GFI Outlet: What Is It and Where Do I Need to Install It?

Does your home have a GFCI outlet in every area it’s required?

If not – or if you don’t know – take a moment to learn what GFCI outlets are, why they’re important, and where you need them.

What Is a GFCI Outlet?

A GFI outlet is an extremely important component. It’s often referred to as a “Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter” (GFCI) or just a “Ground Fault Interrupter” (GFI). In either case, the device’s name explains its vital purpose: A GFI outlet is responsible for ensuring you don’t receive an electrical shock if there’s a fault in one of your home’s electrical devices.

What is a GFI Outlet?

How Does a GFI Electrical Outlet Work?

A GFI electrical outlet can compare the input current coming in from the hot side to the neutral side’s output current. If it detects even the smallest difference – down to just a few milliamps – the GFI outlet immediately cuts the power supply to the device. As it can do this in under 30 milliseconds, the potential for damage to human tissue remains low – far lower than if the power supply was allowed to flow for even a full second.

The difference in current that the GFI outlet is designed to detect is important because it suggests that the current is actually leaking somewhere. While there could be a number of different points where this is happening, one of those could be your body. Better to cut the power and allow a technician to find the source of the problem than to risk serious bodily harm, which could easily result in a fatality.

Where You Need a GFI Outlet in Your Home

Despite the fact that these types of outlets are in just about every home, one of the most common electrical code violations involves not installing a GFI outlet where it’s necessary.

Most people who decide to do their own wiring know that a GFI electrical outlet should be installed anywhere small appliances will need to draw a current. The kitchen and bathrooms are both obvious examples.

These outlets are also vital in any room where water is present as they provide protection if moisture ever mixes with the current. Again, kitchen and bathrooms are obvious spots, but outdoor areas are, too.

That said, many installers forget about other rooms where the protection of a GFI outlet could easily save a life. These include:

  • Boathouses
  • Crawl spaces
  • Garages
  • Storage areas
  • Sump pumps
  • Unfinished basements
  • Wet bars (if the outlet is within six feet of a sink)

Furthermore, a GFI electrical outlet can’t be reset if it’s not readily accessible. It shouldn’t be buried somewhere under a tub that lacks an access panel or up on a ceiling. While it will still be able to offer protection in these precarious locations, it will be almost impossible to reset, which means the outlet will soon become too impractical to use.

Always be sure to check with your local building authority, as well. They may have additional rules about where GFI outlets must be installed in your home. If your home was built before the 80s and never had its outlets updated, there’s a good chance you’re missing them where they’re necessary. Prior to the 80s, they were generally only required for pool areas. Nowadays, that’s no longer the case.

How To Install a GFI Outlet

Keep Your Home and Family Safe with a GFI Outlet

Although most of you have probably seen a GFI outlet before (the telltale sign is its “test” and “reset” buttons), keep in mind that your outlet could still be protected, thanks to a GFCI circuit breaker, even if it doesn’t display those buttons.

Therefore, it would be wise to have a professional inspect your home to make sure you have a GFI outlet not just everywhere one is required but everywhere one would be wise, too. This way, you can rest assured that your family and home are safe even in the event of a current leak.

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