We’ve all heard the terms GFCI or GFI outlets, but what in the world are they used for? GFCI's are to be used in areas that are subject to water. This would be a kitchen, bathroom, or basement. The National Electric Code requires them in these areas.
Why would we buy outlets that cost between $5.00 and $10.00 when regular outlets only cost a dollar or two? Seems silly, right? Not so fast. GFCI’s are specifically designed to save your life. They automatically turn themselves off when there is a short circuit or there’s an unbalanced load to ground. Instead of current passing through your body to ground, the device will shut off the power and save you from being electrocuted. It also will trip itself if you happen to have a frayed cord.
A Shocking Morning
Let me explain what I’m talking about. Imagine you’re in your bathroom in the morning. You’ve just taken a nice warm shower and step up to the mirror to finish getting ready. In the sink is water that you’ve drawn to wash your face or something. You reach for your hair dryer or electric razor and start your routine. Suddenly the electrical appliance slips from your hands and falls into the water! Instantly, without thinking, you reach into the water and grab the appliance to save it. The only problem is that now there is electrical current in the water ready to electrocute you. Luckily, you installed a GFCI outlet that shut the circuit off as soon as the appliance hit the water. As they say in baseball, “You’re safe!”
Understanding a GFCI
A GFCI is rectangular in shape and has two places to plug devices into. It also has two separate connections. One is called the line connection, which is fed from your electrical panel. The other connection is called the load connection. This unique connection feeds additional outlets to the circuit downstream but still has the protection of the GFCI. It acts like the main hub, protecting all devices connected to it. This can be a huge dollar saver if you know what you are doing.
On the face of the outlet are two buttons. One is called a test button. Its purpose is to give you a means of manually unbalancing the outlet load and shorting out the device. When you do that, if the outlet is functioning properly, it will make a click sound and the power will be shut off to the outlet. If you check the outlet with a voltmeter or tester, you’ll find out if the power is off. Now the other button comes into play. The second button is called the reset button. As you might guess, this will restore the outlet to the "on" or working position. Press the button and you will once again have power.
Hook It Up
Making the electrical connection to the outlet itself is pretty simple. The brass colored screw on the side of the GFCI is for the “hot” wire (usually the black or red wire). The silver screw is for the “neutral” wire (the white wire). The green colored screw is located on either the top or the bottom of the outlet. This is the ground connection where the bare copper wire from your box goes. Please be sure to connect the ground wire if you have one.
Use'em Where You Need'em
GFCI’s are used in and around the house in areas prone to water. Any time an outlet is within five feet of water, you should install a GFCI. They should be used in or around bathrooms, basements, kitchens, hot tubs, jacuzzis, swimming pools, outdoor outlets and even inside garages. By installing GFCI’s in and around your home, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re being protected from electrical shock 24/7. Remember, your family’s lives depend on them.