If you’re looking to create an electrically safe environment at home, then you’re probably wondering “what’s a GFI used for and where should I install them?”. This article provides answers and must-know information regarding GFI outlets.
Also known as GFCI, a ground-fault circuit interrupter outlet is a specialized outlet designed to pick up any imbalance in your house’s electrical current and cut the power off to the culprit outlet to protect any electronics against damage and prevent shock hazards.
What is a GFI Outlet and What is it Used for
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As the name suggests, this outlet is meant to prevent ground faults. The term ground fault refers to when electricity moves to the ground unintentionally, usually because of damaged cables and defective wiring, where electricity escapes from insulated cords and move through another conductor.
This conductor may be a human, which could have grave consequences such as electrocution. The conductor could also be water -an excellent electrical conductor-, which can increase the risk of experiencing a ground fault in places at home where water is typically used, such as bathrooms and kitchens.
As such, GFCI outlets are the best solution to prevent electrical damage and shock in case water gets in the outlet or splashes against a plugged-in device. If that happens, a GFCI outlet will immediately cut off the current
Then, once it becomes safe to restore electricity in the said outlet, all you need to do is just press the reset button.
Where Should You Install a GFI Outlet
To ensure your and your family’s safety, you should install GFI outlets in multiple locations around your house including the following:
- Bathrooms and laundry rooms — any outlet in bathrooms inside the house should be equipped with GFI outlets. If you have a laundry room, the washing machine outlet should be fitter with a GFI outlet.
Similarly, if your laundry room has a utility sink, you should install GFI outlets onto any outlet within 6 feet of it.
- Kitchens and basements — any outlet close to the sink or large appliances should be of the GFI type. As with any sink, any outlet within a 6 feet range has to be a GFI outlet.
Additionally, if your basement is still in progress or you have an unfinished crawl space, make sure all the outlets located there are GFI outlets due to being high-moisture rooms.
Of course, if your basement is already finished, having GFI outlets installed is a good idea to stay on the safe side especially if you didn’t install a sump pump or your house is in a flood zone.
- Garages and sheds — if you have a garage, a shed, a storage room, or any indoor or outdoor space that isn’t “habitable”, you should equip it with GFI outlets.
- Outdoors — outdoor outlets such as those for porch light, exterior speakers, or any device near pools and hot tubs should be of the GFI variety.
Can You Install GFI Outlets Yourself
If you’re into DIY projects and you have primary knowledge of electrical wiring, then installing a GFI outlet in place of an existing outlet should be an easy enough task for you to handle as long as you’re replacing a 3-prong outlet.
If it’s a 2-slot outlet, this means the wiring is somewhat older and it’s best to leave the job for a licensed electrician.
How to Install a GFI Outlet
If you’ve decided to install a GFI outlet in place of an old outlet on your own, then be sure to follow the lead of the steps below.
What you’ll need
- A flat screwdriver
- Phillips screwdrivers
- A GFI outlet with cover
- A Flashlight
1. Cut off the electricity flowing to the outlet in question by shutting off the corresponding circuit breaker at the main panel.
If you want to make sure that the electric current is really cut off, grab a nightlight and plug it into the outlet then switch it on while the breaker is still on. Now, turn off the breaker and observe: if the nightlight does turn off as well, this means you’ve shut off the wrong breaker and you should try a different one.
2. Using a flat screwdriver, take off the outlet cover. You may need the help of a flashlight (ask someone to hold it for you) because the overhead light may not be working now as well.
3. Using a Phillips screwdriver, take the existing outlet out of the outlet box. In most cases, the outlet is fastened via 4 screws; 2 at the top and 2 at the bottom. When you unscrew those screws, removing the outlet will be very easy since the only thing that’s holding is the wiring.
4. Locate the 3 attached wires as indicated below and remove them using a Philips screw:
- On one side of the outlet, there’s a black wire linked to a gold or brass screw.
- On the opposite side of the outlet, there’s a white wire linked to a silver screw.
- At the bottom of the outlet, there’s a copper or green wire linked to a green screw.
5. Connect the new GFI outlet in the same order you detached the old outlet. Be sure to follow the color-coded sequence above. Note that you’ll find 2 extra screws on the bottom of the new outlet covered by tape. Don’t remove the tape or try to work these as they’re meant for use in advanced wiring.
6. Using a Phillips screwdriver, attach the GFI outlet to the outlet box.
7. Using a flat screwdriver, fasten the new outlet cover over the GFI outlet.
8. Switch on the circuit breaker once again.
9. Push the reset button to turn on the GFI outlet.
10. To test the new outlet, plug in a nightlight then push the test button. The GFI outlet is working properly if the nightlight turns on. Otherwise, you may need to seek a professional electrician.
As you can tell by now, GFI outlets are built to save you from getting severely shocked and prevent electrical damage to appliances, especially if they come in contact with water.