Since about 1975 GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) type safety devices have been required in residences. They are every bit as important to your safety as a working smoke detector! GFCI safety outlets and circuit breakers have saved countless lives, and prevented many electrical shocks. These safety devices come in two types, circuit breaker and outlet. Originally only the circuit breaker type was available, but today the outlet type is more common primarily because they are less expensive and more readily available.

 GFCI’s are basically required in any area where water, grounded surfaces, and people can all come together. Outlet’s installed outside, in garages, kitchens, bathrooms, by swimming pools and hot tubs are all required to be GFCI protected.

 The locations in your home that have GFCI protection depends on several factors. First when the home was built (if built after 1975). Another factor is when an outlet is replaced in any of the area’s where they are now required, code says that a GFCI type outlet shall be installed. The final reason you may have them is a home inspector’s report that said they need to be installed.

 There is an easy way to tell whether you have GFCI protection. First look in your electrical panel and see if any of the breakers have a yellow test button (if the test button is blue it is an arc fault breaker –to be covered another time– not a GFCI). If you don’t see any of the breaker type then you probably have the outlet type. Look around for outlets that have a test, and reset button on them (in the locations listed above). If you do have them be sure to test them monthly by pushing the test button. The unit should trip. Push the reset button to reactivate it, or push the breaker back into the on position. If the unit doesn’t trip, or won’t reset consult a licensed electrician to locate the problem, or to replace the bad unit. You can try replacing the unit if you are capable, but be careful because if you don’t wire it properly it will not work and you can actually create a hazard rather than preventing one.

 Another use for GFCI outlets is for old two wire type outlet replacement. The code allows the two wire outlets to be replaced with new 3 wire type as long as the circuit is GFCI protected. The outlets must also be labeled “GFCI protected – not grounded.” The outlets will not be grounded but it is considered to be a safer installation than just the old two wire style outlets.

 To protect you and your loved ones GFCI protected outlets should be installed in your home sooner than later. Many home inspectors require that they be installed where code now requires them. Having them installed now will prevent having to have them installed on short notice to complete the sale of your home, and you just might save a life.

To find out more, please give us a call at 360.705.4225

 Jim Simmons, Washington State licensed Master Electrician