What is a GFCI?

Even if you don’t recognize the name GFCI, you’ve probably seen GFCI outlets in — among other places — hotel bathrooms. GFCIs are the electrical outlets that have the little red “reset” button on them, and they’re most commonly found in bathrooms, kitchens, and other rooms with a water source. If you’ve ever wondered what these “reset” outlets are or why they’re important, keep reading.

What Does GFCI Stand For?

GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. A GFCI is a special kind of electrical outlet that can help prevent electric shock in a way a “normal” outlet can’t. According to the Electrical Fire Safety International website, “GFCIs have saved thousands of lives over the last three decades.”

To better understand how a GFCI works, let’s break it down a bit.

What is a Ground Fault?

Think back to middle school science classes and you’ll remember that electricity always wants to find its way back to the Earth (the ground) as quickly and efficiently as it can.

Your home is wired so that electricity can find its way back to the ground along an intended, safely wired circuit. A ground fault occurs when, for whatever reason (accidental or intentional), that circuit is broken and the electricity leaves its intended path.

When electricity leaves its intended path, it will use anything — water, metal, or a human body — to get itself to the ground as quickly and efficiently as it can. This can result in electric shock or even electrocution.

How a GFCI Works

A GFCI recognizes when electricity has left its intended path (circuit). In a fraction of a second, the GFCI will trip the power to that outlet, preventing an electrical current from flowing through an unintended path (like a human body) to reach the ground. In other words, a properly-installed GFCI can save a life.

Where Should GFCIs Be Used?

The National Electric Code published the first GFCI regulations in 1971. Since that time, those regulations have expanded considerably to include GFCI regulations for residential, commercial, and other property types.

Generally speaking, GFCIs should be used in any location on your property where there’s a water source. Outlets in your kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room should all be GFCI protected. Outdoor outlets (even those under the eve of your home) and any outlet where a power tool is likely to be plugged in should also be protected by a GFCI.

Your Missouri Electric Cooperatives encourages you to consider hiring a licensed, bonded, and insured electrician if you’d like to install GFCI outlets in your home according to the National Electric Code.

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