A GFCI outlet is a ground-fault circuit interrupter outlet that you typically see in kitchens and bathrooms. You can easily spot a GFCI outlet by the extra push-buttons (usually labeled “reset” and “test” on the face). In the Houston, this type of outlet is required to be installed whenever the outlet is located near water, which is why you’ll most likely find these outlets in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room and outside.
GFCI devices are approved for protection against electric shock trip at 5 milliamps within 25 milliseconds – fast enough to prevent a human from being electrocuted. If you were operating a hand mixer and standing near a sink full of water, and you accidentally lose grip on the mixer and it falls into the sink while you are still in physical contact with the mixer, a GFCI will help save your life.
Check out this video on how to test and install GFIC to your home.
Home inspectors test the operation of GFCI’s as part of their evaluation. They may also recommend the installation of GFCI receptacles near plumbing fixtures. But they weren’t always required. So how can you resolve disagreements about the presence or absence of GFCI receptacles? Let’s first talk about safety, then the requirements.
What is a ground fault circuit interruptor (GFCI) anyway?
A “ground-fault” is an unintentional flow of electricity between a source of electrical current and a grounded surface. Without protection, electrical shock can occur if a person comes into contact with an energized part. For example, if a person is holding a damaged electrical cord from a hair dryer and touches a plumbing fixture, they could be electrocuted. They would certainly get a painful shock.
A GFCI receptacle constantly monitors an electrical circuit. If it detects even a slight flow of electricity to a grounded item, it immediately shuts off the flow of electricity. This protects people from electrocution. It is particularly important to protect people where they could come in contact with exposed grounded items such as plumbing fixtures.
How is a GFCI different from a regular circuit breaker or fuse?
If too much electricity flows through a wire, it will get hot. Sometimes it can get hot enough to start a fire inside the walls of a house. Traditional circuit breakers protect your house from fires by shutting off the flow of electricity to a wire when there is too much demand for electricity. This can happen when too may items are plugged into a circuit. That’s why a power strip can be dangerous if there are too many electric items plugged into it. Circuit breakers do not protect people from electrocution. Their purpose is to protect you from a fire.
When and where are GFCI receptacles required?
GFCI receptacles were required in houses starting in 1971. Originally they were only required at the exterior of the house and by swimming pool equipment. Over the years, GFCI receptacles have been required in more locations such as garages, bathrooms, kitchens, etc. The following table applies to most municipalities, but some local codes may be different. Please check with your local building department.
In an older home there may be no requirement for GFCI’s to be installed. The seller is not required to upgrade the receptacles unless the electrical system has been modified. So if the kitchen in a 1950’s house has been remodeled, and receptacles have been added or moved, they must be upgraded to GFCI receptacles if they are within 6 feet of a plumbing fixture. This applies to bathrooms too. So when your home inspector suggests upgrading certain receptacles to GFCI receptacles, please know that he has your safety in mind. The seller may not have to upgrade the receptacles, but you should do it for your family’s safety.
Do GFCI Outlets Need to Be Professionally Installed?
These outlets are easy to install, which means most homeowners can do it on their own. However, if you aren’t comfortable dealing with electricity, then hiring a qualified electrician to install the GFCI outlet(s) in your home is a wise choice. Call (713) 812-7070 us for your home service and repair needs.
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