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Everything You Need to Know About Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Outlets (GFCIs)

As any electrician will tell you, you can never be too careful with electricity. But, fortunately, since the introduction of ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in the 1970s, home electricity has become much safer. Since GFCIs became commonplace in homes, cases of electrocution have dropped by more than eighty percent.

GFCIs significantly reduce the risk of electric shock or electrocution. It is now a legal requirement that GFCIs are fitted in all the dangerous areas of a new build home. So, if you move into a new house, you will see GFCI outlets installed in rooms like the bathroom, kitchen, garage, and any outdoor outlets.

However, if you live in an older home, then you may not have GFCIs fitted. If that is the case, then it would be advisable to have GFCI outlets installed as soon as possible.

So, GFCI outlets reduce the risk of electric shock or electrocution. But how do GFCIs work, and where should they be installed? Here is a homeowner’s guide to everything you need to know about GFCIs.


What Is a Ground Fault?

The electricity in your home is usually contained within insulated wires. The current flows safely through those wires and your appliances. If electricity escapes that circuit, though, it will head straight to the ground. If you are the current’s fastest way to the ground, then it is you that the electricity will flow through.

A ground fault is when electricity passes to the ground through an unplanned conductor. A ground fault can be caused by faulty wiring or appliances, or it can be caused by water. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity. So, the areas of your home where water is present are most at risk of experiencing a ground fault.

How Does a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Outlet (GFCI) Work?

Under normal circumstances, electricity flows at a steady rate around the wiring in your home. But when a ground fault occurs, there will be a sudden surge in the current as the electricity flows into the ground.

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A GFCI detects fluctuations in the electrical current. And, when a significant surge in power is detected, a GFCI will cut the electricity supply. If the electricity goes to the ground through your body, you may still get an electric shock before the GFCI cuts the power. But the ground fault circuit interrupter will cut off the electrical supply before a prolonged surge causes severe injury or death.

Where in the Home Do You Need GFCIs?

GFCIs should be installed in any rooms where there is water. So, that includes bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and utility rooms. The National Electric Code (NEC) also requires installing GFCI outlets in crawl spaces, garages, basements, exterior outlets, and electrically heated floors. In addition, you must have ground fault circuit interrupters installed on any outlets within six feet of kitchen sinks and wet bars.

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The above places where you need GFCIs are a legal requirement in new homes and having an older house rewired. However, if you live in an older home that does not have GFCIs installed, following the NEC new build home guidelines, it would be advisable to have GFCIs installed.

Does Every Outlet Need a GFCI?

The most important place to have GFCIs installed is in any room of your home where there is water. You can use regular outlets in rooms with no water, such as bedrooms and living rooms.

In some homes, you may find that not all the outlets in a room with water have GFCIs. If you live in a new home, this is likely because a single GFCI can be used to protect several outlets if they are on the same downstream circuit.

Since 2014, some new homes and remodeled kitchens will have a ground fault circuit interrupter built into the circuit breaker, in which case there will be no visible GFCI outlets. However, if you are unsure if the wiring in your home is protected against ground surges, the safest thing to do is get an electrician to check for you.

How Do I Know If A GFCI is Working?

On the face of a GFCI outlet, you will see a test and reset button. You should test GFCI outlets once a month. To make sure a GFCI outlet is working, you need to press the test button. If you hear a click and any appliances attached to the outlet stop working, the GFCI is in working order. To reconnect the power supply, you must press the reset button.

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You may sometimes get false tripping of a GFCI. For example, a GFCI can sometimes be tripped by a nearby electrical storm or static electricity. If a GFCI false-trips occasionally, you do not need to worry. However, GFCIs are cutting out frequently; it could signify that you have a faulty appliance or need to replace the ground fault circuit interrupter.

Some new models of GFCIs have indicator lights. On most of these models, the light will be green if the GFCI is working, and the light will turn red if there is a fault or the ground fault circuit interrupter has tripped.

Do You Need an Electrician to Install a GFCI?

Installing GFCIs is not an incredibly difficult job. Even so, you do need to understand how outlets are wired and how home electrical wiring works. In some places, homeowners are not permitted to do home wiring jobs themselves. So, check the regulations in your area before you replace your standard outlets with GFCI outlets. And, if you are at all unsure about what you are doing with any electrical job, get a professional electrician to do the job for you.


GFCIs have saved hundreds of thousands of people from electrocution. So, if you do not already have GFCI outlets installed in your home, you really ought to have them installed as soon as possible. And don’t forget; never take risks with electricity. Call a professional electrician if you think you have an electrical fault or need help with home wiring.
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