GFCI outlets are the electrical outlets with a test button and a reset button, often with a green indicator light. Used for extra safety, the GFCI outlet detects the risk of electrical shock and shuts off when necessary. For instance, the outlet can detect wet or damaged conditions that could cause a person to get shocked.
Essentially, the GFCI outlet can tell when electrical current flows improperly. These outlets typically provide the same 120V power as standard electrical outlets.
How the GFCI Outlet Works
GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. The GFCI detects a “ground fault” when current flows to the ground, rather than between the “hot” and “neutral” sides—the two slots.
When using an electrical outlet, the current should flow from one slot to the other—from the larger “hot” slot to the smaller “neutral” slot. The hole below the two slots is for the ground prong.
In a GFCI outlet, the receptacle box measures the current flowing from the hot side to the neutral side. The amount of current going in and out should remain consistently equal. When the current is unequal, electricity may be flowing improperly—to the ground, to a person, or into a device. As soon as the GFCI detects an improper measurement, the receptacle cuts off power to all plugged-in devices.
The reset button: After the outlet has turned itself off, you should correct any problems before resetting the outlet. If it’s unclear why the outlet has detected a problem, call your local electrician for assistance rather than risking injury or house fire.
After correcting a problem, you can press the reset button to zero-out the unit and use your appliances again.
The test button: When you press the test button, the outlet should turn off power. Make it a regular monthly chore to be safe. Turn on an appliance and press the test button to make sure the function works. If the appliance keeps running, the outlet’s safety feature is not working and you should call an electrician.
Reasons to Use GFCI Outlets
To help ensure electrical safety, the California Electrical Code requires the GFCI outlet in a variety of rooms, including:
- Kitchens, bathrooms, anywhere near a sink
- Garages and separate storage buildings
- Basements (other than “habitable” bedrooms) and crawl spaces
- Outdoor outlets
Homeowners can elect to have a GFCI outlet in any location. If you’ve made renovations, such as adding a wet bar, you should have a licensed electrician make sure that you have a GFCI outlet anywhere necessary to follow code.
Of course, homeowners can elect to have a GFCI outlet anywhere they want. Professional electricians can install them easily and quickly, so it’s a relatively simple way to make your home much safer from both fires and electrical shocks.