GFI, Ground Fault Circuit Breakers

 A $15 Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFI)  could save your life,   Don’t put it off any longer.

One of the most often listed defects found by home inspectors, building code officers and city occupancy officials is lack of ground fault circuits interrupters or GFI outlets and breakers.

GFI receptacle and breaker
GFCI receptacle and breaker

 Where should you install GFI outlets?  GFIs are required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) in all new kitchens, bathrooms. crawl spaces, unfinished, basements, and outdoor receptacles.  Owners of older houses can retrofit $15 GFCI outlets at those locations or have GFCI breakers (about $50) mounted in the main breaker panel.  Portable GFCI adapters, which plug into regular wall receptacles, are available for $20 to $40.

Installing a GFI could save your life

GFCI protection could prevent as many as two hundred deaths by electrocution every year as well as countless unnecessary burns and fires.  The GFCI circuit was first invented in 1961 and has been slowly incorporated into the NEC.    GFCI protection for receptacles has been required by the NEC since:

  • 1973 Outdoor receptacles
  • 1975 Bathrooms
  • 1978 Garages
  • 1987 Kitchens
  • 1990 Crawl spaces and unfinished basements
  • 1993 Wet bar sinks
  • 2005 Laundry and utility sinks

GFCI protection is required in any area that is within six feet of a water source or over wet surfaces.  Metal sinks should be included in this measurement.  Wet surfaces include surfaces that may become wet and provide and open source to ground such as wet garage or basement floors.  Finished basements with carpet are usually exempted.  GFCI protection for outdoor receptacles is required regardless of the floor type.

Please do not confuse fuses and standard circuit breakers with GFCIs.  Fuses and standard circuit breakers work on the principle of failing when more current flows through a circuit than it was designed to carry.  A typical house circuit is a number 12 wire protected by a 20 amp fuse or breaker. Which will melt (trip for breakers) before the wire overheats and causes a fire hazard.

Unfortunately  a very small amount of current will kill a person who is in contact with a source of grounding.   Such as the kitchen faucet or wet concrete without tripping a breaker or blowing a fuse.

A GFCI receptacle or GFCI circuit breaker monitors the flow of electricity between the hot, neutral and ground wires 30 to 40 times per second and will trip  (disconnect) the circuit when a difference of as little as .005 amps is detected.   (that’s not enough to power a flashlight).

The third wire (ground wire) found on many tools and appliances is only effective for larger current leaks and is not sufficient protection for use in wet areas. Many hand held appliances such as hair dryers and curling irons that are typically used around water sources have GFCI protection built into the power cord.

The third wire on your small appliance or power tool is the ground wire. The ground wire is intended to direct errant current to the breaker or fuse thus opening the circuit.  Providing protection to the user from electrical shock. The ground wire is typically connected to the outer case of your tool or appliance so if the hot wire contacts the case it will trip the GFCI.

Older homes should be updated

Circuits installed before the late 60’s probably do not have the protection of a grounding Circuit. The NEC allows GFCIs to be used to upgrade older two-prong (non-grounded) outlets to three-prong (grounded) outlets without installing any new wire. The use of two prong to three prong adapters and replacing two prong with three prong non grounded receptacles is not encouraged.

When the GFCI is installed in a two wire circuit it must have a label that says “No Equipment Ground” on the GFCI outlet and all downstream outlets. Please note most GFCI testers will not trip the GFCI if a ground wire is not present
You may want to install a grounded circuit for your sensitive electronic products.  Many electronic products such as computers and big screen TVs use the ground wire as a means of dissipating static electricity.

Parts of this article came from the following sources;
http://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/118853/099.pdf
http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/construction/electrical_incidents/gfci.html
http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/GFCI
http://www.esgroundingsolutions.com

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