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 current.
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 following:
- Two children, ages five and six, were electrocuted in Texas when a plugged-in hair dryer fell into the tub in which they were bathing.
- A three-year-old Kansas girl was electrocuted when she touched a faulty countertop.
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
Three common types of ground fault circuit interrupters are available for home use:
* 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 CONSIDERED
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.
Circuit breaker 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 install.
TESTING THE GFCIs
All 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 email@example.com. Consumers can obtain this publication and additional publication information from the Publications section of CPSC's web site or by sending your publication request firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 are issued.
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CPSC, ESFI Warn Consumers About Electrical Hazards In The Home
"Inspect and Protect!" Campaign Encourages Homeowners to Safeguard Homes
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 building.
Below are additional safety tips to help homeowners create the safest home possible:
- 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 fixture.
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: www.electrical-safety.org.