Have you ever noticed that some of the outlets in your home have buttons but don’t know why they are there or what they do? Those outlets are called Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, or GFCI outlets for short. Modern building code has required GFCI outlets be installed in homes since at least 1971.
Before GFCI’s, hundreds of people died every year from electrocution in the home. Today, that number is significantly lower. GFCI’s protect people from accidental electrical shock by sensing the electrical current flowing through the circuit and breaking the circuit when an imbalance is detected, such as when a hairdryer falls into a sink full of water. GFCI’s are different than the home’s circuit breakers in the breaker panel. Circuit breakers are designed to be the weak point in the circuit to protect the electrical system in case of a fault. Circuit breakers were solely designed to protect you in case of an electrical fault.
You can most easily identify GFCI outlets by the two buttons on the face of the outlet. One is a test button and one is a reset button. To test the functionality of the safety device, you need to press the test button. Pressing the test button removes power from the outlet and you should hear a click. To reset the outlet back to normal, just press the reset button and everything should work as it should. I recommend testing all your GFCI outlets monthly. Every now and then I’ll come across faulty GFCI outlets during home inspections any typically the homeowner isn’t even aware of the problem.
Today GFCIs are required to be installed in areas that are susceptible to contact with water, such as bathrooms, kitchens, garages, and all exterior outlets. It’s common for homeowners not to have GFCI outlets in all the required locations because current building code is not retroactive, and back in the day, the requirements were not so strict.
If you do not have GFCI’s installed, I recommend you have a licensed electrician out to install the new outlets to improve your home’s overall safety of your home. GFCI outlets can cost anywhere between $15.00 to $60.00 each.