Ever since the introduction of ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI outlet) in 1973, deaths from electrical shock reduced by 83%.
The GFCI is a fast-acting circuit breaker that interrupt power once there is a ground fault.
It compares 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 recommend it to every homeowners.
What is a 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 outlets and appliances. But when a ground fault occurs, currents find their way to the ground.
When a ground fault occurs, the current flows through any conductor around. If the conductor is a human being, electrocution occurs. But since water is an excellent conductor of electricity, a greater chance of ground faults occurring in areas such as the bathroom and kitchen is always higher.
How does the GFCI outlet works?
The outlet works like circuit breaker and fuse. But while the breakers protect wires and receptacles from overload and short circuit, GFCIs protect humans from electrocution.
The outlet has a sensor that detects imbalance in flowing current. When there is a leakage of current along the circuiten even as little as 4 or 5 milliamps, the breaker trips to 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 should I install a ground fault circuit interrupter?
You can install the outlet in all the potential damp or wet areas such as bathrooms, basements, garages, kitchens, workshops and all the potential wet areas.
A wet environment can conduct electricity when there is a ground fault, exposing you to electrical hazards but by using a gfci outlet, it will prevent it.
Benefits of installing a 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 ground fault.
It detects ground faults by comparing the input and output current 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 save our homes from fire outbreaks which may arise from the current leakage and power surge.
3. Save our appliances from damage
When there is a continuous leakage of current from a cracked insulation, it may affect or damage any appliance close to it.
But if you have a gfci receptacle in your house, it will take control of all the faulty currents that may cause damage.
Types of GFCI
There are three types of GFCI that include:
- GFCI outlets
- GFCI circuit breaker
- Portable GFCI.
This is the most commonly used among the 3 receptacles, similar to a wall outlet, it protects any appliance plugged into it. It can also be wired to protect other outlets connected to it.
GFCI circuit breaker
Ground fault circuit breakers protect the entire circuit. When you install one on your service panel, it protects the entire circuit, appliances, wiring, and other devices connected to it.
Instead of installing several receptacles in your home, install one GFCI circuit breaker for complete protection.
Temporal or Portable GFCI
This is the type of ground fault interrupter we use on mobile applications, gardens, and in construction sites. You can also use it outdoors, on electrically powered appliances.
However, do not use it as a permanent option for a normal GFCI device.
How to install the GFCI Outlet
Installing or replacing a worn out GFCI is quite easy, just follow these steps.
Required tools and materials.
Screwdrivers (Flat and star)
Turn OFF the power
Locate the circuit breaker that controls the branch circuit you want to install the outlet on and turn it OFF.
Remove the cover and the old outlet
Using your flat screwdriver, remove the outlet cover to expose the receptacle.
Use your star screwdriver to lose it and pull it out from the electrical box.
Inspect the connection to see where each wire goes
Disconnect the wires and connect them to the new receptacle
The wiring system usually comprises 3 wires:
- We usually connect the black or hot wire to the brass terminal
- White or neutral wire connected to silver terminal
- Green or copper wire connected 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 back the GFCI plug 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 the outlet every decade.
To test it, look at the face of the outlet. Between the slots where you plug in cords, lie two rectangular buttons labeled ‘TEST’ and ‘RESET’.
Press the test button to shut off the power. Confirm if the outlet is OFF, using your multimeter or by plugging in a device in the slot. 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.