Grounding and Ground Faults

Grounding in electrical terms refers to a conducive body, usually the earth. Appliances and tools are grounded by creating a low-resistance route to the earth. When correctly grounded, a current from a short will follow this route, stopping voltage accumulation which can result in electrical shock, injury or death. OSHA defines a ground fault as an occurance where “there is a break in the low-resistance grounding path from a tool or electrical system.”

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI)

The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) outlets to be installed in any area within six feet of a water source including kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms. GFCI outlets are safety devices which take the place of a standard electrical outlet and quickly break an electrical circuit, preventing serious shock and injury. You can easily spot a GFCI outlet as they include buttons labeled ‘test’ and ‘reset’ which control the GFCI function; many times the buttons are also black (test) and red (reset) for easier identification.

GFCI outlets continuously monitor the current going to an electrical device and returning from the device to detect imbalance. If the amount going differs from the amount returning by approximately 5 milliamps the GFCI will quickly shut off the electricity.

Testing GFCI Outlets

Like any home component, GFCI outlets can stop working over time, therefore it is recommended that GFCI outlets be tested regularly. There is no need to hire an electrician as homeowners can easily test these outlets themselves by following these steps:

  1. Press the ‘test’ button on the GFCI – you will hear a click indicating the circuit has been shut down
  2. Confirm the power is off by plugging in a lamp or another small appliance; disconnect the appliance 
  3. Press the ‘reset’ button on the GFCI which should turn the circuit back on
  4. Check the power by plugging the appliance back in

If the GFCI fails this test it should be replaced as soon as possible.

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