GFCIs are devices that help protect against electrical shocks due to ground faults. They are required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) in all wet or damp locations such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements, garages, and workshops. Important reminder: GFCIs can become damaged over time, so they must be tested monthly to ensure they are providing protection.
Ground fault protection is vital in protecting you from the risk of electrical shock, as well as other very good reasons! GFCI receptacles, commonly used for bathroom receptacles, have saved countless lives and could save more if they were more widely used by the consumer.
You could also provide GFCI protection to a circuit by installing a GFCI breaker in your service panel. The old scenarios in movies of electrical appliances dropping into a bathtub to electrocute the unsuspecting bather could not happen in a bathroom properly wired with GFCI protection. Old hair dryers are especially hazardous in wet areas since they have no fault protection built into their design. New hair dryers do have safeguard; it is in the little box at the plug-in. Additionally, working with power tools, especially outdoors, is one of the most hazardous applications for electrical power. Whether using a drill in the garage or working outside on the swing set, your feet are on conductive material. If the tool has a hot-wire-to-frame fault, current will flow from the tool and into your hand, making the muscles contract, which in turns tightens your grip and makes it functionally impossible for you to release the tool. The current flow continues through your arm, body, and heart before finally traveling through your legs to the earth. If this happens on a ground-fault protected circuit, you will feel like somebody jabbed you with a needle. Immediately thereafter the GFCI will open the circuit and the current will stop.
Facts & Tips
The National Electrical Code (NEC) designates the circuits that require GFCI protection. These requirements as listed below, along with its effective date in paranethesis:
- Underwater pool lighting (since 1968)
- Outdoors (since 1973)
- Bathrooms (since 1975)
- Garages (since 1978)
- Kitchens (since 1987)
- Crawl spaces and unfinished basements (since 1990)
- Wet bar sinks (since 1993)
- Laundry and utility sinks (since 2005)
You may also want to consider portable GFCI protection whenever operating electrically-powered garden equipment (like mowers, hedge trimmers, edgers, etc.) and with electric tools (drills, saws, sanders, etc.) when performing do-it-yourself work in and around your home.