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GFCI Outlets and How They Keep You Safe

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) can help prevent electrocution. If a person’s body starts to receive a shock, the GFCI senses this and cuts off the power before he/she can get injured.

GFCIs are generally installed where electrical circuits may accidentally come into contact with water. They are most often found in kitchens, bath and laundry rooms, or even out-of-doors or in the garage where electric power tools might be used.

How does a GFCI work?

The GFCI will “sense” the difference in the amount of electricity flowing into the circuit to that flowing out, even in amounts of current as small as 4 or 5 milliamps. The GFCI reacts quickly (less than one-tenth of a second) to trip or shut off the circuit.

GFCI protection

What are the types of GFCIs?

There are three types of GFCIs. The most often used “receptacle-type” GFCI, similar to a common wall outlet, is the type with which most consumers are familiar. Additionally, circuit breaker GFCIs are often used as replacements for standard circuit breakers and provide GFCI protection to all receptacles on that individual circuit. Temporary or portable GFCIs are frequently used in construction and in outdoor settings with electric tools, mowers, trimmers, and similar devices. They should not be used as a permanent alternative to a regular GFCI. Temporary GFCIs should be tested prior to every use.

gfci breaker
GFCI plug

When should you test GFCIs?

GFCIs should be tested monthly to ensure they are in working condition. Whether you have a receptacle or circuit breaker GFCI, pushing the TEST button should turn off the power to the circuit. For the receptacle-type GFCI, pushing the TEST button should cause the RESET button to pop up. (Remember to push the RESET button to re-establish power and protection.) For the circuit breaker-type GFCI, pushing the TEST button should cause the handle to move to the tripped position. (Remember to reset the handle to re-establish power and protection.)

Many consumers don’t check their GFCIs to verify they are working. GFCIs are electronic devices that can be damaged or wear out. The electrical receptacle in a GFCI may continue to function, even if the GFCI circuit no longer works. If this is the case, have a qualified electrician replace it as soon as possible.

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