Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) were introduced -residentially- in the 1970s. Today we know that this technology has saved thousands of lives and has cut home electrocutions in half.
GFCIs monitor the amount of electricity in a circuit, and If there’s any leakage or an interruption of current (like an appliance coming into contact with water) the GFCI cuts the power to avoid a dangerous shock.
This system is so precise that a GFCI can sense a leak as small as .005 amps and stops the leakage from flowing through an unintended path – like a person or a body of water.
The regular outlets in your home can’t pick up these small leaks of electricity; your fuse or breaker will only trip (shut off power) if there is a disturbance of more than 15 amps. A tripping breaker is designed to prevent fires but a GFCI prevents electric shock.
What many of us don’t know is that human beings can be harmed by 1 amp of electricity, or less, which further emphasizes the importance of having functioning and sufficient GFCIs.
What is a Ground Fault?
A ground fault is the unintentional electrical path between a power source and a grounded surface. The leakage current usually occurs when an electrical appliance is damaged or the electrical parts are wet, causing the current to flow outside of the circuit conductors.
How do GFCIs work?
A GFCI monitors the flow of electricity between the black and the white wire in the circuit. In other words, the GFCI monitors the electrical current leaving from and returning to the outlet. The current leaving the outlet should be the same amount as the returning current. If there is a fluctuation in amperage in the wires, this will alert the GFCI to stop the power.
Where should you install GFCIs?
GFCIs should be installed in any indoor or outdoor area where water may come into contact with electrical products. The Canadian Electrical Code 26-700 (11) states that receptacles within 1.5m of sinks -wash basins complete with drainpipe,- bathtubs, or shower stalls are to be protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter. Before the 1970s home’s weren’t built with this technology. These residences are encouraged to invest in this technology if they haven’t done so already.
Can I install a GFCI myself?
GFCIs should only be installed by a specially trained and licensed electrician. Improper electrical installation can have serious consequences and can pose a fire risk. A licensed electrician has years of training and experience to properly assess your systems and properly install your GFCIs.
The Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) also mandates that all electrical work must be performed by a Licensed Electrical Contractor (LEC). It’s the law.
Are there different types of GFCIs?
There three common types of ground fault circuit interrupters that a LEC can install in your home.
1. Receptacle Type
This type of GFCI replaces your standard duplex receptacle. The GFCI receptacle fits into the standard outlet box and protects you against ground faults whenever an electrical product is plugged into the outlet. Another great feature to note about the receptacle-type GFCl is that this system can be installed so that it also protect other electrical outlets further “downstream” in the branch circuit.
2. Circuit Breaker Type
In homes with circuit breakers instead of fuses, a circuit breaker GFCI can be installed in a panel box to give protection to selected circuits. The circuit breaker GFCI has two functions: it will shut off electricity in the event of a ground fault and it will also trip the breaker when a short circuit or an overload occurs. What’s great about this system is that the Circuit Breaker GFCI protects each outlet, lighting fixture, switch (etc.) that runs on the particular branch circuit.
3. Portable Type
Where ever GFCls are not practical, portable GFCls can provide a safer alternative. This device contains the GFCI circuitry in a plastic enclosure with plug blades in the back and receptacle slots in the front. It can be plugged into a receptacle; then, the electrical product is plugged into the GFCI. Another portable type is an extension cord combined with a GFCI. It adds flexibility in using receptacles that are not protected.
Your GFCI receptacle has a “test” and “reset” button on the face plate. You should test the GFCI’s function every month just like you would check your smoke alarms. The idea is that when you press the TEST button, the RESET button should pop out. If it does, presumably the GFCI is working. If the RESET button doesn’t pop out or can’t be pushed back in place, you need to call a licensed electrician because there is a problem.
What you may not know is that the TEST and RESET buttons will wear out after 10 years or so. So the device may operate like it always had (the popping and resenting) but if the sensitive circuitry has worn out, all you’re doing is testing the spring inside the receptacle. A reliable way to check an older GFCI is to use a circuit tester on the outlet in question.
Are GFCIs expensive?
GFCI technology is not expensive. It’s a small investment that can save your life.
How can I find out more?
Book a no-fee assessment today to find out how GFCI technology can protect you, your loved ones and your investment.