The 411 on GFCI Outlets
What is a GFCI?
A GFI or GFCI Outlet stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. GFCI is integrated in the outlet. It is like a breaker within the outlet. For example, when you plug in an appliance, like a hair dryer, the GFCI outlet monitors the amount of power going to the blow dryer. If you accidentally drop the appliance, that said hair dryer, into a sink full of water, the GFCI will detect the interruption in current and should cut the power. You know that all too common “pop/click” sound from the button popping out on the GFCI outlet indicating the circuit has been cut. (Sometimes a light will indicate this.) The GFCI has just helped prevent an accident.
Hide and Seek
Where are GFCI outlets usually located? By code, in all new construction, a GFCI outlet must be in a bathroom, kitchen, garage, and unfinished basement. Here comes the tricky part. There must be at least one GFCI outlet within the circuit that calls for the GFCI outlet. For example, you may have two bathrooms that are on the same circuit, but only one bathroom has a GFCI outlet. So, if the GFCI outlet was tripped in one bathroom, the outlets in the other bathroom will not have power until the circuit is reset.
What’s the Scenario?
Why are GFCI outlets important? Check out these two scenarios to help you understand the importance.
- You live in an older house and don’t have GFCI outlets. Your kid’s bathroom outlets are on the same circuit your bathroom outlets are on. Your kids are in the bathroom getting ready for school. Getting ready entails a blow dryer, flat iron and Bluetooth speaker that is running off their phone which is charging (Who are we kidding, they are probably Snapchatting their friends too.), flat irons are warming up, the blow dryer is going all while the latest tunes are blaring from their Echo Dot. Your teenagers are only half awake and the clumsy one knocks the echo dot into the sink where the other kid is washing their face. Yelling ensues, which is normal for them this time of day, and you’ve got water streaming down on a plugged-in Echo Dot. You don’t know this and the circuit has not tripped yet and you go to plug in your beard trimmer in your own bathroom and you get a shocking surprise!
- Same scenario as above, but you have a GFCI outlet on that circuit. As soon as the Echo Dot hits the water, your GFCI outlet trips and shuts down the circuit. You don’t know this has happened. You plug in your beard trimmer and get no power. The kids are still yelling and you hear words like “ruined” and “You’re telling Dad what you did!” and you decide you better enter the crime scene. When you step into their bathroom and see the dumpster fire going on, you turn the water off, unplug the Echo Dot and reset the GFCI. Then you tell them that they don’t get to use anything that needs to be plugged in this morning, that you don’t want to hear whose fault it was or whose hair is ruined and expect to be able to trim your beard in peace.
We would all love for things to last forever, but just like your third grade best friend pact you had with Sarah, GFCI outlets do eventually become more sensitive and eventually fail. The average lifespan of a GFCI outlet is 10ish years, but they have known to fail as early five years in areas prone to storms. You can read about how to find out if your GFCI outlet is failing here.
Having GFCI outlets in your home is all about safety. A GFCI outlet is just one more way to keep your family and friends safe as well as help prevent accidents in your home. Godby can do an electrical inspection, update outlets and install new outlets in your home. Call or text Godby Heating Plumbing Electrical today to schedule an appointment.