GFCI Outlets: How Do They Work?


According to the Electrical Safety Foundation (ESFI), a non-profit organization entirely dedicated to promoting electrical safety in our homes and workplaces, “there were 136 electrical fatalities in 2017.” The ESFI continues, “There were 2,210 nonfatal electrical injuries in 2017, an increase of 35% over 2016.”

Each year, Americans die because of electrical accidents – fatalities directly caused by electric shock. While many of these deaths occur in the workplace, some of them occur in our own homes. Many of the victims of electric shock are children who were unsupervised, or who were being supervised by parents who were not educated about electrical safety.

GFCIs Reduce Electrical Accident Deaths

There were only 136 fatalities from electric shock in 2017, but before the use of ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) became common and widespread, the deaths from electric shock were in the ballpark of 800 a year.

Nowadays, it’s hard to come across a home or business that isn’t outfitted with GFCIs, especially in rooms with water, such as bathrooms and kitchens. They’re also standard outdoors in places exposed to the elements – rain, snow, and also sprinklers.

Since GFCIs were adopted by electricians and homebuilders, the annual fatality rate from electric accidents has dropped from around 800 annual deaths to 200 or less – this is amazing, but we still have work to do to get those fatalities down closer to zero.

How GFCIs Work

How do GFCIs work? For starters, they’re a type of outlet but they are unique because they are specifically designed to reduce the risk of electric shock, especially in areas like bathrooms and kitchens that have water.

For example, if you’re in the bathroom and you plug in a hairdryer in the GFCI outlet, it will monitor how much power is going into the hairdryer. But if you accidentally drop the hairdryer into a tub or sink full of water, the GFCI will detect the interruption in the current and it will automatically cut the power going to the hairdryer – this could save your life.

Next: 3 Signs of a Home Electrical Problem

How do you know if an outlet is a GFCI outlet? It’s easy. It will have a yellow Test and red Reset button. It may also have an indicator light that is built into the outlet.

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