Understanding the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)

A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) is a type of electrical outlet that should be installed in certain areas of every home. This outlet looks similar to a traditional outlet, but has two additional buttons in the middle of the unit which should read “test” and “reset”. Usually installed near potentially wet locations, including bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms and outdoors, GFCI outlets can prevent electrocution and death, as well as some electrical fires.

Electrocution via electrical outlets occurs when a person’s body completes a circuit from the electrical hot to the ground. This can happen if a metal object is inserted into an outlet, if there is a short in the outlet, or if water is touching the outlet or touching an appliance that is plugged into that outlet. When properly functioning, a GFCI senses any fluctuation in power and shuts off the power to that outlet in a fraction of a second. While the person touching the shorted circuit may receive a painful shock, the power is usually shut off before serious injury occurs.

GFCI receptacles should be tested once a month to ensure that they are providing proper protection. This is done by plugging a night light into the outlet, then pressing the “test” button; the light should go out. Pressing the “reset” button should bring the light back on. If the GFCI fails to operate properly, an electrician should be called to replace the receptacle.

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