What is GFCI protection? GFCI or GFI as it is commonly referred to, stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. To better understand what GFI protection is and its importance, lets first take a look at this table to better understand how electricity may affect your body if you come into contact with it.
If you notice, the minimal effect is up to 5 milliamps which creates a slight tingle. A slight tingle is no fun, as getting shocked is not anyone’s idea of great entertainment. However, at this level you are still relatively safe and most likely still standing to live another day compared to the other levels. Now that you know up to 5 milliamps is the minimal effect you will better understand the importance of GFI protection and why it's important that your electrical receptacles that you and your loved ones are plugging into near a water source are GFI protected in some form.
GFI protection devices come in many forms, with the GFCI receptacle and the GFCI breaker being the most commonly used by electrical contractors. The example picture shows two varieties of both a receptacle and breaker type GFCI device. A GFI device is designed to shut down or open the circuit if it detects a large enough leakage of current to ground that can occur if you come into contact with electricity.
This process takes less than a 10th of a second for the GFI to detect 4 to 5 milliamps and open the circuit stopping the current flow. Contact can occur in many different forms; however, the most common situations occur around a water source while doing common activities such as drying your hair, using a kitchen appliance, or standing on a wet surface.
The human body has a large content of water, making us a great conductor of electricity therefore, the chances of getting shocked increase when we are subject to water outside the body on our skin. This reduces the resistance of our skin giving electricity a much easier path to the inside of our bodies. Electricity will always take the quickest and easiest path, even if that path is through our body. If our body becomes the quickest and easiest ground path, we become the source of travel for electricity.
Finally, let’s talk about the steps you can and should be doing to best protect yourself and your loved ones from a potentially deadly electrical shock.
First, make a checklist of all the areas in your home that are subject to water contact. Areas like bathrooms, kitchens, basements, outdoor receptacles are all good locations to add to the checklist.
Second, physically check those areas to make sure a GFI protected receptacle is present. If you don’t see a GFI receptacle, check your electrical panel for a breaker that is labeled for the areas on your checklist to see if there is a test button indicating a GFI breaker.
Third, if GFCI protection is present check the device to make sure it is functioning. Press the test button and follow by pressing the reset button. The device should shut off power and reset when tested. This indicates the device is functioning properly.
And fourth, if you find that an area on your checklist is not GFI protected, call a licensed electrical contractor to discuss installing GFI protection in any unprotected areas. This could be one of the most important calls that you make.
All too often we get so busy with the hustle and bustle of everything going on in our everyday routine and we fail to take in account the many other details that keep us safe.