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Blog – The Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter or GFCI

Ground fault interrupters are very common in homes today and prevent many injuries associated with electricity. Most handheld hairdryers have a GFCI as part of their power cord. GFCIs have played a key role in reducing electrocutions. Greater use of GFCIs could further reduce electrocutions and mitigate thousands of electrical burn and shock injuries still occurring in homes each year.

The integration of ground fault is ongoing for over fifty years. The intention is especially for circuit outlets in particularly vulnerable areas such as where electrical equipment is near water.

The GFCI is designed to protect people from severe or fatal electric shocks. Because a GFCI detects ground faults, it can also prevent some electrical fires and reduce the severity of other fires by interrupting the flow of electric current.

What is a ground fault?

A ground fault is an unintentional electrical path between a power source and a grounded surface. The most common cause of ground fault is broken or damaged components. If your body provides a path to the ground for this current, you could be burned, severely shocked, or electrocuted.

How does ground Fault Work?

A GFCI constantly monitors current flowing through a circuit. If the supply and return current in the circuit differs by a very small amount (as little as 0.006 amperes), the GFCI interrupts power faster than a blink of an eye to prevent a lethal dose of electricity. A GFCI works on two-slot receptacles as it does not require a grounding conductor! GFCI’s were first used to provide protection on older ungrounded electrical systems in homes. They worked so well, they soon became the standard in all homes.

Here’s an example: A bare wire inside an appliance touching its metal case, will charge the case. If you touch the appliance with one hand while another part of your body is touching a grounded metal object, such as a water faucet, you will get shocked. To reduce the potential for shock, simply plug the appliance into a ground fault outlet.

Where to should they be installed and used?

The National Electric Code determines what circuits require ground fault. Current NEC code typically only applies to new construction and major renovations. The coverage of GFCI protection has gradually increased over the years. Even though many homes did not require GFCI, it is a good idea to upgrade for safety. Portable ground fault is available when not installed in required or dangerous circuits.

When were the changes made to the electrical code?

Below you will find the National Electric Code changes and most common effective dates.
1968 Underwater pool lighting
1971 Receptacles within 15 feet of pool walls
1971 All equipment used with storable swimming pools
1973 All outdoor receptacles
1974 Construction Sites
1975 Bathrooms, 120-volt pool lights, and fountain equipment
1978 Garages, spas, and hydromassage tubs
1978 Outdoor receptacles above 6ft.6in. grade access exempted
1984 Replacement of non-grounding receptacles with no grounding conductor allowed

In 1984 They added pool cover motors
1984 Distance of GFCI protection extended to 20 feet from pool walls
1987 They added unfinished basements, kitchen receptacles within 6 feet of a sink, and boathouses.
1990 Crawlspaces (with exception for sump pumps or other dedicated equip.)
1993 Wet bar countertops within 6 feet of sink
And in 1993 Any receptacle replaced in an area presently requiring GFCI
In 1996 All kitchen counters – not just those within 6 feet of sink, all exterior receptacles, and unfinished buildings below grade were added.
1999 Exemption for dedicated equipment in crawlspace removed
2003 Smart “Lock-out” type receptacles required (Mfg. requirement)
2005 Laundry and Utility sinks, as well as wetbar sinks.
In 2008 The NEC required receptacle outlets in damp locations to be listed as weather resistant. “WR” must show
2011 All receptacle outlets in unfinished basements, except permanently installed fire alarm or burglar alarm system.

2020 brings even further changes to GFCI requirements, however it may take some time for municipalities to adopt these new standards. To learn more about the changes in 2020, see the latest NEC explained.

To schedule your electrical inspection today, visit our online scheduler or call us at 701-578-8639.

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