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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.

 

GFCI Outlets- What Are They and Do I Need Them?

Ground fault outlet

GFCI outlet

You will (hopefully) find GFCI outlets in the kitchen and bathrooms.  It stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.  GFCIs are there to protect you from being electrocuted by interrupting the circuit when there is a difference in the currents in the hot and neutral wires.  The difference indicates that some of the current has found another path.  Instead of returning through the neutral wire, current is  either traveling through the ground wire or through you if you come in contact with the hot wire or you drop an appliance into water.  If you start to get electrocuted, the power should cut off within a few milliseconds, before you get injured .  They also help prevent electrical fires.

Many older homes do not have these installed or only in some areas.  To provide a greater level of safety, GFCI outlets are now installed in garages and all wet areas, such as near kitchen sinks, laundry tubs, swimming pools, and exterior walls.

Resetting.   Often one GFCI protects several outlets so if your outlet is not working, it may not be broken as some friends of mine thought.  Check the other bathrooms, garage or even the electrical panel,  to find the reset button.

As a  Circuit Breaker

Newer  houses usually have a GFCI circuit breaker in the electrical panel and it protects all the outlets on that circuit.

Are they required?  In south Florida, there is no law that says you must install them if you do not have them, however GFCIs are a wise safety precaution.