What is a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) Device?
Many times, a home inspector will include in his report that no GFCI protected outlets were present in the kitchen or bathrooms near the sink or a wet area. While home inspectors are not code inspectors, and in many areas existing homes are not required to have GFCI outlets or breakers, they are safety devices that are highly recommended.
A ground fault circuit interrupter is an electrical outlet or breaker designed to break the circuit any time there is an imbalance between incoming and outgoing current. The GFCI outlet protects electrical wiring and receptacles from overheating and a possible fire. They can also greatly minimize the risk of shock injuries and burns. They work by detecting ground faults or shorts and turn off the current to the outlet.
Because of the sensitivity to electrical imbalances they make an effective safety device around wet areas where wet hands can encounter electrical appliances or outlets where a shock hazard is present. They provide protection if electrical devices such as hair dryers or curling irons are dropped into a bathtub or a sink full of water. The GFCI detects the difference in the flow of the current and immediately shuts the current off.
More on where they are needed?
GFCI outlets are important, especially when the electrical outlets are positioned close to water or areas that can become wet. Installing GFCI outlets in your kitchen, bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements, garages, or outside is a very good idea. According to the National Electric Code (NEC), all new homes must be equipped with GFCI protection. GFCI outlets should also be installed on temporary wiring during construction, renovation, or maintenance of structures that are using temporary power. Considering the cost of a GFCI outlet, usually only about $15.00, and the ease of installation, and the safety they provide, it just makes since to have them installed and maintained in your home.
How they work and how to test them.
As mentioned, the ground fault circuit interrupter is designed to avert ground faults by immediately disrupting the flow of current from the outlet. Therefore, periodic testing is very important to ensure that the GFCI outlet is always functional. A GFCI protected breaker works just like any other breaker. If the breaker trips it will be in the off position. Some breakers will show a red signal, or the lever may be part way to the off position. To reset the breaker, it will need to be moved all the way to the off position and back to the on position. The breaker will have a test button that should be actuated occasionally to make sure the breaker is working properly. When you push the test button it will trip the breaker and it will need to be reset as mentioned. A GFCI outlet will have two buttons between the two receptacles. One button is a test button, the other is to reset the outlet. Some outlets will have a light that indicates whether the outlet is tripped or working. If the breaker trips the reset button many times will be protruding and will need to be pushed back in. The outlet should be tested periodically. This will not only insure the outlet is working properly but will also familiarize you with the outlet. One outlet can protect several outlets down line and even in different bathrooms. If you find that some of your outlets are not working check the GFCI outlets.
Make sure your outlets are protected
It is recommended that GFCI outlets should be tested every month or so and replaced every ten years. You can follow these simple recommendations to make sure your circuit interrupters are working properly:
As mentioned, the face of the GFCI outlet features two small buttons that are labeled test and reset. Simply press the test button and this will trigger a snap sound which indicates that the outlet has tripped. Once the outlet trips, reset it.
Now plug a device into the outlet, such as a hair dryer or light, turn it on and press the test button. If the outlet is properly working the device will stop or go off immediately. The same procedure can be followed with breakers. With the breaker you may be running up and down steps or to wherever your electrical panel is located to test and reset it.
Once you know the CFGI outlet is working at peak efficiency, you can press the reset button and the circuit interrupter will be turned on once again.
While these DIY instructions are easy to follow, they do require that you become somewhat familiar with and understand how your home’s electrical system works. I recommend this for most home owners. If you don’t feel confident try YouTube. There are many electrical tips and tricks that can help a home owner feel comfortable with his or her electrical system on line. It is always recommended however, when making repairs or adding GFCI outlets or breakers consult a qualified electrician or home inspector who can ensure that your system is safe.
More benefits of GFCI protection
Electrical shocks and electrocution are the major risks that you can be exposed to through electrical devices in your home. This becomes a bigger concern if you have children who can unwittingly receive a shock. A GFCI outlet helps prevent shocks and electrocutions as it has a built-in sensor that monitors the inflow and outflow of the electricity from any appliance. If a live wire inside an appliance meets the metallic surface of the appliance, it may not be enough of a short to trip a standard breaker but can still provide enough current through the metal housing of the appliance if you touch the appliance you can be shocked. This can be especially serious if you have wet hands. However, if you plug appliances into a GFCI protected outlet, then it will notice if there is any change in the electrical flow which may occur due to the short and it will instantly shut down the power.
Avert Fatal Electrical Fires
One of the main functions of a GFCI outlet is to detect the ground faults, which occur when the flow of electrical current leaves a circuit or is interrupted. When you install GFCI outlets, you are effectively reducing the chance of electrical fires from occurring. While AFCI protected outlets are the primary protection for electrical fires any additional protection for the home is highly recommended. See my article on this blog site about AFCI protection.
Install GFCI outlets, both at your home and workplace for safety. Remember to get them installed professionally. I welcome your questions or comments. If you need a home inspector to evaluate the safety of your home, please contact me. Visit my website for more information. www.laselleck.com
Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are special types of electrical receptacles or outlets and circuit breakers designed to detect and respond to potentially dangerous electrical short circuits in electrical wiring.
How do they work?
AFCIs function by monitoring the electrical circuit and promptly breaking or interrupting the electrical current in that circuit. They also are capable of distinguishing safe or normal arcs, such as those created when a switch is turned on or a plug is pulled from a receptacle, from arcs that can cause fires. An AFCI can detect, recognize, and respond to very small changes in wave pattern.
What is an arc?
When an electric current crosses an air gap from an energized component to a grounded component, it produces a glowing plasma discharge known as an arc. An automobile depends on an arc from the spark plug to ignite the fuel in the piston cylinder. Another example is a bolt of lightning. It is a very large powerful arc that crosses an atmospheric gap from an electrically charged cloud to the ground or another cloud. Just as lightning can cause fires, arcs produced by domestic wiring are capable of producing high levels of heat that can ignite their surroundings and lead to structure fires. Electrical problems are responsible for many structure fires every year.
According to statistics from U.S. Fire statistics website as of 2013 there were well over one millions house fires per year but the number has steadily been declining. Much of the decline should be attributed to education and the use of safety devices such as AFCIs.
Where are arcs likely to form?
Arcs can form where wires are improperly installed or when insulation becomes damaged. In older homes, wire insulation tends to become brittle as it ages and is prone to cracking and chipping. Damaged insulation exposes the current-carrying wire to its surroundings, increasing the chances that an arc may occur.
Situations in which arcs may be created:
Where are AFCIs required?
Guidelines have been written into the National Code requiring the use of AFCIs in certain locations in new construction such as bedrooms. Since enforcement varies from one area to another it is recommended that you consult a licensed electrician for recommendations in your area.
What types of AFCIs are available?
AFCIs are available as circuit breakers for installation in the electrical distribution panel.
An AFCI might activate in situations that are not dangerous and create needless power shortages. This can be particularly annoying when an AFCI stalls power to a freezer or refrigerator, allowing its contents to spoil. There are a few procedures an electrical contractor can perform in order to reduce potential “nuisance tripping."
Arc Faults vs. Ground Faults
It is important to distinguish AFCI devices from Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) devices. GFCIs detect ground faults, which occur when current leaks from a hot (ungrounded) conductor to a grounded object as a result of a short-circuit. This situation can be hazardous when a person unintentionally becomes the current’s path to the ground. GFCIs function by constantly monitoring the current flow between hot and neutral (grounding) conductors, and activate when they sense a difference of 5 milliamps or more. Thus, GFCIs are intended to prevent personal injury due to electric shock, while AFCIs prevent personal injury and property damage due to structure fires.
In summary, AFCIs are designed to detect small arcs of electricity before they have a chance to lead to a structure fire.
My goal is to have a series of articles that deal with items that may be found on the home inspection report. There will also be articles on choosing a home inspector and a realtor. This information will be based on my experience in the construction industry as well as information I research. I welcome your comments. If you have a question or would like to see an article on a particular subject please ask.