Some of the most common questions homeowners have are, "What are GFCI receptacles? Why do I need GFCI receptacles? And where should GFCI receptacles be located?"
Let's start with the first question, "What are GFCI receptacles?" First of all, you might not be familiar with the term "receptacle". Receptacle is simply the correct term for what most people call an outlet. It is the device in your wall that you plug your lamps, chargers and small appliances into. So what is a GFCI receptacle? GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. It is a rectangular shaped receptacle that has two small buttons on it. One will be labeled "test" and the other will be labeled "reset" (see picture below). So what does it do? Well, it does exactly what the name implies; it interrupts the circuit when electricity flows from the energized "hot" conductor to anywhere other than the neutral conductor. It does this by sensing the amount of current flow on both the energized and neutral conductors. If current is "leaking" elsewhere, like through your body, the GFCI receptacle will sense that there is less current flowing through the neutral conductor than the energized conductor and will interrupt the circuit, stopping the flow of electricity.
This leads to the second question, "Why do I need a GFCI receptacle?" The answer is to prevent you or one of your loved ones from being electrocuted. In order for a person to be electrocuted, their body must be touching an energized conductor (or something connected to an energized conductor) and a path to ground. An example of this is if you have a sink full of water and you accidentally drop your hair dryer or immersion blender into the water and without thinking, you reach into the water to pull it out. What happens is that you are now connected to the energized parts inside the appliance via the water and you are also connected to ground via the water and the plumbing pipes. The electricity can now flow through your body and you are being electrocuted. The good news is that this can be prevented if the appliance is plugged into a properly functioning receptacle, the flow of electricity will be interrupted when the difference in current between the energized and neutral conductors is extremely low, preventing dangerous amounts of electrical current to pass through your body.
And the final question, "Where should GFCI receptacles be located?" This can be a hard question to answer in a blog for a few reasons. The National Electric Code (NEC) is updated every three years and each time it's updated, the guidelines change. An installation which met code requirements a few years ago might not meet them now. But any receptacle in a room with water can potentially require GFCI protection. This includes, but is not limited to: bathrooms, kitchens, garages, unfinished basements, patios, porches, anywhere outdoors, near swimming pools and spas.
Now, if you don't see a GFCI receptacle in these areas, you might still be okay. One GFCI receptacle can be used to protect other standard receptacles that are on the same circuit. In some situations, you might not see any GFCI receptacles because the standard receptacles are being protected by a GFCI circuit breaker. If you are not sure if your home and your family are adequately protected by GFCI devices, give us a call at (717) 269-6183. Mid Penn Electrical Services will be happy to help you make sure that your family is protected from accidental electrocution.