What the heck is a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)?

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)

The average home has several built-in safety features many of us often overlook.  Increasing innovation in safety technology is often the driving factor for these features to be installed in new homes.  But how does the new safety technology get installed in older homes?

Updating building codes and State/local ordinances is the method used to ensure new life saving technologies is installed in older homes.  The average home exchanges ownership about every 8 years, and is remodeled every 15 years.  By requiring safety upgrades when the home is purchased or remodeled ensures the housing stock in a given community is reasonably up to date with systems which may had not been available when the home was constructed.

Ground fault circuit interrupters are an electrical safety feature found in modern homes since the 1970s.  Typically identifiable as outlets in your kitchen, bath or garage with little black and red, or two little white buttons.  They may be installed in a breaker configuration in your service panel.  They work to keep you from getting shocked or worse when near water.

“Electricity flows like water through a circuit. The GFCI measures this flow; if the device is operating properly, the flow into and out of the device should be the same. If the GFCI detects a slight leak of current (perhaps through your body), it immediately disconnects the circuit. That’s where the term “ground fault” comes from – the GFCI detects that the current is “grounding” when it’s not supposed to.” (Used with permission, Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix It)

Initially, GFCIs were required for swimming pools and exterior outlets.  Here in California, they are now required in new construction at all exterior outlets, all kitchen counter top wall outlets, all bathroom wall outlets,  the garage, plus outlets within 6 feet of any other sink and crawlspace outlets at or below grade.  If you are fortunate to have a boathouse, outlets there are required to be GFCI as well.

Your home inspector should, at a minimum, comment on the presence or lack-there-of, of GFCIs in any home being inspected and alert you to areas in which they are missing or not working correctly.  Please be aware, if an older home has not been modified since its original construction, there is no requirement to add additional GFCI’s, other than common sense.  Only when the home is being remodeled and a permit is issued is when upgrades to GFCI’s maybe required.

North American Home Services has been providing home inspection services to the greater Sacramento region for over 10 years.  We have completed thousands of inspections on residential and commercial buildings.  Our home inspectors are highly regarded and qualified.  Each is certified through the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors and remains current on all aspects related to providing the best home inspection services.


California Building Code Title 24, Part 3

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