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How Do GFCI Outlets Work & Does Your Home Need Them?

on November 10, 2017

GFCI outlets

Protect Your Home and Family with GFCI Outlets

A GFCI, or a ground-fault circuit interrupter, is a receptacle or circuit that constantly monitors the electricity flowing and is able to sense any loss of current. If there is an imbalance of current between the ungrounded and grounded conductor of a given circuit, the GFCI will cut off the power before it can cause an accident or electrocution. GFCI outlets can either be installed as a circuit or as a receptacle. The receptacle is the most common and it looks similar to a wall outlet. The receptacle sits right inside the individual power outlet and monitors any current going to that specific outlet.

The circuit GFCI is installed directly to your circuit breaker. This GFCI will protect all the wiring, lighting, receptacles and appliances down current from that circuit. It can be built into or added on to your electrical panel. It provides every power outlet on this line with full GFCI protection.

Why You Need Them

GFCIs help to protect your home and loved ones from accidents caused by faulty wiring and electrocution. They are a necessity for safety in all homes. Not only do GFCIs reduce injuries and accidents, they are required in certain areas of homes to meet the National Electric Code standards. For GFCI requirements according to the NEC standards, see below.

NEC Standards: Where You Need Them

  • Outdoors
  • Bathrooms
  • Kitchens
  • Wet bar sinks
  • Garages
  • Crawlspaces
  • Accessory buildings
  • Unfinished basements
  • For the use of power tools and electric lawn and garden equipment

Testing Your GFCI Receptacle or Circuit

GFCIs are electronic devices which means they can become damaged or wear out over time. They should be tested monthly and replaced about every 10 years.

Testing your GFCI outlet is simple. Just push the TEST button to turn off power to the circuit or receptacle. This should cause the RESET button to pop-up. Push the RESET button to re-establish power. If the power does not turn off then the receptacle isn’t working, and the GFCI will need to be replaced.

If your GFCI is from 2006 or later, the only reliable way to test it is to use a circuit tester that has its own GFCI test button. These can be purchased at most home centers and hardware stores. Just plug in the tester and press the TEST button.

A GFCI circuit breaker should have a similar TEST button. This will cause the handle to move to a position between being “tripped” and “on” and it will cause the power to the connected circuits to go off. To reset, flip the handle all the way to the “off” or “tripped” position and then flip back to “on”.

A home safety inspection can help you determine if you need any outlets replaced with GFCIs and if all your GFCIs are working properly. There are several DIY instructions online to help you change your current outlets to GFCIs. Your home’s electrical system is both complicated and potentially dangerous. These instructions may seem simple, but it requires a familiarity and understanding of your home’s electrical system.

Always work with a certified electrician when installing or repairing a GFCI. Not only will you be ensured that your home’s electrical system is up to code, you will have peace of mind that you and your home are safeguarded against electrocutions and fires.


For any questions about installations or repairs you may have about your home’s electrical system, call Mainstream at 866-411-9277. We have certified electricians with extensive experience to answer all your questions!