Ground fault circuit interrupter GFCIs  (also referred to as GFIs) are safety devices installed for the purpose  of monitoring the flow of electricity flowing from a power source,  usually connected to electronic components. It’s not hard to believe how  important they are at your place of work and at home. A recent reminder  of a tragic fire event in London  is a wake up call for all business owners and homeowners that they need  to make sure they’re mitigating risks of fires. So what do GFIs do?  Through mitigating the amount of electrical power that flows through it,  a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) can prevent serious or even  fatal electrical shocks and electrical fires.

Because they play such an important safety role,  GFCIs are very important in both the home and the workplace.  Particularly in places such as kitchen and bathrooms where water is  prevalent, GFCIs can help to prevent electrocution when an electrical  leak is present so you can see how important they are in the workplace.  They also are very effective at prevent electrical fires that can result  from the shorting-out of a circuit. It’s important to note, however,  that GFCIs are not a failsafe protection against electrical shocks. They  are designed to minimize, not eliminate, electrical shocks. In an  incident when shock occurs, if a GFCI has been installed, the risk of  serious injury or fatality is greatly reduced.

GFCIs work by  monitoring the flow of electricity in a circuit. They achieve this by  keeping track of the amount of electricity that travels into a circuit  and the amount that returns to the circuit, detecting leaks as they  occur. An electrical leak happens when the amount of electricity that  returns to the device is lower than the amount of electricity entering  the circuit. When a GFCI detects a leak, it instantaneously causes a  disconnection in the circuit and causes all flow of electricity to  cease. When the electrical flow is cut off, electrical shocks cannot  occur.

GFCIs are extremely important in wet or damp environments  such as kitchens and bathroom, but also in garages, terraces, porches,  workshops, etc. that may be exposed to rain, snow, or other wet weather.  If you are buying a home that does not already come pre-installed with  GFCIs, it’s important to have a qualified electrician install them as  soon as possible for your protection.

Once they are installed,  it’s important to ensure that your GFCIs are working properly. You don’t  want to find out that they have been improperly installed when you  really need them to work! To ensure they continue to work, do a test and  inspection monthly. Do this by plugging in a lamp to the outlet and  pressing the test button. If the GFCI is working properly, the light  will go out and the reset button will protrude. If it’s not working, a  light will stay on to indicate a problem with the electrical wiring. In  that case, consult an electrician to fix it. Don’t attempt electrical  work yourself unless you know what you’re doing!

Even if you  aren’t going to install the GFCIs yourself, it’s a good idea to know  what the minimum requirements are. Note that these are just minimum  requirements. If you have additional features in your bathroom, for  example, such as a steam shower, you are going to require more GFCIs.  Generally, though, the requirements are one 20-mp rated electrical  circuit that is not used for anything other than the outlets in the  bathroom. All bathroom outlets should be GFCI protected.

Other bathroom requirements:

Bathroom sinks must have a GFCI receptacle installed within 3 feet from the outside edge of the sink

If you are replacing an older, non-GFCI receptacle in your home, in must be replaced by a GFCI-compliant one.

Some  types of bathroom lighting may not be installed above a bathtub or  shower stall or within a certain distance horizontally and vertically  over the top of the bathtub. These include track lighting, lighting on a  chain, cable, or cord, or lights connected to an outlet via a cord, and  ceiling fans.

Additionally, bathroom light fixtures must have  wiring that is concealed within the electrical box or fixture enclosure.  It’s not required that you install light fixtures above bathtubs or  shower stalls on a GFCI protected circuit, but the added safety measure  is never a bad idea.

Bathroom exhaust fans are another electrical  component that may be required to be installed under GFCI protection. If  you are going to install the exhaust fan directly above a bathtub or  shower, be sure to choose a product that is specifically designed for  that purpose and location, and always install fans in those locations on  a circuit protected by a GFCI.

Just as you have tested a GFCI in  any other room by plugging in a lamp to determine whether the GFCI is  working, to test whether a GFCI is protecting your exhaust fan, turn the  fan on and press the test button on one of the bathroom GFCI  receptacles. If the fan continues to run after the breaker is tripped,  it’s likely that the fan is not protected by the GFCI.

Final  advice about GFCIs: Don’t ever install an electrical panel in the  bathroom. There are far too many risks associated with having an  electrical panel so near to sources of moisture and water.

Even  though it can be a hassle to change over regular receptacles to GFCIs,  it’s more than worth it.  A properly installed  GFCI  could potentially be a life-saving investment. Without them, the risk  of electrical shock or electrocution is high, and although the  installation of GFCIs isn’t a guarantee that accidents won’t happen,  installing them will certainly go a long way toward mitigating the  potentially disastrous consequences that can result from a shock. Always  hire a qualified electrician to install your GFCIs for you, as poor  installation will cause gaps in the GFCIs functionality. Those gaps  could potentially cause serious injury and potentially even fatalities.

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