Safety electrical outlets…What on earth are those?  Have you ever noticed when you plug in your hair dryer or electric shaver in the bathroom that the outlet doesn’t look like the others?  When you probably noticed it for the first time, the little kid inside you couldn’t help but touch the button in the middle of that outlet.  You heard an audible click and wondered if you just armed a trap?  You are not alone; there are many who couldn’t resist pressing the button on safety electrical outlets.

Let me tell you what these cool little gizmos that you’ll find around your house are all about and how they could save your life. They are called Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters or simply GFCIs and are circuit breakers designed to protect against electrical shocks. They work by constantly monitoring the current flowing through a circuit. If they detect a spike in the current, they quickly interrupt the power, preventing the risk of electric shock.

The most important thing you need to remember from all the technical gibberish, is that when you are using the hair dryer and you slip into a bath full of water, the GFCI outlet into which your hair dryer is plugged in is going to trip and unpower the device within milliseconds of it hitting the water.  Not only do GFCIs help prevent electrocution but they also help to prevent electrical fires by keeping electrical devices and wiring from overheating.

You may have heard of these safety electrical outlets as a “GFI” (Ground Fault Interrupter).  GFI and GFCI are often used interchangeably, but they refer to the same type of electrical safety device. The difference in terminology is primarily a regional variation.

You noticed how I said that you’d find these outlets throughout the house, there’s a reason for that.  It all started in 1971 when the National Electrical Code required GFCI in outdoor receptacles and then bathrooms became a requirement in 1975. The requirements have grown since based on the success of reducing electrocution. They are now found in garages, crawl spaces, basements, laundry rooms and areas where a water source is present

Most recently the 2023 update of the National Electrical Code requires GFCI protection in all kitchen receptacles, expanding the GFCI requirements.  GFCIs are also required by OSHA to be used commercially and since its inception have saved numerous lives. 

Sometimes you won’t see the GFCI in a room that you would clearly expect it to be in. For instance a master bathroom where water is constantly present may not have a receptacle with a RESET/TEST button.  That seems strange, right?  One cool thing about GFCIs is the downstream capability, meaning the same safety feature you get from a GFCI outlet is automatically applied to all other outlets wired further down on the same circuit, as long as the outlets are wired properly.

So when you trip your hairdryer, you need to check the other bathrooms in your house for a GFCI outlet.  Same thing applies for all other areas that were previously listed; garage, kitchen, etc. If you’re not getting power to an outlet, first check a nearby GFCI.

Like all devices, GFCIs are not bulletproof and can be faulty.  Listed are some of the most common reasons of what could go wrong with your safety electrical outlets:
    • Bad connection, loose parts.
    • No power supply to the receptacle.
    • The GFCI outlet has gone bad.
    • Power turned off to the circuit breaker.
    • GFCI outlet incorrectly installed.
    • Ground fault wiring issues.
To prevent these occurrences, you should inspect and test your GFCIs monthly– Now you have a reason to press that cool little button on that outlet more frequently.
  1. Visually inspect the GFCIS for damage, wear and discoloration.  Ensure the Test and Reset are intact and functioning properly.
  2. Press the TEST button to simulate a fault which will cut off power and then press the RESET button to restore power.  If the GFCI doesn’t reset, check for loose wires.
  3. Use GFCI testing devices that can be plugged into the outlets
  4. Replace aging GFCIs– most have a lifespan of 10 years.  There are multiple videos and sites that provide instructions, however due to the risk of fire and electrocution, this should be done by a professional.
  5. Check outdoor GFCIs seasonally
  6. Consult a Professional if you have issues with any of the testing or if your GFCI keeps tripping
At Hi-Tech we want you and your family to feel safe and at ease in your homes.  It’s important to ensure you conduct routine maintenance and testing of your GFCIS to prevent hazardous risks.  Reach out to us if you have any issues with your monthly testing and we’ll help you with restoring the safety of your home.