Electricity is not only one of the most important resources we have, but it’s also one of the most dangerous things we rely on in our daily life. The power that runs through our walls fluctuates anywhere between 100 and 160 volts, averaging out at anywhere between 110 to 120 volts. With that kind of power, even a small amount of current could cause serious injury to anyone who has it pass through them. This is why electrical safety is such an important pursuit and why technology is continually being advanced and adapted in order to make this force safer, more reliable, and less prone to potentially fatal accidents.
Why Invest In A Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter?
Of the countless advancements and improvements that have been made, one of the most effective recent developments has been the ground-fault circuit interrupter or GFCI for short. These small, simple devices act as a safety net which is designed to cut off electrical flow instantly in the hopes of preventing too much current from causing a serious electrical injury.
What Is A GFCI Outlet?
A ground-fault circuit interrupter is a device which monitors the amount of current flowing through the electrical circuit it’s installed on. We’ve discussed these devices on this blog before, but it’s important to take a closer and more detailed look at them in order to understand why they’re so important.
- When a GFCI detects too much current flowing through the circuit, it trips and cuts off power on that circuit, stopping the flow and hopefully preventing potential disasters like injury or fire. In this way, they’re kind of like a circuit breaker, only more sensitive and far easier to reset when they’re tripped.
- These devices are particularly easy to spot. If you go into your bathroom or kitchen and look for the electrical socket that’s closest to your sink, you’ll probably see two small buttons on that electrical outlet.
- In some cases one button is red and the other is yellow, while in others they may be the same color as the outlet itself.
- These buttons are labeled “test” and “reset” and play an important role in making sure your GFCI is still working properly.
How Does A GFCI Work
A GFCI works by monitoring the difference in current between the energy leaving a power supply and the energy-returning (remember, you need to have a complete circuit in order for electricity to work). While there will be a tiny amount of leakage, any significant amount may indicate the presence of a short, and thus a potentially dangerous problem.
Let’s look at an example:
- If the power leaving your supply is flowing at 10 amps, it should be returning pretty close to that, say at around 9.99 or 9.98.
- If the difference between the power leaving and the power returning is 5 milliamps or .05 amps, then a GFCI quickly disconnects the power source from the circuit and stops the flow of current.
- Five milliamps may not seem like all that much, but when you consider the power is at 120 volts, five milliamps is more than enough current to cause some potentially serious injuries, and even instantaneous exposure could result in devastating consequences.
- For this reason, a GFCI should never be seen as a license to be careless.
How To Reset A GFCI Outlet
That being said, it is also possible to trip a GFCI during regular usage, particularly if you’re using two high-energy devices on one circuit at the same time.
- Drawing enough current to result in more than five milliamps of leakage will trip a GFCI, causing it to shut off and need to be reset.
- If you find that devices you plug into these outlets aren’t working and your circuit breaker isn’t the issue, try pressing the reset button on the outlet.
- Ideally, the reset button should push in and stay locked in place to indicate that the outlet is powered and functioning normally.
Do You Need GFCI Protection?
The short answer: yes. Believe it or not, building codes across the state and even across the country require that any and all outlets which are located near where water may be or may be used need to be protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter outlet. While you may pass an electrical inspection so long as you have at least one GFCI outlet on a circuit where water may be present, it’s strongly advised you have one of these devices installed by an electrician on each outlet in the area where the danger may be.