GFCI: The Silent Saviors

One of the biggest electrical safety projects you can do for your home is adding GFCI’s. GFCI’s should be located in areas where water is located or might be under certain conditions. 

 WHile they don't really look like an object that can save your life, these little gadgets are remarkably effective.

WHile they don't really look like an object that can save your life, these little gadgets are remarkably effective.

How GFCI's Work

A GFCI or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter detects tiny changes in the electrical current and responds to those changes.  Within a percentage of a second a GFCI will shut down the power to the outlet in question, which stops the flow of electricity.  

GFCI’s are amazingly effective because they detect overloads and shorts. They do this by measuring how much electrical current is moving from hot to neutral. This can save a person who is in contact with this electricity from getting shocked or electrocuted. Shock by itself may not kill you. But, a shock from only a minute amount of electricity can cause heart fibrillation and it’s the heart fibrillation that can kill you. 

Locations

The reason GFCI’s are placed in areas where water might be present is because when electrical circuits might come in contact with water through a person. Lots of people don’t realize the danger of mixing moisture and electricity in the innocuous setting of their kitchen or bathroom because standing on a wet floor or mat after a shower happens quite frequently, so it might not be obvious not to use an electric curling iron if the floor is still wet. Oddly enough, it only takes a tiny amount of electrical current from one of these situations to cause fibrillation. 

Dangers

By contrast, an electrocution is a form of being burned. Burns from an electrocution might or might not kill a person, but they can be very bad and it could be a long, slow recovery.  

In addition to people who get caught between water and electrical current, there are also curious children who are quite unaware of the dangers of electrical power. They can manage to poke things into electrical outlets in an extraordinarily short amount of time. A GFCI will detect the change in current from the foreign object and shut the power off.

Electrical code requires GFCI’s to be in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, garages, and outdoors since these are all areas where water is likely to be present. If your home is over 20 years old, it may not have GFCI’s. Adding them to appropriate areas would be a great safety upgrade. The numbers of people who are treated for shock have been reduced substantially since the advent of the GFCI. 

 Self-testing models are also available.

Self-testing models are also available.

Maintenance

If you have a GFCI and the reset button pops on it, there has been an electrical event and it needs to be reset. During the course of periodic testing maintenance, the button pops, and it can be reset.  If it won’t reset, it needs to be replaced. GFCI’s are somewhat sensitive, which is the way they were designed, so if the outlet needs to be reset frequently, it should be replaced. 

A GFCI which is on a closed circuit has the capacity to shut power to all of the electrical plugs on that circuit in the event of an electrical anomaly. So, for example, a toaster falls into the sink full of water, and that outlet doesn’t have a GFCI, but one of the other outlets on the same circuit has a GFCI, the GFCI breaker will trip and the power cease.

All GFCI's should be tested monthly to make sure it’s in good working order.