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GFCI Receptacle

Home Safety: Electrical Safety


The purpose of a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) is to prevent shocks; they are code-required in wet areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, garages, and laundry rooms. That's because even on a grounded wiring system, electricity can leak from the hot lead without tripping the circuit breaker. If that happened while you were particularly well grounded (turning off a faucet while turning on a defective hair dryer, for example), the result could be fatal.

A GFCI device constantly monitors current levels on the hot and neutral sides of a circuit. If the GFCI senses an imbalance of just 1/2000 of an amp, it trips the circuit in 1/40 of a second or less.

Testing a GFCI receptacle

Plug a radio, hairdryer, or other appliance into the GFCI, turn the appliance on, then press the test button. The receptacle should shut itself off. If it doesn't, press the test button again. If it still doesn't shut off, the receptacle needs to be replaced. By the way, don't be too surprised if the receptacle doesn't shut off. It's estimated that up to 25 percent of all GFCIs in this country are malfunctioning due to power surges or lightening strikes. If the receptacle did pass its test, press the reset button; the power should come back on.



According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, problems in home wiring, like arcing and sparking, are associated with more than 40,000 home fires each year. These fires claim over 350 lives and injure 1,400 victims annually. A new product, the arc-fault circuit interrupter, also referred to as either an AFCI or an arc-fault breaker, is designed to trip in response to heavy arcing. The latest edition of the National Electric Code requires AFCI protection for bedroom circuits in new construction starting January 2002. These breakers, available in both 15- and 20-amp versions, should be installed by a pro.

Typical situations in which an arc fault may occur include damaged wire insulation, loose connections at the receptacle or the box, damaged or worn appliance cords, and damaged or worn extension cords.


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