Electrical systems tend to be inherently dangerous. This is why all modern electrical systems in Wheat Ridge, CO, have circuit breakers that act as a safety mechanism to prevent the risk of fire or electrocution that can result from issues like an overload, short circuit, etc. Most modern homes also have another safety mechanism in the form of GFCI outlets, which are designed to protect against a specific issue known as a ground fault.

What Is a GFCI Outlet?

A GFCI, ground-fault circuit interrupter, is a special type of electrical outlet that essentially has a built-in circuit breaker. The purpose of a GFCI outlet is to protect anyone from being electrocuted should a dangerous ground fault occur. GFCI outlets are easy to identify and stand apart from standard outlets. They have a test and reset button in the center between the two receptacles.

Most GFCI outlets also have a small green LED light in the corner next to one of the receptacles. When the green light is on, it indicates that the outlet is live and has power flowing to it. If the LED light is off, it means that the power is off. The outlet needs to be reset because the GFCI tripped.

Some newer self-testing GFCIs will also show either a solid or blinking red light. This red light is usually an alert that can tell you a few different things. Sometimes, the red light just indicates that the outlet is performing a self-test.

It can also mean that the GFCI has been triggered and needs to be reset. It can also mean that the outlet failed the test and isn’t working properly, which means you need to have it replaced.

How GFCI Outlets Protect Against Electrocution

Electricity always tries to take the path of least resistance, which leads to it trying to find a path that allows it to flow to the ground. A ground fault is when the electrical current flows out of the outlet or circuit and takes an unexpected path to the ground, such as through a person. Ground faults can occur if an outlet or electrical wire is exposed to water or if a live wire in the outlet or appliance encounters anything metal.

Water is an extremely good conductor of electricity and will allow the current to flow through it into any nearby path that allows it to then flow to the ground. If an outlet experiences a ground fault and you touch anything plugged into it or even just get too close, it could easily lead to the current instantly flowing into your body since it is grounded.

For instance, if you were touching the metal case of a working toaster that had a bare wire inside it while also touching a grounded metal surface like a faucet, it would also create a ground fault that sends the current flowing through you.

It can take as little as 100 to 200 milliamps (0.1 to 0.2 amps) of electricity flowing through a person to cause fatal electrocution. This is what makes ground faults so dangerous since all the 120-volt outlets in a house are supplied by either a 15- or 20-amp circuit. The purpose of a GFCI is to ensure that you can’t get electrocuted if a ground fault leads to even a small amount of current flowing out of the outlet into an unexpected path.

GFCIs work by monitoring the current flowing into the outlet through the live wire and the current flowing through the neutral wire back to the electrical panel. When everything is working properly, the amperage of the two currents should always be equal.

When a ground fault causes the current to flow in an unintentional path, it leads to the amperage of the current flowing through the live wire instantly spiking. The reason that the current spikes is simply that it suddenly meets much less resistance when it takes this unintentional path to the ground.

If the GFCI detects that the amperage of the incoming current increases by even an extremely small amount (usually under 0.006 amps), it will trip and almost instantly stop the power from continuing to flow. The fact that GFCIs are so sensitive to even tiny increases in amperage and trip in under one-tenth of a second ensures that you could never be electrocuted should a ground fault occur.

GFCI outlets are so effective that there has been an 83% reduction in electrocutions since they were first required by the electrical code in 1971. There has also been a 95% decrease in electrocutions caused by consumer products like toasters, tools, hair dryers, and other small appliances.

Where Should GFCI Outlets Be Used?

GFCI outlets used to only be required for all outdoor power receptacles and any receptacle within 5 feet of a water source. However, the National Electric Code has been updated numerous times to require GFCI outlets to be used in far more places. GFCIs are now required for every outlet in a bathroom, laundry room, utility or mechanical room, kitchen, basement, and garage. There are also other locations where they may be required, depending on the location of the water lines in the building.

If your home has standard, non-GFCI outlets in any of these locations, you aren’t legally required to replace them. Most places only require you to update your electrical system and bring everything up to code when renovating more than 50% of your home or when rewiring much of your home. Nonetheless, we would always recommend installing GFCI outlets in all the locations we listed if you don’t have them since it really could be a matter of life or death.

Why All GFCI Outlets Should Be Tested Monthly

The main issue with GFCI outlets is that their internal circuit breaker can wear out or suddenly stop working. This is why all GFCI outlets have a test button that allows you to check and make sure that they are still working.

Pressing the test button triggers the internal circuit breaker and shuts off the outlet. If the green light goes off and the reset button pops out, you can be sure that the GFCI still works. If nothing happens when you press the test button or you can’t get the outlet to reset after testing it, it indicates that it needs to be replaced.

Experts recommend always testing every GFCI outlet in your home once a month just to be safe. Unfortunately, studies have shown that most people rarely test their GFCIs or neglect to test them at all. This is why the National Electric Code now requires the use of self-testing GFCIs. Although most of these outlets will perform a self-test around once every 15 minutes, it’s still a good idea to get into the habit of manually testing them every month as well.

Mighty Pine Heating & Air is a family-owned company that is ready to handle all your electrical needs. Whether you need to install GFCIs or require any other installation, repair, or surge protection services you can trust our expert electricians to perform the work safely and properly.

Our team can also take care of your heating, air conditioning, and water heater needs, so give us a call today if you need any home service in the Wheat Ridge area.

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