If you’ve ever noticed that the outlets in your bathroom or near your kitchen sink are different from other outlets in your home, you’re not alone. Many people recognize that the type of outlet is different but don’t actually understand why. These outlets are GFCI outlets that automatically shut off power to the outlet to prevent electrocution. Here is a guide that will help explain what it is and why a GFCI outlet is important.
What is a GFCI Outlet?
GFCI is an acronym for ground fault circuit interrupter. The design of GFCIs interrupts the electricity’s flow to the ground to prevent electrocution. They look different from other outlets in your home because they have two additional buttons for “TEST” and “RESET.”
How GFCIs Work
Electricity will always try to reach the ground. When insulated wires are used, the flow of electricity can be directed. However, if there is faulty wiring or a damaged cord, electricity will find a path to the ground. In some instances, this can be a human being, which is when electrocution occurs. Because water is an excellent conductor of electricity, the combination of the two is especially dangerous (even deadly).
In normal circumstances, the flow of electricity remains steady. However, if there is a ground fault and electricity jumps to an unintended conductor there will be a surge in the flow of electricity. GFCIs have special sensors that monitor the flow of electricity. If a surge occurs, an internal switch in the outlet shuts off the flow of electricity. This prevents a prolonged surge, minimizing injury and preventing death.
Why do I need a GFCI Outlet?
Installing GFCIs is a smart decision since it is designed to protect you from getting hurt. However, there are several other reasons to consider putting in GFCI outlets in your home.
GFCIs are Mandatory by Law
Since the invention of and use of GFCIs fewer cases electrocutions are occurring. With evidence that they do work at preventing electrocutions, the switches are now included in the building code. This code mandates that builders only install GFCI outlets in any space within 6 feet of a water source. Over the years this has come to include more areas of the home including:
- Wet Bars
- Crawl Spaces
- Heated floors
GFCIs are only mandatory in older homes that requires wiring updates. Again it is still a good idea to install them anyways given their safety features.
Benefits of GFCIs
There are clear benefits to using GFCIs. These benefits include:
- Prevention of Electrical Shock. The automatic switch-off prevents you from the shock effect (preventing both injury and death).
- Prevention of Electrical Fires. A prolonged surge of electrical current can cause a spark, which in turn can cause a fire. Since GFCIs automatically stop such as surge from occurring, they help prevent electrical fires.
- Keeping You Up to Code. Installing these outlets is necessary for certain locations in the home and helps you make sure your electrical system is legal and meets all requirements of the building code.
How to Fix a GFCI Outlet that Isn’t Working?
It’s important to test your GFCI outlets regularly to make sure they are still working. This process is simple. All you have to do is push the ‘TEST’ button on the outlet itself. This will flip the internal switch and cut off electricity to the outlet. You should test your GFCI outlets once a month.
If you plug something into your GFCI outlet and find that it suddenly isn’t working there are a few steps you can take. The first step is to push the ‘RESET’ button on the outlet. This will flip the switch inside the outlet, allowing the electrical current to flow through the outlet again. In most cases, this will solve the problem.
If this does not solve the issue, then you’ll want to look at your breaker panel to make sure that you don’t have a tripped breaker. You can fix a tripped breaker by simply flipping the breaker. After doing this the outlet should start working again. However, if the outlet still does not work, it may be time to call in a professional to investigate.
Can I Replace a GFCI Outlet Myself?
Installing or replacing a GFCI outlet can be a do-it-yourself job. However, it is important to always remember that working with electricity is dangerous, so you must exercise caution on outlet installation.
To replace your GFCI outlet you’ll want to:
- Turn off power to the outlet at the circuit breaker panel.
- Remove the outlet cover.
- Make sure to remove also the old outlet from the outlet box.
- Remove the wires attached to the outlet, noting the color of the screws and color of the wires.
- Black wire (HOT): connects to brass or gold screw
- White wire (NEUTRAL): connects to the silver screw on the opposite side
- Green/Copper wire (GROUND): connects at bottom of the outlet
- Attach the GFCI outlet in the same way you disconnected the old outlet. Leave the tape in place on the additional two screws on the bottom sides of the outlet since you only need it in advance for some other electrical setups.
- Attach the GFCI outlet to the outlet box.
- Install a new GFCI outlet cover.
If you are nervous or unable to figure out how to install a GFCI outlet, request for service and help from a professional electrician from Wire Craft Electric.
Give us a call at 206-542-0208 to talk to one of our team members to schedule an appointment today for some electrical inspection.