Complete Overview of the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI Outlet), and where to Install the Receptacle

Ever since introducing the ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI outlet) in 1973, deaths from electrical shock have reduced by 83%.

What does a GFCI Outlet do?

The GFCI is a fast-acting circuit breaker that interrupts power once there is a ground fault.

It monitors the input and output current from the electrical system and if there is an imbalance even as little as 0.005 amps, the breaker trips.

This protective role of the receptacle makes the National Electrical Code (NEC) recommend it to every homeowner.

What is ground fault?

A ground fault (current leakage) occurs when electricity follows an unintended path to the ground. Common causes include faulty wiring and damaged cords.

Under normal conditions, currents flow through insulated wires to various electrical outlets and appliances. But when there is an outflow or leak, currents find their way to the ground.

This will allow the current to flow through any conductor around. If it is a human being, electrocution occurs.

But since water is an excellent conductor of electricity, there is always a greater chance of ground faults occurring near water such as the bathroom and kitchen.

How does the GFCI outlet work?

The outlet works like a circuit breaker and fuse. But while the breakers protect wires and outlets from overload and short circuits, GFCIs protect humans from electrocution.

The outlet has a sensor that monitors imbalances in flowing currents. When there is a leakage of current along the circuit, even as little as 4 or 5 milliamperes, the breaker trips to maintain electrical safety.

GFI also protects against electrical fires from short circuits and other electrical faults that do not involve humans. For example, a low current that has not reached the tripping point for a circuit breaker.

That is why the National Electrical Code recommends the installation of ground circuit interrupter on every building.

Where do you need GFCI outlets?

You need an outlet in all potentially damp or wet areas such as bathrooms, basements, garages, kitchens, laundry rooms, workshops and all potentially wet areas.

A wet environment can conduct electricity when current flows through it, exposing you to electrical hazards. However, installing a gfci outlet will prevent it.

Benefits of installing GFI receptacles

Apart from the ground fault protection you gain from this outlet, there are still other benefits. They include:

1. Protection from electric shock

GFCIs protect humans from electric shock by tripping off the current when there is a leak of current along the circuit.

It detects that by comparing the electricity flowing in and out of the outlet or device and if it varies; it trips off the electrical current.

2. Prevent fire outbreaks

While the primary role of GFCI is to protect you from ground faults, it also saves our homes from fire outbreaks which may arise from the current leakage and power surge.

3. Save our appliances from damage

If there is a continuous leakage of current from a cracked insulation, it may affect or damage any appliance close to it.

But if your house is equipped with gfci protection, it will take control of all the faulty currents that may cause damage.

Types of GFCI Outlets

There are three types of GFCI.

They include:

  • GFCI outlets
  • GFCI circuit breaker
  • Portable or temporary GFCI.

GFCL outlet

This is the most common type of outlet used in home electrical systems. It protects any device plugged into it.

GFCI circuit breaker

Gfci breakers protect the entire circuit. When you install one on your service panel, it protects the entire circuit and devices connected to it.

Instead of installing several breakers in your home, install one GFCI receptacle for complete protection.

Temporal GFCI

This is the type of gfci we use on mobile applications, gardens, and in construction sites.

You can also use it outdoors, on electrically powered devices.

However, do not use it as a permanent option for a normal GFCI device.

How to install the GFCI Outlet

Installing or replacing an old electrical outlet is quite easy.

You can either call an electrician or install it yourself. To install the outlet yourself, follow these steps:

Required tools and materials.

  • Screwdrivers (Flat and star)
  • Flashlight
  • New gfci outlet


Turn OFF the power

Locate the breaker that controls the branch circuit you want to install the outlet on and turn it OFF.

Remove the outlet plate

Using your flat screwdriver, remove the outlet cover to expose the wall outlet.

Use your star screwdriver, lose the outlet, and pull it out from the electrical box.

Inspect the connection to see where each wire goes

Disconnect the old outlet

Disconnect the wires and connect them to the new outlet The wiring system usually comprises 3 wires:

  • Connect the black or hot wire to the brass terminal
  • Connect the white or neutral to the silver terminal
  • Green or copper wire to the green screw. This serves as the ground wire.

Connect the wires to the respective terminals and secure them with a wire nut.

Put the GFCI plug back in the outlet box and cover it with a wall plate

Once you are through with the connection, put back the outlet and secure it with screws before covering it with a wall plate.

How to self-test your ground fault breaker.

Testing your GFCI outlets is easy, you can do it yourself.

Experts recommend testing it once every month and replacing it every decade to make sure the outlet works properly.

Gfci features two rectangular buttons labelled “TEST and “RESET.

To test the outlet, locate the test button on the face of the outlet. Press and hold it to shut off the power. Once you confirm it, press the reset button to restore the current to it.

Difference between AFCI outlet and GFCI

Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) and ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) are both electrical devices that protect against fire and electric shock.

The law requires that we install them in every new building. While they do almost the same work, their difference lies in the area they protect.

AFCI detects electrical faults within your circuit, which may damage your wiring system and appliances. (They protect wiring systems and appliances).

Meanwhile, the GFCI protects human beings from electrical shock.