Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets are an essential safety feature of modern electrical systems. They work to prevent a dangerous ground fault that can occur when water comes into contact with the outlet or its wiring. Here is some information about common places in your home where you should have GFCI outlets installed by professional electricians. We also discuss the importance of testing GFCI outlets regularly.

Water and High-Demand Appliances

GFCI outlets are commonly associated with areas that are commonly wet. Water is a great conductor and can cause the electrical current to flow out of the circuit and into the water. This results in much more current flowing through the circuit than it’s designed to safely handle. When too much current flows through the circuit, the wires may become red hot. Overloaded circuits can start to melt or potentially catch fire if there is no breaker to shut them off. If you were to touch a hot outlet that was exposed to water, the current can also flow out of the circuit and severely electrocute you.

GFCI outlets are designed to prevent these problems. They essentially act like an internal circuit breaker that will instantly stop electricity from flowing to the outlet if the current rises above a certain level due to water or other factors.

Another instance where a GFCI is useful is in locations where high-demand appliances are used. These items have a high amperage requirement and may overload a circuit if too many other items are being used at the same time. A GFCI will stop electricity at the point where the appliance is plugged in without disturbing any lights or other items plugged into the circuit that are between the breaker and the GFCI. Examples of high-amperage items include power tools, hair dryers and some kitchen appliances like toaster ovens or air fryers.

GFCI Outlet Regulations

The National Electrical Code (NEC) mandates that any outlet near a water source or that could ever potentially be exposed to water is a GFCI outlet. Specifically, GFCI outlets are required for all power sources that are located within six feet of a sink, shower or bathtub. This means that most of the outlets in bathrooms, laundry rooms and utility rooms should be a GFCI. This is also true for any outlet near your kitchen sink.

The 2023 update to the NEC expanded the requirements so that all new homes must use GFCI outlets in every power receptacle in the kitchen, regardless of its distance from a water source. The rules for commercial buildings aren’t as strict as those for residential buildings. They still limit GFCI requirements to any outlet near a water source.

Outlets that are located near your water heater also have to be GFCIs. Basements and crawl spaces are often damp and can be prone to flooding. Because of this, the NEC also mandates that all outlets in these areas should also be GFCIs. GFCI outlets are required for outlets in your garage and outdoor outlets. Most experts also recommend installing GFCI outlets in your attic due to the risk of a leaky roof or condensation buildup.

One important thing to note is that you are only required to bring your home’s electrical system up to the current code requirements when doing any remodeling or renovations. However, if your electrical system isn’t up to code, it may create issues if you wish to sell your house. During a home inspection, the inspector will note the lack of GFCIs and anything else that doesn’t conform to code in the report they provide to the prospective buyer. This may result in the buyer requesting GFCI outlets or negotiating to get the estimated cost of the installation taken off of the total purchase price.

A major reason to upgrade to GFCI outlets where needed is for your safety. A ground fault caused by an outlet being exposed to water is by far one of the most serious electrical issues. It can easily cause a catastrophic fire or electrocution. GFCI outlets will instantly shut off the electricity to the outlet if it’s ever exposed to water or experiences a ground fault.

Grounded Wiring and Older Homes

If your wiring is very old, it may not be grounded. You will know this is the case if your 110V outlets have two rectangular slots side-by-side without the third, lower round slot. Three-prong plugs have a ground connection attached to them. The NEC did not require grounded wiring to be standard until January of 1974, so you can also use the year that the home was built as a clue to whether you need to check for this.

GFCI installation requires a ground in the wiring. If your wiring is not grounded, you will need to also upgrade your home’s wiring in order to properly install GFCIs. This is a much larger job that is best performed by a licensed electrician. It may also require an upgrade to your home’s breaker panel. This is also a good idea to consider if you are charging a smartphone, laptop or other sensitive electronics through an ungrounded outlet.

The Importance of Testing Your GFCI Outlets Regularly

Since 2015, the NEC has required that all new GFCI outlets be self-testing. Self-testing outlets will perform a check at least a few times an hour to make sure that the circuit interrupter is functioning correctly.

All self-testing GFCIs are required to produce visual or auditory signals to alert you when the internal circuit interrupter doesn’t work. On most outlets, you will see a green light that indicates when the GFCI is working, and the light will be orange or red if the GFCI isn’t working as expected. Some outlets will also produce a loud beeping sound when not working for the same reason. Auditory GFCI testers are good for homes with vision-impaired residents and for outlets in locations that you don’t typically see, like crawl spaces.

Some self-testing outlets also have a lockout feature that will prevent you from plugging anything into the outlet if the GFCI isn’t working. However, they cannot remove items already plugged into the sockets.

Whether your GFCI outlets are self-testing or not, you should make sure to perform a manual test of each outlet monthly. The process for testing the outlet only takes a few seconds. In the middle of the outlet are two buttons that are used to test the outlet. The outlet should stop working when you test it, which you can confirm by volt meter or by plugging a small light or other item into the outlet to check. You can then reset it after the test. If the light doesn’t go out, it indicates that the GFCI isn’t working properly. In this case, you should avoid using the outlet and contact an electrician for help.

At HR Phoenix, we can help if you need new GFCI outlets installed or any other electrical installation service. We also specialize in rewiring and all types of electrical repairs. We serve both commercial and residential customers in Richland Hills and throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Give us a call today if you need to schedule a service appointment or if you have any questions.

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