GFCI’s or ground fault circuit interrupters are ingenious safety devices designed to protect against electrical shock. They were first introduced in the early 1960’s, so you likely have several of them already in your home. GFCI’s are sold in the form of wall receptacles, or breakers installed at the main distribution panel. GFCI wall receptacles are easily identified by the ‘test’ and ‘reset’ buttons on the front, and are often found in the kitchen or bathroom. GFCI’s work by detecting current flowing where it is not supposed to and shutting off power before an electrical shock or fire can occur.
Electrical shock from ground faults account for two thirds of all electrocutions in the home. As little as 0.5 amps is enough to kill you, so it is important that these devices work when they are supposed to!
GFCI’s are unlike a standard fuses and breakers, which measure the amount of current flowing, and shut off the flow when it exceeds a certain amperage (usually 15-20 amps). In new construction, national and local building codes require GFCI’s in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, unfinished basements, garages and anywhere outside.
GFCI’s should be tested on a monthly basis to ensure proper operation. Press the ‘test’ button to trip the breaker, then the ‘reset’ button. If the GFCI does not reset, it should be replaced. Older homes can (and should) be retrofitted with GFCI outlets or breakers. This worthwhile upgrade can help save a life, protect your home, and can be done quickly and for very little cost. Remember, electricity is dangerous! If you plan to replace existing outlets with GFCI’s, make sure to turn off the breaker and test the receptacle to ensure it is not live. If in doubt, seek the help of a professional.
Here is a great step-by-step guide to installing or replacing a GFCI outlet, courtesy of the Home Depot.