What is GFCI Protection?
GFCI protection in your home is critical for electrical safety. GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt. This largely means nothing to the normal person. Those outlets in your kitchen or bathroom with the push buttons are GFCI outlets. There are also versions of breakers that are GFCI breakers. So what does a GFCI outlet or breaker do?
A GFCI outlet or breaker is constantly measuring the level of current coming into the outlet (hot side) versus going out of the outlet (neutral side). When there is an imbalance between the two, the outlet or breaker assumes you are being electrocuted and it cuts power to the outlet or breaker. An imbalance of approximately 5 milliamps is enough to trip the outlet or breaker.
If you are missing GFCI protection in a location, this is generally a very easy fix for a licensed electrician. If only one outlet is missing GFCI protection, then replacing that outlet with a GFCI outlet will provide the necessary protection. Where multiple outlets are missing protection, then typically replacing the first outlet in the series will protect all others (see image below).
Where is GFCI Required?
GFCI outlets or breakers are required where ever you might come into contact with water or soil. GFCI protection is required in the following locations:
Outdoors: All outlets outside must be GFCI protected. Additionally, a weather resistant cover should protect all exterior outlets.
Kitchen: Any outlet servicing a countertop, island, or peninsula must be GFCI protected.
Bathroom: All outlets located in a bathroom must be GFCI protected.
Laundry: Originally, only laundry areas with sinks needed GFCI, now all outlets in the laundry should be GFCI protected.
Garage: Every outlet in the garage should be GFCI protected except for dedicated outlets like for the garage door opener.
Note: Different municipal areas might have different requirements for GFCI protection.
GFCI outlets and breakers should be tested monthly to ensure they work when needed. There is a test button on the outlet, which should trip the outlet. Pressing the reset button will reenable the outlet. On GFCI breakers, there is also a test button. When pressing the button, the breaker should trip to the middle position. Turn the breaker off and then back on to reset the GFCI breaker.
Read this document from the US Consumer Product Safety Council for more information.
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