Wow! That Was A Close One!

19 January 2011

 

I have one goal in writing this post, and that is to stress the extreme importance of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protection. GFCI protection is required in bathrooms, garages, unfinished basements, outdoor outlets and all outlets servicing kitchen counters.  As the building codes and standards of practice have evolved, GFCI’s have been recommended in more places than they originally were.  There is a reason for that.

 

This is an eyewitness account of the importance of GFCI protection.  It happened right in my own home and it even shocked me.  No pun intended.  If you don’t have GFCI protection on all the outlets servicing your kitchen counters, you may want to make sure you get it………soon!

 

A few days ago I was in the kitchen making some lunch.  I opened the toaster oven, put the food in and turned it on.  Nothing happened.  The light didn’t come on and the element didn’t start glowing.  A few quick looks around and I noticed the GFCI a few outlets away was tripped.  I thought it was odd, and reset it.  It immediately popped again and I was again without power to my toaster oven.  It was odd to say the least. 

 

Cord was melted and bonded to the toaster oven.

After a little more investigating I noticed the power cord for the ‘under the cabinet’ radio was stuck to the stainless steel of the toaster oven.  When I removed the wire I noticed it was melted and the bare wire was showing.  This was allowing the AC power from the radio to flow directly through the grounded outer shell of the toaster oven.  The GFCI had done its job!

 

Without GFCI protection for that outlet, if I touched the stainless steel on the toaster oven, I could have provided an alternate path for the electrical current to travel and may have been electrocuted.  Like I said in the title, that was a close one.    

 

Many homeowners assume that a GFCI outlet is only needed near water.  I proved that to be a false assumption.  Please don’t assume anything where safety is concerned.  If you have a question about this or any other safety issue in your home please call.  If we can’t solve it with a phone call maybe a Maintenance Inspection is in order.

 

Thanks for reading. 

 

David Novalinski Sr.

About Your Home Inspection, Inc.

847 669 9040 

 

In February 2010 we discussed the difference between circuit breakers and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI’s) in an entry titled “Do circuit breakers and GFCI’s do the same thing?”  If you would like to go back and read that entry, click here.

 

Now that we all understand what a GFCI does, we need to know where they need to be installed to offer the required protection.  There are specific guidelines to follow for the proper placement of GFCI’s.  These can be found in the most current edition of the National Electrical Code (NEC), which is published every three years.  

 

Atypical GFCI outlet.

According to the NEC it is required to provide GFCI protection in the following locations:

  • All receptacles serving kitchen counters
  • All bathroom receptacles
  • All exterior receptacles except de-icing equipment without ready access
  • Receptacles located six feet or less from laundry, utility or wet bar sinks
  • All garage and unfinished basement or crawl space receptacles
  • Receptacles in boat houses

 

There are some exceptions to these standards and there also very specific requirements for receptacles near or servicing pools and spas.  If you have a question about those locations feel free to call our office. 

 

The NEC is in itself not a law.  Many state and local jurisdictions adopt some or all of the NEC as their code.  Although the code is updated every three years, some jurisdictions do not immediately adopt the new edition.  It is always best to check with your local building department with specific questions for your area.

 

Thanks for reading!

David Novalinski Sr.

About Your Home Inspection, Inc.

847 669 9040

A GFCI or ground fault circuit interrupter is a device used to protect people from electrical shock while a circuit breaker or fuse is meant to protect a house from an electrical fire.  Both are very important and require proper installation to be effective.

 

A typical GFCI outlet.

A properly sized circuit breaker or fuse, when properly installed, will disrupt an electrical circuit before the wires heat up enough to start a fire. If too large of breaker or fuse is installed, the wires will overheat before the circuit is interrupted and quite possibly start a fire.  That is why it is essential to use the proper size breaker or fuse for the circuit it is protecting.

 

A GFCI has a totally different purpose than fuses and circuit breakers.  As I stated previously, a GFCI circuit is meant to protect people from electrical shock.  In order to understand this a little better, a short course in Electricity 101 is in order.

 

A basic circuit in a home has three wires: a hot wire, a neutral wire and a ground wire.  If an appliance that is plugged into an outlet is working properly the electricity will flow from hot to neutral.  A GFCI monitors the amount of current flowing from hot to neutral. If there is any imbalance, it trips the circuit.  It is able to sense differences as small as 4-5 milliamps and can interrupt the circuit in as fast as 1/30th of a second.

 

With that in mind, let’s say you are using a tool with a metal casing.  If for some reason the hot wire comes in contact with the metal case, the electrical current will flow through you to get to ground rather than flowing back through the neutral wire.  This could be a devastating scenario that could cause death.  The GFCI would recognize the drop in current from the hot to the neutral and trip the circuit.

 

This is a very basic explanation of electrical circuits in your home to help you understand the importance of properly installed GFCI’s, circuit breakers, and fuses.  If you have any concerns about the electrical circuits in your home, especially if it you have an older home, it’s time for you to call and schedule a Maintenance Inspection.

 

David Novalinski

About Your Home Inspection, Inc.

847 669 9040