A Shocking Guide To GFCI Outlets

Mister Sparky Electrician Houston testing for GFCI installation and outlet repairs.

Roughly 200 people in the United States die from ground faults each year. That accounts for two-thirds of all home electrocutions. So what’s a ground fault? When electricity from a wire escapes and passes through something, or someone, it heads straight for the ground. This chain of events is oftentimes fatal, but completely preventable thanks to a single invention.

What is a GFCI outlet?

Created in 1961 by a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Charles Dalziel, the GFCI has become an essential part of our home’s electrical systems.

GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. It’s a device connected to a power outlet that can detect when an electrical current is following an unintended path such as through a person or water, and shuts off the electricity from that circuit to prevent or reduce the risk of being shocked.

How does it know to shut off? It measures the current leaving the “hot” side of the outlet and compares it to the neutral side where the current returns (right slot to left slot). If there’s even the slightest difference, something is wrong along the path, and the GFCI cuts the power. This detection, which happens in milliseconds, can save lives.

How to test and reset a GFCI outlet

GFCI outlets have two buttons located in their center. One is labeled as “Reset” and the other as “Test.” Typically the reset button will be red and the test button will be black, however, it is common (and more aesthetically appealing) for both buttons to be white. Just pay attention to the label.

If the outlet has tripped and is no longer working, simply push the reset button to manually restore power to it. You’ll hear a slight click as the button is pressed, then electricity should be flowing freely.

To ensure that your GFCI is functioning properly at any time, press the test button. This will completely remove all power from the outlet. To get it back, hit reset and it will come back on. Important note: If the power does not turn off when the test button is pressed, do NOT continue to use the outlet. Allow a qualified electrician to take care of this issue.

Mister Sparky recommends that you test your GFCI outlets at least once a month.

Which outlets should be GFCI?

GFCI outlets should always be installed in areas that are subject to moisture. Why? Because moisture and electricity don’t mix, for obvious reasons. Just the presence of it greatly increases the danger of being shocked.

Most newer homes will have ground fault circuit interrupters installed in kitchens, bathrooms, utility rooms, garages, and especially outdoors – since those outlets are often exposed to the elements. In fact, it’s required by the National Electric Code for homes to be constructed with these outlets in said areas.

GFCIs used to be only be required around pools in the 1970s, but more areas have been added with every code revision. It may be common for all outlets to have them in the future.

Even if this device does nothing a majority of the time, the few seconds that it does are crucial. If you’re living in an older home and aren’t protected by GFCIs in areas where water is present, call Mister Sparky today at 281-907-8418 or request an appointment online. Avoid the dangerous DIY methods and have an expert electrician do the job the right way.

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