Monday, June 09, 2008

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

In the summer, people tend to look for ways to light up outdoor spaces for family gatherings, like patios, yards and pool areas. While warm weather brings people outdoors, it is important to be careful when using electrical devices, whether it is a gardening tool, a bug zapper or even just a radio.
Although summer is a time for fun, it's worth it to take a few minor safety precautions that could prevent a major mishap. Most importantly, do not use electrical appliances in wet area — ever ! Be careful using cords around pools, ponds or damp areas. Even wet grass can create a hazard. If you must use electrical appliances around these locations, be sure to use only Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protected outlets or extension cords that have the GFCI built into the cord.

Why do I need Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs)?
GFCIs can help prevent electrocution. "Ground faults" are often the result of damaged appliance cords or consumers who use electrical products in wet environments, such as bathrooms or swimming pool decks. GFCIs detect any leakage of electrical current in a circuit that might be flowing through a person using an electrical device. When such a loss is detected the GFCI turns electricity off before serious injuries or electrocution can occur.

There are three types of GFCIs. The most common receptacle type GFCI, is similar to a common wall outlet. Additionally, circuit breaker GFCIs are often used as replacements for standard circuit breakers and provide GFCI protection to all receptacles on that individual circuit. Temporary or “plug-in” GFCIs are frequently used in outdoor settings with electric tools, mowers, trimmers and similar devices. Temporary GFCIs should never be used as a permanent alternative to a regular GFCI.

How can I install GFCIs in my home?
An estimated 400 million GFCIs are installed across the country, but there are still many older homes without GFCIs. By installing GFCIs in every home in the United States, the U.S. Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that more than two-thirds of the approximately 300 electrocutions occurring each year could be prevented!

Consumers are encouraged to use a qualified electrician to install receptacle and circuit breaker-type GFCIs. The portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to install, but it does require testing before every use.

Do I have to test the other GFCIs in my home?
Like all electronic devices, GFCIs can be damaged or wear out, and may need to be replaced over time. Many consumers, however, don't check their GFCIs to verify they are working. And while the electrical receptacles in a GFCI may continue to function, the GFCI circuit may no longer work. As a result, the National Electric Safety Foundation (NESF) encourages a simple test once a month and after any violent thunderstorm.

Whether you have a receptacle-type or circuit breaker-type GFCI, pushing the TEST button should turn off the power of the circuit.

To test a receptacle-type GFCI:

Push the RESET button located on the GFCI to assure normal GFCI operation.
Plug a nightlight (with an ON/OFF switch) or other product (such as a lamp) into the GFCI and turn the product ON.
Push the TEST button located on the GFCI. The nightlight or other product should go OFF.
Push the RESET button again. The light or other product should go ON again.
If the light or other product remains ON when the TEST button is pushed, the GFCI is not working properly and a certified electrician should be called in to assess the situation and, if necessary, rewire or replace the GFCI.

Testing your circuit breaker GFCI:

• Locate the circuit breaker box.
• Verify that the breaker toggle is in ON position.
• Press the TEST button on the circuit.
• The toggle switch should snap to the TRIPPED position.
• RESET and return the toggle to the ON position. Power will be restored.

If the circuit breaker fails to trip when the test button is pressed, it must be checked by a qualified electrician immediately.

GFCIs are Not a Replacement for Common Sense Safety
It is important to remember that GFCIs are only back-up safety devices — you must always use common sense with electrical products. Be sure to take extra care wherever water and electricity are present. Even with GFCIs, electricity and water do not mix.
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