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How Do GFCI Outlets Work?

Jun 16, 2020

Gray kitchen sink attached to the title wall in a home kitchen without the water running.

GFCI outlets are crucial pieces of electrical equipment—they keep you safe and protect your home’s electrical system from damage. Yet many homeowners are unaware of what a GFCI outlet even is. Common questions our technicians get about GFCI outlets include, “How do GFCI outlets work? Where are GFCI outlets required? When should GFCI outlets be installed and where should they be used in your home?

We’ve outlined the answers to some of your frequently asked questions to help you better understand what GFCI outlets do and why it’s important to ensure your home is equipped with them. 

What are GFCI outlets?

GFCI stands for “ground fault circuit interrupter.” This type of outlet is often used to replace standard outlets in areas throughout your home where moisture may be present, and thereby poses the risk of electrical shock. GFCI outlets help protect you and your family from injuries caused by faults and electric shocks, and they are easily identifiable by the two buttons labeled “Test” and “Reset” which control the GFCI outlet’s functions.

Most new or recently upgraded homes are well-equipped with GFCI outlets. Older homes, however, may require installation of more GFCI outlets to prevent potential injury caused by an electrical malfunction.  

How do GFCI outlets work?

GFCI outlets monitor electrical current on all three lines—hot, neutral, and ground—and track the amount of electricity flowing in and out of a circuit, constantly measuring even the smallest changes or spikes in electrical current.

Whenever a GFCI outlet detects an abnormality in electrical current, it automatically shuts off the circuit—within a tenth of a second—thereby protecting you and your family from electrical shock. One of the more common causes of abnormalities in electrical current is moisture entering the outlet, which is why GFCIs are typically installed in bathrooms and kitchens. 

Why are GFCI outlets important?

Without safely installing GFCI outlets, you could be putting yourself, your family, and your home at serious risk. While circuit breakers and surge protectors (which are different from power strips) are designed to protect your home’s electrical system from damages caused by an electric surge, a GFCI outlet is uniquely designed to protect you and your family from the damages of high voltage shocks. Without it, your loved ones are at risk of injury, especially in rooms with more moisture. 

Never tamper with electrical upgrades by yourself because the risk of high voltage shock is dangerously high, something that would not only cause severe injury but also damage to your electrical system. Upgrading your electrical system with GFCI outlets is something you can’t afford to overlook, but only trust a professional electrician to tackle the job.

Where are GFCI outlets required?

Safety codes require GFCI outlets to be installed in any area of a home within six feet of a water source. This not only includes sinks and bathtubs but all plumbing fixtures throughout your home. Common areas where GFCI outlets are installed include the following:

  • Bathrooms
  • Kitchens
  • Basements
  • Laundry and utility rooms
  • Garages
  • Outdoor areas
  • Pools
  • Wet bars

Many older homes can benefit from additional GFCI outlets as well. Old, non-grounded or broken outlets can be replaced with GFCI outlets to provide an extra level of protection without rewiring the whole home. Additionally, if your standard outlets are in need of a repair, an upgrade may be worthwhile.

Choose Safety. Upgrade Today!

Nothing can be more worrisome and irritating than an outlet that won’t work properly, or an outlet that isn’t up to code. With the dangers of electrical problems in your home, it should be a no-brainer to call the professionals as soon as possible. 

The team at CroppMetcalfe will troubleshoot and diagnose your outlet issues quickly while focusing on a safe and effective repair. Call 1-800-462-7677 or contact us online to schedule an appointment today.


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