In almost every home that I inspect, I find at least one area where a GFCI is either missing, or not functioning properly. What's a GFCI?? Everyone should be familiar with GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets. They're another important safety component that needs to be tested regularly; just like the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
These devices actually shut the power off in the event of a ground fault.
Simply explained, a GFCI is a device that turns the electric power off when it detects that the electrical current is flowing in the wrong path; such as through water or a person. A GFCI outlet should be installed whenever the outlet is within 6 feet of damp/wet areas. That means: Bathrooms, Kitchens, Laundry Areas, Unfinished Basement or Crawl Areas, Exterior, and Garage.
The OSHA website definition is: "The ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is a fast-acting circuit breaker designed to shut off electric power in the event of a ground-fault within as little as 1/40 of a second. It works by comparing the amount of current going to and returning from equipment along the circuit conductors. When the amount going differs from the amount returning by approximately 5 milliamperes, the GFCI interrupts the current.
The GFCI is rated to trip quickly enough to prevent an electrical incident. If it is properly installed and maintained, this will happen as soon as the faulty tool is plugged in. If the grounding conductor is not intact or of low-impedance, the GFCI may not trip until a person provides a path. In this case, the person will receive a shock, but the GFCI should trip so quickly that the shock will not be harmful."
Now, if you didn't get the part where it said "if it is properly installed and maintained", you need to review it again. These devices have a notice on them similar to smoke and c/o detectors to; "TEST MONTHLY". As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, I see many that are not functioning, or simply not installed. This is NOT something that should be taken lightly. It's your's and your love ones' lives that are at stake!
To test a GFCI you simply follow the instructions. Push the TEST button, and you should hear a "snap", and the power should go off (if you have something plugged into the outlet). Simply push the RESET button to engage the outlet again. If the outlet does not shut off, or if it will not reset, there is a problem; you should have a qualified electrician review the outlet. Do not delay!
This photo shows that I am pushing the test button, but my outlet tester is still lit. This GFCI has a problem that should be reviewed further. It can be a wiring problem, or a faulty GFCI outlet.
So, review your home, and make sure GFCI outlets are installed in the proper areas (or that GFCI breakers are in the main panel). Next step is to test them regularly. If you do not have them installed, or if they are not functioning properly, contact an electrician.
If you're not sure about your home's electrical and want some advice, you can always contact me; I'll try to help. Be safe!
ASHI Certified, Pinnacle Inspections strives to give our clients the best reporting and advice. They regularly ask "how" to get things done, and hopefully we can share some useful tips or products on this blog.