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Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)
A "GFCI" is a ground fault circuit interrupter. A ground fault circuit interrupter is an inexpensive electrical device that, if installed
in household branch circuits, could prevent over two-thirds of the approximately 300 electrocutions still occurring each year in
and around the home. Installation of the device could also prevent thousands of burn and electric shock injuries each year. The
GFCI is designed to protect people from severe or fatal electric shocks Because a GFCI detects ground faults, it can also
prevent some electrical fires and reduce the severity of others by interrupting the flow of electric current.
Have you ever experienced an electric shock? If you did, the shock probably happened because your hand or some other part
of your body contacted a source of electrical current and your body provided a path for the electrical current to go to the ground,
so that you received a shock. An unintentional electric path between a source of current and a grounded surface is referred to
as a "ground-fault." Ground faults ground-fault. Ground faults occur when current is leaking somewhere, in effect, electricity is
escaping to the ground. How it leaks is very important. If your body provides a path to the ground for this leakage, you could be
injured, burned, severely shocked, or electrocuted.
Some examples of accidents that underscore this hazard include the following:
- Two children, ages five and six, were electrocuted in Texas when a plugged-in hair dryer fell into the tub in which they
- A three- year-old Kansas girl was electrocuted when she touched a faulty countertop.
These two electrocutions occurred because the electrical current escaping from the appliance traveled through the victim to
ground (in these cases, the grounded plumbing fixtures). Had a GFCI been installed, these deaths would probably have been
prevented because a GFCI would have sensed the current flowing to ground and would have switched off the power before the
HOW THE GFCI WORKS
In the home's wiring system, the GFCI constantly monitors electricity flowing in a circuit, to sense any loss of current. If the
current flowing through the circuit differs by a small amount from that returning, the GFCI quickly switches off power to that
circuit. The GFCI interrupts power faster than a blink of an eye to prevent a lethal dose of electricity. You may receive a painful
shock, but you should not be electrocuted or receive a serious shock injury.
Here's how it may work in your house.. Suppose a bare wire inside an appliance touches the metal case. The case is then
charged with electricity. If you touch the appliance with one hand while the other hand is touching a grounded metal object, like
a water faucet, you will receive a shock. If the appliance is plugged into an outlet protected by a GFCI, the power will be shut off
before a fatal shock would occur.
AVAILABILITY OF GFCIs
Three common types of ground fault circuit interrupters are available for home use:
This type of GFCI is used in place of the standard duplex receptacle found throughout the house It fits into the standard outlet
box and protects you against "ground faults' whenever an electrical product is plugged into the outlet Most receptacle-type
GFCls can be installed so that they also protect other electri-cal outlets further "down stream" in the branch circuit.
In homes equipped with circuit breakers rather than fuses, a circuit breaker GFCI may be installed in a panel box to give
protection to selected circuits The circuit breaker GFCI serves a dual purpose - not only will it shut off electricity in the event of a
"ground-fault," but it will also trip when a short circuit or an over-load occurs Protection covers the wiring and each outlet,
lighting fixture, heater, etc served by the branch circuit protected by the GFCI in the panel box.
Where permanent GFCls are not practical, portable GFCls may be used One type contains the GFCI circuitry in a plastic
enclosure with plug blades in the back and receptacle slots in the f rant. It can be plugged into a receptacle, then, the electrical
product is plugged into the GFCI. Another type of portable GFCI is an extension cord combined with a GFCI. It adds flexibility in
using receptacles that are not protected by GFCls.
WHERE GFCIs SHOULD BE CONSIDERED
In homes built to comply with the National Electrical Code (the Code), GFCI protection is required for most outdoor receptacles
(since 1973), bathroom receptacle circuits (since 1975), garage wall outlets (since 1978), kitchen receptacles (since 1987),
and all receptacles in crawl spaces and unfinished basements (since 1990).
Owners of homes that do not have GFCls installed in all those critical areas specified in the latest version of the Code should
consider having them installed. For broad protection, GFCI circuit breakers may be added in many panels of older homes to
replace ordinary circuit breaker. For homes protected by fuses, you are limited to receptacle or portable-type GFCIs and these
may be installed in areas of greatest exposure, such as the bathroom, kitchen, basement, garage, and outdoor circuits.
A GFCI should be used whenever operating electrically powered garden equipment (mower, hedge trimmer, edger, etc.).
Consumers can obtain similar protection by using GFCIs with electric tools (drills, saws, sanders, etc.) for do-it-yourself work in
and around the house.
Circuit breaker and receptacle-type GFCIs may be installed in your home by a qualified electrician. Receptacle-type GFCIs
may be installed by knowledgeable consumers familiar with electrical wiring practices who also follow the instructions
accompanying the device. When in doubt about the proper procedure, contact a qualified electrician. Do not attempt to install it
yourself. The portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to install.
TESTING THE GFCIs
Receptable Type GFCI All GFCIs should be tested once a month to make sure they are working properly and are protecting
you from fatal shock. GFCIs should be tested after installation to make sure they are working properly and protecting the circuit.
To test the receptacle GFCI, first plug a nightlight or lamp into the outlet. The light should be on Then, press the "TEST" button
on the GFCI. The GFCI's "RESET" button should pop out, and the light should go out.
If the "RESET" button pops out but the light does not go out, the GFCI has been improperly wired. Contact an electrician to
correct the wiring errors.
If the "RESET" button does not pop out, the GFCI is defective and should be replaced.
If the GFCI is functioning properly, and the lamp goes out, press the "RESET" button to restore power to the outlet.
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