What are GFCI outlets, and what are they used for? This is one of the most common questions our electricians receive. If you live in a very old house with the original electrical system, you probably don’t have any GFCI outlets anywhere. But if you’ve been in a newer home recently, you may have noticed GFCI outlets all over the bathrooms and kitchen. Keep reading for a breakdown of what a GFCI outlet does, and why they are installed in certain parts of a house.
First, we need a little background information about electrical plugs in general. A typical power outlet has three holes. The left side slot is wider than the right side, and is the “neutral” side. The right slot is the “hot” side. The round hole beneath the two slots is the “ground.” When an appliance is working correctly, all of the electricity it uses will flow from the hot side to the neutral side.
GFCI plugs constantly measure the amount of electricity flowing to and from the appliance. If there is even a slight imbalance, the GFCI plug will cut all power to the appliance. An imbalance in power flow often indicates that some of the electricity has been diverted from the plug through, say, a human body.
The GFCI plug reacts to the imbalance very quickly – as fast as one-thirtieth of a second. The plug trips in order to protect people from electrical shock, which can easily become deadly. Water is often a component of a deadly shock scenario in the home. This is why modern building codes require GFCI outlets to be installed in parts of the home where water is often present – bathrooms, kitchens, basements, garages, patios, and porches.
GFCI plugs can be installed in older homes with aged wiring. This will provide a better level of protection against electrical shock, even if ground wires are not used. The GFCI plugs will display a sticker that says “NO EQUIPMENT GROUND.” The GFCI receptacle will still stop the flow of electricity when it detects an imbalance, but appliances plugged into it will not be grounded.
A safer option would be to have your older home rewired. This will not only put a ground wire through the home, but replacing old and worn wiring is a good idea anyway. The older the electrical system is, the more likely you will have problems running electronics and appliances. Older electrical systems are also responsible for numerous house fires each year.
Upgrading to GFCI outlets should be left to your trusted electrician. When it comes to working with electricity, you can’t use too much caution. A good electrician will quickly and correctly install GFCI outlets for you, immediately increasing the safety of using appliances in your home. If you have more questions about what are GFCI outlets, call Arc Angel at 770.889.9243.