The Difference Between GFCI and Regular Outlets

Every year, hundreds of people die from electrical shocks. Thankfully, thanks to GFCI outlets and breakers, those deaths are now very rare.

GFCI outlets, also called GFI outlets, work on the principle that electricity always wants to find a path down to ground and away from energized parts of a circuit. That includes locations like your bathroom with tons of moisture, which are prime conductors for electricity.

GFCI Outlets Are Designed to Detect Ground Faults

Before GFCIs became standard in most homes, about 800 people died from household electrocutions each year. Today, with GFCI outlets in place, these deaths have dropped to less than 200 each year.

GFCIs work by keeping tabs on the electrical current running through the outlet and cutting power, or ‘tripping’ it in a split second when they detect that electricity isn’t flowing the way it should. The system is so fast and sensitive that it can react to a mismatch as small as 4-5 milliamps, and cut the power before the electricity can affect your heartbeat.

To keep tabs on the current, GFCIs have two vertical slots and a hole in the center that is slightly larger. When an appliance is plugged in, the electricity flows from the top slot (called hot) down to the neutral slot and through the grounding wire. If the GFCI detects that electricity is flowing through something other than the path it should be (like a person or water) it will trip.

Like any man-made device, GFCIs wear out over time and should be tested about once a month by pushing the test button. A good GFCI will turn off the flow of electricity and display a red light when it’s working properly. Older outlets that don’t have a built-in test button may need to be replaced with a newer model that does feature one.

They Are More Durable Than Regular Outlets

There are many electrical safety devices that can protect you from dangerous shocks. One of the most popular is a GFCI outlet or receptacle. This device replaces a standard receptacle and can also protect other outlets “downstream” (any outlet that is receiving power from the GFCI). Often referred to as GFI in the electrical industry, these devices are very inexpensive, easy to wire and provide a high level of protection against fatal shocks.

They are required in kitchens and bathrooms, laundry areas, garages, basements and outdoor outlets. They are even required in some commercial buildings. The National Electric Code (NEC) mandates them for use in any area where the risk of electrical shock is greatest.

These devices detect a short circuit by monitoring the current flow between the hot and neutral wires. If there is an imbalance of 4 or 6 milliamps, the GFCI receptacle or circuit breaker will trip and shut off the electricity in less than a thirtieth of a second.

This is very different from a house fuse, which works by tracking down and disabling slow electrical leaks like the ones incurred when a nail punctures an outlet cord. GFCIs prevent deadly shocks by shutting off the electricity in milliseconds before it can cause serious damage or even death. If you are interested in having a GFCI installed in your home, you should contact a professional electrician such as Promise Electric. We are licensed and insured, so you can rest assured that your home is in good hands.

They Are Designed for Use in Wet Areas

Most homes today have standard outlets in living spaces. They look similar to light fixtures, with two vertical slots and a hole centered below them. The left slot is called neutral, the right is hot, and the ground pin sits underneath and connects to both. A GFCI outlet looks the same as a regular outlet, but has an internal sensor that can detect even a slight mismatch in current flow. If it senses a problem, it cuts power instantly and protects against electrical shock.

GFCIs are a crucial safety feature for wet areas, like bathrooms and laundry rooms. They monitor the current flowing in and out of plugged-in devices, and break the circuit when an imbalance occurs. The imbalance may be caused by a wire touching water, or it could be that the current is taking an alternative path than it should — such as through you (electrical shock).

If your GFCI outlet has popped out or won’t stay in when you push the red reset button, it’s time to call a professional electrician. They can inspect the outlet and determine if it needs replacement or if the breaker that controls the outlet is tripped in your breaker box. They can also help you figure out why the GFCI isn’t working, and how to fix it. This is a good opportunity to replace your old two-prong outlets, too.

They Are More Affordable

GFCI outlets, also known as ground fault circuit interrupters, guard against electrical shock by monitoring the flow of electricity. They are recognizable by the ‘test’ and’reset’ buttons on the outlet face and can be installed anywhere in the home. However, they are most commonly seen in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and garages. The National Electric Code (NEC) requires them for receptacles located within six feet of sinks in the kitchen and bathroom, as well as receptacles located outside or in unfinished basements.

Having the right type of outlet in these wet areas is important for safety and will decrease your chances of electrical shocks. If you’re interested in upgrading your existing outlets to GFCI outlets, consult with a local certified electrician to determine the best route for your project. The cost of GFCI outlets will vary depending on the location, size and number of new outlets required.

If you have an old, worn out outlet in your house, replacing it with a GFCI outlet will save lives and prevent serious injuries. Whether your outlets are in the kitchen, bathroom or elsewhere, a GFCI will keep your family safe from deadly electrical shocks. To find out more, contact your nearest CORL Technologies office and schedule a consultation with a certified electrician.