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What is GFCI?
Thursday, November 17, 2022
GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, and is sometimes shortened to just GFI. It is a device that senses when current has escaped from its defined circuit and is going to ground. Because the route to ground for the wayward electricity may be through a person’s body, especially where water is involved, it cuts off the circuit within a fraction of a second to protect from injury or death by electrocution.
The GFCI most people recognize is the one that’s at wall receptacles in the bathroom, kitchen, and other wet areas of a home. It has two pushbuttons, marked TEST and RESET. The TEST button creates a ground fault internally and trips the circuit to vertify that the device is still functional. Then the RESET button restores the circuit.
But GFCI's are available in several other formats to suit particular situations:
• Dead front GFCI - looks like a GFCI receptacle without the openings to plug-in a cord. It is often used to protect a circuit where the receptacle for a protected appliance, such as a spa tub, is in a compartment that is difficult to access to reset if it trips. Ideally, the dead front GFCI should be marked to idenify the circuit it protects. But that doesn’t alway happen.
• GFCI circuit breaker - integrates shock protection with the normal overcurrent safeguard of a regular breaker, and is recognizable by the TEST button on the face. Unfortunately, the TEST button does not automatically mean the breaker is GFCI, unless it is marked as such in tiny letters on the face. It could be an AFCI, CAFCI, or DFCI breaker.
• DFCI circuit breaker - stands for Dual Function Circuit Interrupter, and combines the protection against electrical fires of an AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) breaker with GFCI and overcurrent protection. Also has a test button, and marked with name on face of breaker.
• GFCI cord - has a GFCI device with TEST and RESET buttons built into the cord, usually just behind the plug. Required for portable plug-in spa tubs, hair dryers, and by OSHA for extension cords at construction sites.
GFCI and DFCI circuit breakers provide shock protection for their entire circuit, while the other device formats only protect anything downstream in their circuit.
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Field Guide for Home Inspectors, a quick reference for finding the age of 154 brands of HVAC systems, water heaters, and electrical panels, plus 210 code standards for site-built and manufactured homes, and the life expectancy rating of 195 home components. Available at amazon.com for $19.95.
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