GFCIs Fact Sheet
A "GFCI" is a
ground fault circuit interrupter. A ground fault circuit
interrupter is an inexpensive electrical device that, if installed
in household branch circuits, could prevent over two-thirds of the
approximately 300 electrocutions still occurring each year in and
around the home. Installation of the device could also prevent
thousands of burn and electric shock injuries each year.
The GFCI is designed to protect people from severe or fatal
electric shocks Because a GFCI detects
ground faults, it can also prevent some electrical fires and
reduce the severity of others by interrupting the flow of electric
Have you ever
experienced an electric shock? If you did, the shock probably
happened because your hand or some other part of your body
contacted a source of electrical current and your body provided a
path for the electrical current to go to the ground, so that you
received a shock.
An unintentional electric path between a source of current and a
grounded surface is referred to as a "ground-fault." Ground faults
ground-fault. Ground faults occur when current is leaking
somewhere, in effect; electricity is escaping to the ground. How
it leaks is very important. If your body provides a path to the
ground for this leakage, you could be injured, burned, severely
shocked, or electrocuted.
Some examples of accidents that underscore this hazard include the
- Two children, ages five and six, were electrocuted in
when a plugged-in hair dryer fell into the tub in which they were
- A three-year-old Kansas girl was electrocuted when she touched a
These two electrocutions occurred because the electrical current
escaping from the appliance traveled through the victim to ground
(in these cases, the grounded plumbing fixtures). Had a GFCI been
installed, these deaths would probably have been prevented because
a GFCI would have sensed the current flowing to ground and would
have switched off the power before the electrocution occurred.
HOW THE GFCI WORKS
In the home's
wiring system, the GFCI constantly monitors electricity flowing in
a circuit, to sense any loss of current. If the current flowing
through the circuit differs by a small amount from that returning,
the GFCI quickly switches off power to that circuit. The GFCI
interrupts power faster than a blink of an eye to prevent a lethal
dose of electricity. You may receive a painful shock, but you
should not be electrocuted or receive a serious shock injury.
Here's how it may work in your house. Suppose a bare wire
inside an appliance touches the metal case. The case is then
charged with electricity. If you touch the appliance with one hand
while the other hand is touching a grounded metal object, like a
water faucet, you will receive a shock. If the appliance is
plugged into an outlet protected by a GFCI, the power will be shut
off before a fatal shock would occur.
AVAILABILITY OF GFCIs
types of ground fault circuit interrupters are available for home
* RECEPTACLE TYPE
This type of GFCI is used in place of the standard duplex
receptacle found throughout the house It fits into the standard
outlet box and protects you against "ground faults' whenever an
electrical product is plugged into the outlet Most receptacle-type
GFCls can be installed so that they also protect other electrical
outlets further "down stream" in the branch circuit.
* CIRCUIT BREAKER TYPE
In homes equipped with circuit breakers rather than fuses, a
circuit breaker GFCI may be installed in a panel box to give
protection to selected circuits The circuit breaker GFCI serves a
dual purpose - not only will it shut off electricity in the event
of a "ground-fault," but it will also trip when a short circuit or
an over-load occurs Protection covers the wiring and each outlet,
lighting fixture, heater, etc served by the branch circuit
protected by the GFCI in the panel box.
* PORTABLE TYPE
Where permanent GFCls are not practical, portable GFCls may be
used. One type contains the GFCI circuitry in a plastic enclosure
with plug blades in the back and receptacle slots in the f rant.
It can be plugged into a receptacle, then; the electrical product
is plugged into the GFCI. Another type of portable GFCI is an
extension cord combined with a GFCI. It adds flexibility in using
receptacles that are not protected by GFCls.
WHERE GFCIs SHOULD BE
In homes built
to comply with the National Electrical Code (the Code), GFCI
protection is required for most outdoor receptacles (since 1973),
bathroom receptacle circuits (since 1975), garage wall outlets
(since 1978), kitchen receptacles (since 1987), and all
receptacles in crawl spaces and unfinished basements (since 1990).
Owners of homes that do not have GFCls installed in all those
critical areas specified in the latest version of the Code should
consider having them installed. For broad protection, GFCI circuit
breakers may be added in many panels of older homes to replace
ordinary circuit breaker. For homes protected by fuses, you are
limited to receptacle or portable-type GFCIs and these may be
installed in areas of greatest exposure, such as the bathroom,
kitchen, basement, garage, and outdoor circuits.
A GFCI should be used whenever operating electrically powered
garden equipment (mower, hedge trimmer, edger, etc.). Consumers
can obtain similar protection by using GFCIs with electric tools
(drills, saws, sanders, etc.) for do-it-yourself work in and
around the house.
and receptacle-type GFCIs may be installed in your home by a
qualified electrician. Receptacle-type GFCIs may be installed by
knowledgeable consumers familiar with electrical wiring practices
who also follow the instructions accompanying the device. When in
doubt about the proper procedure, contact a qualified electrician.
Do not attempt to install it yourself.
The portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to
TESTING THE GFCIs
GFCIs should be tested once a month to make sure they are working
properly and are protecting you from fatal shock. GFCIs should be
tested after installation to make sure they are working properly
and protecting the circuit.
To test the receptacle GFCI, first plug a nightlight or lamp into
the outlet. The light should be on then, press the "TEST" button
on the GFCI. The GFCI's "RESET" button
should pop out, and the light should go out.
If the "RESET" button pops out but the light does not go out, the
GFCI has been improperly wired. Contact an electrician to correct
the wiring errors.
If the "RESET" button does not pop out, the GFC1 is defective and
should be replaced.
If the GFCI is functioning properly, and the lamp goes out, press
the "RESET" button to restore power to the outlet.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission protects the public
from the unreasonable risk of injury or death from 15,000 types of
consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction. To report a
dangerous product or a product-related injury, you can go to
CPSC's forms page and use the first on-line form on that page.
Or, you can call CPSC's hotline at
(800) 638-2772 or CPSC's
teletypewriter at (800) 638-8270, or send the information to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Consumers can obtain this publication and
additional publication information from the
Publications section of CPSC's web
site or by sending your publication request to
email@example.com. If you would like to receive
CPSC's recall notices, subscribing to
the email list will send all press releases to you the day they
This document is in the public domain. It may be reproduced
without change in part or whole by an individual or organization
without permission. If it is reproduced, however, the Commission
would appreciate knowing how it is used. Write the U.S. Consumer
Product Safety Commission, Office of Information and Public
Affairs, Washington, D.C. 20207 or send an e-mail to
CPSC, ESFI Warn Consumers About Electrical Hazards In The Home
"Inspect and Protect!" Campaign Encourages Homeowners to Safeguard
ARLINGTON, VA - Summertime increases the demand for electricity and
raises the risk of fire in homes with older or damaged wiring systems.
Air conditioning equipment, electric grills, and attic fans are some
of the seasonal appliances that can place added stress and strain on a
home's electrical wiring and cause a potentially tragic fire.
Since electricity is uniquely unforgiving and can cause serious
injuries or death, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the
Electrical Safety Foundation International are joining together to
encourage consumers to protect their homes from electrical problems.
Between 1994 and 1998, the CPSC estimates that there were over 360,000
residential fires each year, of which over 123,000 were related to
electrical distribution or appliances and equipment, and another
15,000 were related to heating and air conditioning systems. These
electrical fires caused an estimated average of 910 deaths, nearly
7,000 injuries and nearly $1.7 billion in property damage each year.
Many of these incidents could have been prevented by having an
electrical inspection of the house to find hidden hazards.
This summer, CPSC and ESFI are encouraging homeowners to: 1) have an
electrical inspection conducted for homes 40 years and older, for
homes 10 years and older with major renovations or new appliances
added, or that have been resold; 2) learn the potential hazards posed
by aluminum wiring systems and contact CPSC if your home is among the
two million built with aluminum wiring between the late 1960s and
early 1970s; and 3) consider installing arc fault circuit interrupters
in place of ordinary circuit breakers, especially if your home is over
40 years old. AFCIs are new technology designed to prevent electrical
fires by sensing unseen electrical arcing. AFCIs are particularly
important where wiring may have degraded with age.
"The Commission has been working to prevent electrical fires for
decades. We are currently working with other federal agencies and
safety organizations on a major research project involving aged
electrical wiring," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. "Our best advice
for homeowners is to hire a licensed electrical inspector or
electrician to identify and correct hidden electrical hazards before
they become tragedies."
"Most of us are unaware of how dangerous electricity can truly be
within our homes," said Michael G. Clendenin, ESFI executive director.
"As summer begins, ESFI's goal is to inform consumers of common
household electrical hazards and empower them to protect their
families and homes. We hope homeowners will come to regard electrical
safety as an essential part of routine home maintenance."
It is important for homeowners to understand the severity of an
electrical wiring fire, as it often begins behind a wall, in a
basement or in the attic where the fire can spread throughout the home
before setting off the smoke alarm or becoming evident to occupants.
This reduces the amount of time available to escape a burning
Below are additional safety tips to help homeowners create the safest
- Make sure smoke alarms are installed on every floor outside
sleeping areas and in every bedroom, and are in good working order.
- Look for telltale signs of electrical problems such as dimming
of lights, frequent circuit breaker trips or blown fuses.
- Ask a qualified electrician if your home would benefit from AFCI
protection, especially during inspections of older homes or upgrades
to electrical systems.
- Limit the use of extension cords, particularly cords used to
power room air conditioners.
- Use light bulbs that are the proper wattage for the fixture -
higher wattage bulbs can degrade the wires in and around the
Founded in 1994, ESFI, formerly the National Electrical Safety
Foundation, is the nation's only non-profit organization dedicated
exclusively to promoting electrical safety in the home, school and
workplace. A registered 501(c)(3) organization funded by the nation's
top electrical manufacturers, independent testing laboratories,
electrical unions and associations, utilities and consumer groups,
ESFI sponsors National Electrical Safety Month each May, and engages
in public education campaigns and proactive media relations to help
reduce property damage, injury and death due to electrical accidents.
For more information and safety tips, please visit:
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