A lot of people wonder what a GFCI outlet is and how it differs from a regular outlet. It’s common to be curious about how it works and what the various buttons do on the unit. Let’s discuss what GFCI outlets are, how to use them, and how they could even save your life.
What is a GFCI Outlet?
GFCI stands for ground-fault circuit interrupter. This type of outlet is utilized to greatly reduce the potential for electric shock. A ground fault is when electricity takes a path that is unintended along the ground. This occurs in instances of electricity escaping from the insulation of wires that are faulty or damaged. It then flows through a different conductor than it was meant to. When the conductor happens to be a person, there is a significant risk of electrocution.
A GFCI outlet significantly minimizes the chance of this happening by immediately cutting off the flow of electricity to the outlet any time it senses a variation from the normal current. Under normal conditions, electricity flows at a rate that is uniform through the wiring. When a ground fault occurs, there is a surge as the electricity jumps to the different conductors.
What Are the Buttons on a GFCI Outlet?
There are two buttons per GFCI outlet. These are “test” and “reset”. Typically, a “Test” button is going to be black, and the “Reset” button is going to be red. Sometimes, both buttons may be the same color as the outlet. The “Test” button is there so you can confirm that the outlet is working as intended. You know that it is working when whatever you have plugged into the outlet turns off immediately when the button is pressed. That means that the power has been cut off to the outlet, just as would happen when there is a real ground fault. The “Reset” button restores the outlet to accept power normally. You will press “reset” once you have used the “Test” button or after a circuit has tripped.
Knowing about the “Reset” button is helpful for those times when you plug in a hair dryer or electric heater. Appliances like this can cause the GFCI to shut off power to the outlet, and “reset” will get it going again. In instances where a genuine trip occurs, only press “Reset” after you have resolved the issue.
Where Should GFCI Outlets Be Installed?
In newer homes, GFCI outlets are required to be installed where outlets are going to be close to water. This includes bathrooms, kitchen countertops, and laundry/utility rooms. GFCI outlets should also be installed within six feet of water heaters, washing machines, and sinks. Areas like bedrooms and living rooms are not required to have GFCI outlets. In fact, many newer homes do not have them installed in these areas when you move in. If you think there is the possibility that there will be water usage in any of these non-GFCI-required areas, it is still a good idea to have them installed.
If you live in an older home and it does not have GFCI outlets installed in the “wet” rooms, be sure to contact an electrician to have an installation taken care of. The safety of you and your loved ones could depend on it.
What Happens When Ground Faults Occur With Standard Outlets?
A standard outlet does not have a sensor like a GFCI outlet does. Should a ground fault occur with a GFCI outlet, you may still get shocked, but the sensor cutting off power to the outlet will prevent prolonged exposure. Since a standard outlet has no such safety mechanism in place, you or a loved one in your home risk serious injury or even death.
Speak to a Professional About Having GFCI Outlets Installed
If you are in Forest Lake, MN, or the surrounding area, speak to one of our expert electricians about getting GFCI outlets installed in your home. Our team offers a wide range of electrical services, from installing GFCI outlets to turning your residence into a smart home. We can also install surge protection. All the work that we do meets the most up-to-date regulations, and our fully licensed and professional electricians rigorously test and inspect everything that we do for you.
If you are ready to make your home safer with GFCI outlets, give Plugz Electric a call today.