GFCI: Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters – Test them often!

After 15 years of being an inspector, and after having inspected over 5,000 homes, there’s one fault that tends to come up every once in a while, which really shouldn’t… a failed Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.  For those of you who don’t know what these are, they are the electrical outlets with the two “test” and “reset” buttons on them, that you tend to find in washrooms or outside.  GFCI outlets have been around for a few decades now, and are required for any outlet that is within one metre of a water source, or any outlet located outside, or for any circuit which exclusively powers a water device such as a hot tub, swimming pool pump, etc.  So… What do they do exactly?  GFCI outlets have a special breaker in them which sense when a leak-to-ground occurs.  What that means, is if there were to be a short circuit with your hot tub pump, or you were to drop a hairdryer in a sink full of water, the GFCI-protected outlet will automatically trip (shut-off) the circuit before you get electrocuted.  That being said, you can see the importance of testing your GFCI outlets on a regular basis.

Testing a GFCI outlet is one of the simpler things in life.  All you need to do is simply press the “test” button, and you should immediately hear an audible “click” sound, as the “reset” button pops out.  As an extra measure, I also recommend that you test the outlet when tripped to make sure it is truly dead.  This can be done simply by plugging in an electrical device such as a hairdryer or electric shaver and verifying that there is no power to it.  Testing your GFCIs should be done on a regular basis, as they do tend to fail after a while, which will lead to either the breaker not tripping when you press the test, or the breaker does trip but the power remains on.  When they do fail, a replacement GFCI outlet only runs between $15 and $25 and is relatively simple to replace.

Those of you with newer homes, may notice that only one of your washrooms has a GFCI outlet, while the others have regular grounded outlets.  This is done deliberately as all the bathroom outlets are on the same circuit, and therefore by making the first outlet a GFCI receptacle, it will automatically protect all remaining outlets on that circuit.  I can’t begin to count how many phone calls I’ve received from clients stating that their washroom outlets are dead, when the cause is actually just a tripped GFCI in their downstairs powder room!  I then inform them that I did test all washroom outlets, and the washroom outlets are deactivated likely because the GFCI in the main floor powder room is tripped.  They then reset the breaker, and sure enough, voila!

So, remember everyone, test your GFCI outlets, and test them regularly.  You never know when your life may depend on it, especially if you’re like me and tend to be a little clumsy first thing in the morning!

Happy Home-owning!

Eric Parent

2017-02-23T06:25:05+00:00March 31st, 2016|Electrical|Comments Off on GFCI: Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters – Test them often!