Ever wonder what those red and black buttons in an electric outlet are for? This type of electric outlet is called a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) and is designed to protect individuals from severe electrical shocks.
How GFCIs Work
GFCIs are usually installed in areas where electrical equipment is near water. A GFCI detects a ground fault, which is an unintentional electrical path between a power source and a grounded surface, such as defective equipment or the human body, and interrupts the flow of electricity. If the GFCI detects a smaller than usual amount of current flowing into the circuit (as little as 0.006 amperes), the GFCI interrupts power flowing from the outlet. The GFCI acts fast enough to keep electricity from affecting the heartbeat.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) regulates the requirements for GFCI. GFCIs are required by law in the following areas:
- Underwater pool lighting (since 1968)
- Outdoors (since 1973)
- Bathrooms (since 1975)
- Garages (since 1978)
- Kitchens (since 1987)
- Crawl spaces and unfinished basements (since 1990)
- Wet bar sinks (since 1993)
- Laundry and utility sinks (since 2005)
Portable GFCIs are installed in areas that are not practical for regular GFCIs. One type of portable GFCI acts like an extension cord, with one end plugging into an electrical outlet and the other into an electrical product. Another type of portable GFCI has a plastic enclosure around the GFCI circuitry, plug blades on one side and receptacle slots on the other.
How to Test GFCI Outlets
The Consumer Product Safety Commission provides the following instructions for testing a GFCI outlet:
1. Plug a lamp into the outlet and turn the lamp on.
2. Press the GFCI’s (black) test button. Did the light go out? If not, the GFCI is not working or has not been correctly installed. Contact a qualified electrician to correct the wiring and/or replace the defective GFCI.
3. Press the (red) reset button. Did the light come back on? If not, replace the GFCI.
Installing GFCI Outlets
We don’t recommend homeowners attempt to install GFCI outlets on their own. To ensure safety and correct installation, reach out to the Blue Apple Electric team and a certified electrician will get the job done quickly and safely.