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Why GFCI Outlets Are Crucial for Home Safety

by Ultimate / April 20, 2023

Outlets are more important to the safety of your home and loved ones than you think! These small and seemingly trivial objects act as a gateway to electricity, which is powerful enough to cause serious injuries and even death if misdirected. When things are working correctly, electricity flows from the right prong of a device’s plug and then back through the left prong. But, electricity likes to take the shortest route to the ground, which is called a “ground fault.” A ground fault can be planned, such as returning the electricity to the ground via a wire, or unplanned. Unfortunately, unplanned ground faults at home can lead to electrocutions, as the current may inadvertently pass through a person's body.

Protect yourself and loved ones against electric shocks, fatal electrocutions, and electrical fires by using ground fault circuit interrupter (GCFI) outlets.  

What a GFCI Is

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GCFI) monitors electrical current and shuts off power if it detects a ground fault. GFCIs take 1/30th of a second to shut down after noticing a power difference of only 0.006 amperes. There are three types of GFCIs: receptacle-type (like an outlet), circuit breaker, and portable (used often in construction). The most common type looks like a wall outlet. You can tell if your outlet is a GFCI outlet if it has “Test” and “Reset” buttons on it.

Why GFCIs Are Important

Decrease Electrical Injuries

The human body is mainly made of water and offers no resistance to electrical currents. That’s why touching a faulty electrical item and closing a ground fault’s path is so dangerous. Before the National Electrical Code required GFCIs inside homes in 1975, there were over 1,100 deaths by electrocution. Since then, there’s been an 80% drop to roughly 200 deaths per year. The threat of electric shock is greatest near areas of moisture since water is a natural conductor of electricity, which is why residential electrical codes require GFCI installation in the following spaces:

  • Bathrooms
  • Garages
  • Spas and hot tubs
  • Kitchens
  • Unfinished basements
  • Crawlspaces
  • Sinks
  • Laundry/utility rooms
  • Outdoor hardwired outlets

Electric shock has many ramifications that vary based on the electrical current’s strength and length of time in contact. Just 0.01 amperes causes muscles to freeze, while two seconds of 0.01 amperes through the body can kill a person. GFCIs trip power after detecting a shift of only 0.006 amperes, saving lives in just 1/30th of a second. 

Other health risks include electrical burns to the skin and harm to internal organs. If the electrical current passes through your heart, it can cause arrhythmia, ventricular fibrillation, and cardiac arrest. Potential brain damage like headaches, memory loss, and confusion can occur if the electrical current goes top-down through your body.

Protects Against House Fires

In addition to electric shock, electricity causes death secondarily through fire. The National Fire Protection Association estimates 47,600 house fires involved electrical failure or malfunction annually from 2015-2019, resulting in 390 deaths and 1,330 injuries each year. Homes are at risk of electrical fire if insulation isn’t covering wires, either from old age or potential rodent interference. Because GFCIs automatically shut off after detecting a ground fault, they are also great for preventing electrical fires.

Prolongs Appliance Functionality

Appliance insulation wears down over time and causes electrical leaks into the appliance. If the outer shell of the appliance is metal, the leakage will cause electrical shock if touched. The leakage also damages the appliance regardless of the outer material. The GFCI outlet senses the power imbalance from the leak and trips the circuit. It will also trip the circuit when wiring shorts from a power surge, saving appliances from malfunction.

How to Test a GFCI Outlet

Homeowners should test GFCI outlets every month and after electrical storms. Although most of the population doesn’t test their GFCI outlets regularly, it’s very easy. Just press the “Reset” button, plug a nightlight into the GFCI outlet, and the light should turn on. Then, press the “Test” button, and the light should go off. If it doesn’t turn off, that means the GFCI outlet isn’t tripping power and needs replacement by your local electrician. GFCI outlets wear down over time and last between 5 to 15 years at most.

GFCI outlets are a simple but effective way to save you and your family from immense electrical danger. They’ll also prevent damage to your property, keeping your home safe from electrical fires and protecting appliances. There should already be GFCI outlets in your home if it was built in 1975 or later. However, 1999 was the final year that adjustments to the National Electrical Code were made, so there could be places where GFCI outlets are missing in your home if it was built before then.

Reach out to the Ultimate team to install or replace your GFCI outlets! Then you’ll be confident your home is up to code, and you won’t have to worry about ground faults injuring you or your loved ones.

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