A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) is a protective device that breaks the circuit when there is an imbalance between incoming and outgoing currents. For example, if you are using your hair dryer in the bathroom and it comes into contact with water, the GFCI will quickly disconnect power, greatly reducing the risk of electric shock. In some cases, outlets will be linked to one GFCI device, so if any outlet experiences an imbalance in current, the GFCI will shut off power to all outlets in the chain.
In most cases, you will find GFCI outlets in wet areas. National GFCI requirements have been around for decades, with spaces like bathrooms requiring them in 1975 and kitchens starting in 1987. Still, some spaces have more recent requirements, such as laundry and utility sinks in 2005. This year, the National Electrical Code (NEC) even expanded GFCI requirements to basements both finished and unfinished as these areas are often not as well maintained and can easily become damp.
GFCI devices protect against electric shock, but they also lower the chance of electrical fire and reduce the severity of these fires by detecting ground faults. Ground faults are unintentional electrical paths between a power source, like your outlet, and a grounded area. They usually happen when equipment is damaged or defective so that electrical parts are no longer protected from unintended contact. Additionally, if you touch a malfunctioning device while it is connected to a power source, your body creates a path for the electrical current to the ground, which can have catastrophic results. That’s why GFCI devices are so important in places that we regularly use high power devices, such as kitchen appliances or hair dryers.
Another way to protect against electrical fires is with an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI). While the primary purpose of the GFCI is to protect people against electric shock, AFCI protects against fires caused by arcing faults in home electrical wiring. Much like ground faults, arc faults often occur when a device has damaged or deteriorated wires or cords, or an outlet is installed improperly. For example, if a couch is pushed against the electrical cord from a lamp, that cord can become damaged, exposing the wires, and an arc fault can occur. AFCI works in much the same way as GFCI. It senses the current, and if it detects an unwanted arcing condition, the control circuitry in the AFCI trips the internal contacts, de-energizing the circuit and reducing the potential of an electrical fire. AFCI is an excellent complement to GFCI technology in the home to get the maximum protection from electrical fires. Be sure to ask your electrician about installing an AFCI device when they are installing GFCI outlets.
As the list of places requiring GFCI protection grows, many older homes are not equipped with GFCI outlets up to current code. For example, according to current requirements, all outlets in the kitchen on the countertops or within six feet of the sink must have GFCI protection. If you are remodeling your kitchen, your remodeler must install these outlets up to the current code, no matter when your home was built. Unfortunately, some contractors will not include this cost in the original scope of work, bringing it up after work has begun and ultimately adding to the project cost and timeline.
Upgrading your outlets comes with exciting innovations as well. Consider adding hidden outlets under your cabinets, or even having them rise out of your countertop! Or you can upgrade your outlets with USB ports designed with smart charging technology, adding convenience and also preventing overcharging.
At Brothers, we live by our motto to treat all customers like family, and each home as if it were our own. That’s why we are committed to keeping your home safe by following all laws and building codes in effect at the time of your remodel. If you’re planning a project in your home, schedule a consultation today! Our experienced consultants and licensed electricians will guide you through the safest and most effective way to complete your home renovation.