How GFCI Outlets Work and Keep You Safe

November 10, 2020

Electrical standards in home construction have evolved significantly over the decades. Today, one of the ways homes must be built to meet electrical codes is to have GFCI outlets installed throughout the home, especially in areas like bathrooms or kitchens where there is a great potential for the outlet to be exposed to moisture.

To understand why every bathroom in Carlsbad, NM needs a GFCI outlet, it is important to have a thorough understanding of what GFCI outlets do. Here’s a quick overview of how these outlets work.

Protecting your home’s electrical systems

GFCI outlets are designed to protect people from electrical shock. The GFCI (which stands for ground fault circuit interrupter) is located in the outlet itself. Any time you plug in an appliance, the GFCI outlet will monitor the amount of power being sent to the device.

If the device you’re using accidentally falls into water (such as a hair dryer you’re using over a sink), the GFCI will detect the interruption in the current and cut off the power, likely saving you from electrocution.

You can easily determine if you have a GFCI outlet by checking to see if there are “test” and “reset” buttons located on the outlet, and usually a small light that indicates the outlet is currently providing power. The buttons might be the same color as the rest of the outlet, or they might be red and black.

A normal 120-volt outlet has two vertical slots and a round hole below them. The left slot, which is slightly larger than the right, is called “neutral” and the right is called “hot,” with the hole below being the “ground.” A properly working appliance will have all electricity flowing from hot to neutral. A GFCI tracks the amount of current going from hot to neutral, and flips the circuit if there is any imbalance. It does this fast enough that you will not be affected by any potential shock that occurs.

A ground fault occurs when hot wires touch any part of a grounded device, or the grounded part of a junction box. Moisture is one of the main causes of ground faults, and the consequences of such a ground fault can be severely dangerous, when you consider the fact that water conducts electricity.

You should make sure to test GFCI outlets in your house on a regular basis—about once a month or so—as they will eventually wear out. Press the reset button and plug in a device. The device should turn on. Then push the test button. If the GFCI is working properly, pressing the test button should cut the power and turn off the device, and pressing the reset button again after that should turn the device back on. Most GFCI outlets will last about a decade.

Interested in learning more about how GFCI outlets work and why every bathroom needs a GFCI outlet? We encourage you to contact our team of electricians in Carlsbad, NM at JB Electric LLC with any questions you have.

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