If you work in the home improvement industry, you’re probably no stranger to homeowners asking questions about GFCI outlets. One common question is: what are GFCI outlets and where should they be installed? We’ve enlisted the help of some resident experts to shed light on this topic. In this article, we’ll explore the purpose of GFCI outlets and why they are crucial for your home.
Let’s start with what is a GFCI receptacle?
GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. These outlets, also known as GFIs or Ground Fault Interrupters, constantly monitor the flow of electricity in a circuit. If there is any abnormality or imbalance in the current, the GFCI instantly shuts off the power, preventing potential electrical hazards.
Unlike other types of receptacles, such as arc fault circuit interrupters or Leviton AFCI receptacles, which detect and stop slow electrical leaks, GFCIs are specifically designed to prevent fatal electric shock caused by short circuits.
About ground faults
Ground faults most commonly occur in areas where water or moisture is present, both inside and outside the home. Since water and electricity don’t mix well, it’s important to ensure that switches, receptacles, circuit breakers, and circuits in these areas are protected by GFCIs. A ground fault refers to any electrical path between a current source and a grounded surface. When there is a ground fault, AC current “leaks” and finds its way to the ground. If your body becomes part of that path, you can be seriously injured, burned, shocked, or even electrocuted. Areas near water are particularly susceptible to ground faults because water provides a path for electricity to escape and find an alternate route to the ground.
Types of GFCI Devices
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s explore the different types of GFCI devices you can use:
The most commonly used GFCIs in residential settings are GFCI receptacles. These affordable devices can be easily installed in place of standard outlets. They provide protection not only to themselves but also to any outlets downstream that receive power from them. GFCI receptacles, compared to regular ones, are slightly larger and may take up more space in electrical boxes. However, newer models like the Leviton SmartlockPro Slim GFCI are designed to be more compact. When wiring a GFCI receptacle, it’s important to follow the instructions carefully to ensure the downstream protection functions correctly.
GFCI circuit breaker
Professionals often opt for GFCI circuit breakers, as they allow for the protection of multiple fixtures on a circuit, including lights, outlets, and fans. These breakers can be installed in the panel box, and using them means you can use standard, less expensive outlets throughout the house. GFCI circuit breakers not only provide protection against ground faults but also offer overload and short circuit protection.
Portable GFCI for Outdoor Use
If you need GFCI protection for a portable device or appliance but cannot find a protected outlet, a portable GFCI is the solution. These devices, such as outlet strips, offer GFCI-rated protection wherever you need it.
Where to install GFCIs
Over the years, electrical codes have evolved to include specific requirements for GFCI protection. As early as 1973, outdoor receptacles were required to have GFCI protection. This requirement was expanded to include bathroom receptacles in 1975 and garage wall outlets in 1978. However, it wasn’t until 1987 that kitchen receptacles were included. Currently, all outlets in crawl spaces, unfinished basements, and potentially hazardous areas must have GFCI outlets or circuit breakers installed.
If you’re in the process of rewiring or updating your home, it’s important to pay attention to the placement of GFCI outlets or circuit breakers. Focus on critical areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, crawl spaces, and outdoor spaces. Upgrading to GFCI breakers is often preferred as it simplifies the installation process, especially if your home still has fuse protection.
Connect GFCI outlet
We have a separate article dedicated to wiring GFCI receptacles, but if you’re reasonably handy, you can likely wire them yourself by following the instructions. Remember to switch off the power completely at the circuit breaker before starting the installation. If you’re unsure about your electrical skills, it’s always best to hire a professional.
To test a GFCI outlet after installation, simply plug in a device like a radio or light and turn it on. Press the “TEST” button on the GFCI to ensure the power cuts off and the “RESET” button pops out. If the “RESET” button pops out but the light stays on, the GFCI is not wired correctly. On the other hand, if the “RESET” button doesn’t pop out, the GFCI is defective and should be replaced. Press the “RESET” button to reactivate the circuit. As an additional precaution, you can purchase an inexpensive GFCI compliant circuit tester.
Not too difficult, right?
GFCIs are an essential safety feature for any home. When updating or rewiring your house, remember to prioritize the installation of GFCI outlets or circuit breakers. These affordable devices provide valuable protection for you and your family, offering peace of mind and enhanced electrical safety.