Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters
July 15, 2015
GFCI Protection Saves Lives
A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) is a specialized automatic safety device that instantly terminates or interrupts the electrical current when leakage or a ground fault is detected in the circuit. When correctly installed by a certified electrician, it is estimated that this inexpensive electrical device could reduce the incident of shock and electrocution by 70% if the necessary areas of every home in the country were properly outfitted with GFCI protection.
GFCI’s are now considered to be standard equipment in the residential construction industry and offer the best protection available against electrical shock and electrocution. Many older homes, built before this code requirement was adopted, still do not have this small, inexpensive but very important life-saving device. The purpose for the GFCI is to protect people and their property, so proper installation by a qualified electrician is important. Blue Crest Electric encourages every homeowner to ensure their home is properly outfitted with GFCI protection.
WHAT IS A GROUND FAULT?
Ground fault is a term used to describe an electrical current that unintentionally flows to ground rather than following its intended path to or from the electrical panel. Electricity will always take the path of least resistance to ground, similar to water flowing via the easiest route. A fault can occur when electricity, flowing through an appliance or damaged cord or wire, comes in contact with water, metal or other conductive substance. It may also occur if a person comes in contact with the live wire. The electrical current is diverted from its original path and passes through the person and then is absorbed into the ground. This is a very dangerous situation which can cause severe injury or even death.
WHAT DOES GFCI PROTECTION LOOK LIKE?
There are three kinds of GFCI protection available.
A GFCI receptacle looks similar to a regular receptacle but has the additional test and reset buttons. The current Electrical Safety Code requires GFCI protection be installed within specific distances of any area of your home where electricity is in close proximity to water. This would include areas such as kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms to name a few. Outdoor receptacles around ponds, swimming pools, and hot tubs or any exterior outlets that are less than 8 feet above grade must also be GFCI protected. This Lutron product is one example of what a GFCI receptacle looks like.
A GFCI circuit breaker can be installed in the electrical panel in place of a regular breaker to protect the entire selected circuit. The GFCI circuit breaker serves a dual purpose. In addition to terminating electricity in the event of a ground fault, it will also trip when a short circuit or an overload condition occurs. The entire branch circuit including any outlets, light fixtures, or appliances on that circuit are protected by the GFCI circuit breaker in the electrical panel. The example shown here is made by Cutler Hammer.
A portable GFCI can be plugged into a standard receptacle. These units are not intended to replace standard GFCIs or GFCI circuit breakers, but rather should only be used where temporary, short term protection is required. This kind of GFCI protection is useful where cord-connected appliances and equipment are used outdoors, on construction sites, or near water. Please keep in mind that portable GFCI units provide protection only to the outlet the GFCI is plugged into, not the whole receptacle. A portable GFCI unit should always be tested for reliability prior to each use. This example is made by Power First.
Note:The product photos provided here are examples only. Each manufactures brand, style and model may vary somewhat in features, design and appearance. For correct installation and your peace of mind, we strongly recommend that GFCI receptacles and GFCI breakers be installed by a professional journeyman electrician.
HOW DOES A GFCI CIRCUIT PROTECT ME?
A GFCI receptacle or circuit breaker works by measuring the electrical current on the “hot” wire and also on the “neutral” wire of a branch circuit. Under normal circumstances, electricity flows out from the main electrical panel on the “hot’ wire and back to the main electrical panel on the “neutral” wire completing the circuit. The amount of electrical current on these two wires should be equal.
When a ground fault occurs, the amount of current flowing back to the electrical panel drops because the electricity has “escaped” to ground by some unintended method. A GFCI outlet or circuit breaker senses this imbalance and immediately intercedes by tripping, thus causing a break in the circuit. The flow of electricity stops instantly. Underwriter Laboratories Standard 943 requires a Class A GFCI to trip when there is a ground fault current of only 6 milliamps (mA). This level of electrical current is extremely low, well below the amount of current that would send a normal healthy adult’s heart into fibrillation.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY GFCI IS WORKING?
It is important to test your GFCI to ensure proper function. Studies show that as many as 10% of installed GFCI‘s do not work because of improper installation, wear or damage. It is recommended that GFCI receptacles be tested monthly and after every electrical storm or power surge to ensure personal safety and proper home protection. An improperly installed or damaged GFCI receptacle may still provide electrical power, but unfortunately no ground fault protection from electrical shock.
Follow this simple testing method to test a wall or receptacle type GFCI.
- Plug a nightlight into a GFCI protected outlet and press RESET to prepare the GFCI for testing.
- Turn the light on
- Press the TEST button of the GFCI. The light should turn off.
- Press the RESET button and the light should turn on.
If the light does not turn off when the TEST button is pressed, discontinue use of this circuit as it is not GFCI protected. Contact Blue Crest Electric Ltd. to correct the problem.
To test a GFCI circuit breaker, follow these steps.
- Locate the GFCI circuit breaker in the electrical panel which is usually found in the garage, basement or utility room.
- Verify that the GFCI breaker handle is in the ON position.
- Press the TEST button on the circuit breaker. The handle should immediately snap to the tripped position. Check an appliance or light on the circuit to make sure it does not work.
- Press RESET and return the handle to the ON position. The power will now be restored.
If the circuit breaker fails to trip when the test button is pressed, call us to correct the problem.
For true service professionalism and impeccable customer service, call the right electrician. Call Blue Crest Electric Ltd. at any of the telephone numbers listed on our contact page.
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