A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, or GFCI, is a special purpose circuit breaker. It is not tripped by a current surge or overload, but by a difference in amperage between the hot and neutral wires. Such difference can be caused by leaking to ground (for example, when someone standing on a wet floor touches a short circuited toaster).
There are two types of GFCI’s, circuit breakers that are installed in the distribution panel, and individual receptacles.
GFCI receptacles are less expensive than the circuit breakers, and they protect only those appliances plugged into that receptacle and those plugged into downstream receptacles. A GFCI circuit breaker protects every appliance plugged into the circuit.
Code requires GFCI protected receptacles in any potentially wet area. That includes all kitchen counter tops, and in bathrooms, garages, unfinished basements, crawlspaces, and outbuildings (with some exceptions). Wet areas also include any outdoor locations, such as porches and decks.
An exception to the areas above include a dedicated outlet for a refrigerator/freezer. These appliances may trip a GFCI when there is not danger of shock and spoil the food. Also, GFCI’s will not work with any appliance that has a ground wire connected to its case, such as ranges, cook tops, and clothes dryers. GFCI’s are not recommended to be used with medical equipment, sump pumps, or other critical equipment that must operate in an emergency.
Every GFCI receptacle has a test button on its face. Homeowners should test them every month, by pushing the test button. It should trip and turn off the power to that receptacle, than push in the reset button to energize the receptacle.
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