Protect yourself with GFCI outlets or breakers

Sagging roof? Tipped foundation wall? Asbestos

wrapped furnace ducts? While these situations may

catch the eye of a home inspector, none of them

are as scary to us as something we see on a much

too regular basis - something that poses an

immediate danger to the occupants of the house

under inspection.

There, in the bathroom - an electric toothbrush,

balanced precariously at the edge of a sink, plugged

into an unprotected outlet (worse yet, an older type,

two prong ungrounded outlet). Or a hair dryer, once

again plugged in, and dangling from a towel bar

above the bathtub.

If the toothbrush fell into a sink full of water, and

without thinking, someone reached in to fetch it -

ZOT !!! Toast! If the hair dryer slipped off the towel

bar and into the tub during a bath or a shower -

ZOT !!! Permanently curled hair!

You can protect your family from dangerous

situations like this with a simple fix - the

installation of a ground

fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI outlet or breaker. The

older type two-prong ungrounded outlet, and even a

modern three prong grounded outlet, should be replaced

with a GFCI protected outlet. It’s a quick job for an electrician

and the outlets cost only $10 to $20 dollars apiece.

What happens in these situations is that the electric current escaping from the appliance travels through the human body to ground. If a GFCI outlet had been installed, it would have sensed the current flowing to ground and automatically switched off the power, within a few hundredths of a second. The victim might feel a quick shock, but it would not be fatal.

The GFCI is an automatic device that protects against electrical shock. They have been a part of the electrical code for many years but their use is now required or recommended in more situations than ever.

They should be installed in any area where an electrical shock hazard might exist -

bathrooms, kitchen counter outlets, outdoor outlets and fixtures, basements, garages, saunas, hot tubs, swimming pools - wherever there is potential for contact between a person and an electrical appliance in or around water, water pipes, or moisture.

The two most common types of GFCI protection are the outlet and the breaker. The GFCI outlet is a replacement for any standard outlet and can be wired to protect other outlets connected to it. The GFCI breaker controls an entire circuit and is installed in your main electrical panel, replacing a regular circuit breaker. It will protect against ‘ground-fault’ situations as well as short circuits and overloads. The GFCI breaker cannot be installed in a panel that uses fuses. Both types of GFCI’s have push buttons for testing, and can be reset.

If you already have GFCI protection in place, it should be tested occasionally. When you press the button labeled ‘test’ and the GFCI does not trip, or won’t reset, then it may be lacking a ground wire or has been connected improperly. Also, there may be a wiring short in the circuit, a defective appliance on the circuit, or the GFCI itself has become defective. We often find defective GFCI ‘s - they just seem to go bad occasionally, quite often when you attempt to test them.

The best way to trouble shoot a GFCI is with a GFCI tester, available at most hardware stores for less than $20. It’s a simple device and easy to use and understand.

If your home is older and the branch wiring the cloth covered type and does not contain a ground wire, then the installation of GFCI protection will be more difficult and expensive, as some new wiring may have to be added - but the expense is well worth it!

Campbell and Davies LLC    201 Dey St Suite 211 Ithaca, NY 14850   

607 216 0036    fax 607 216 0402   


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