Avoiding Shocks with GFCI's

Women getting a shock

What is a ground fault?
A ground fault is an unintentional electrical path between a power source and a grounded surface. If your body provides a path to the ground for this current, you could be burned, severely shocked or electrocuted.

What causes a ground fault?
Ground faults most often occur when appliances, tools or power cords are damaged or defective. A bare wire is exposed or can contact the inside of the metal case. The case is then charged with electricity. If you touch the bare wire or case and also touch a grounded metal object, such as a water faucet, you will get shocked.

What is an Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)?
GFCI's are designed to protect people from severe or fatal electric shocks. They can also prevent some electrical fires due to ground faults and reduce the severity of other fires by interrupting the flow of electric current.

GFCI's are made two ways: as a special type of circuit breaker or as a special type of duplex receptacle. Both have a microcomputer inside. The GFCI constantly monitors current flowing through a circuit. If the current flowing into the circuit differs by a very small amount (0.006 amperes) from the returning current, the GFCI interrupts the power to prevent a lethal dose of electricity. GFCI's are designed to operate before the electricity can affect your heartbeat.

A GFCI receptacle

Where are GFCI's needed?
The circuits that require GFCI protection are designated by the National Electrical Code. The coverage of GFCI protection has gradually increased over the years.

  • Underwater pool lighting (since 1968)
  • Outdoor receptacles (since 1973)
  • Bathroom receptacles (since 1975)
  • Garage receptacles (since 1978)
  • Kitchen receptacles (since 1987)
  • Receptacles in crawl spaces and unfinished basements (since 1990)
  • Wet bar sink receptacles (since 1993)
  • Laundry and utility sink receptacles (since 2005)

What should you do?
GFCI's save lives by stopping fatal shocks and some fires. If your electrical system does not have this protection, we recommend you add it.

Can you have both AFCI and GFCI protection on the same circuit?
Yes, we recommend that you do. This is accomplished using an AFCI circuit breaker and a GFCI receptacle.

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