outlet.

Manufacturers recommend that you test your outlets  once a month. Simply push the button marked “test” to open the circuit. If the reset button pops out with a click, then the circuit works. Simply push the reset button and you’re back to functional. If it does not reset, call a licensed electrician to have it replaced.

More information about GFCI outlets and how they work.


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