What Are GCFI and GFI Outlets?
Have you ever wondered what those electrical outlets with the two little buttons between the sockets are? Ground fault circuit interrupters, commonly called GFCIs or GFIs, are special outlets that minimize the danger of electrocution in the home, usually where outlets are located by sources of water, often near sinks and in the garage. Sometimes called “Residual Current Devices,” GFI outlets can be found either indoors or outdoors.
These ‘smart’ receptacles are designed to detect if the electrical current is flowing through the wrong pathway – like water or even a person. GFI outlets automatically takes action by shutting off the stream of voltage if the amount being drawn from whatever is plugged in overflows compared to the amount returning to the system.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, GFI outlets are an important household defense against shocks and electrical fires caused by such issues as wiring insulation failures, damaged plugs and appliances, and overloaded extension cords. A circuit imbalance will trigger the outlet’s sensors to interrupt the flow, ceasing electrocution if that’s what’s going on.
If you’ve noticed one or more appliances near each other shutting off for no apparent reason, it could be because the total load has exceeded a GFI’s maximum current. That’s why these receptacles tend to “trip out” when you go crazy with your hair dryer.
By the way, if that happens, just push the reset button and you’ll be back in business. When the buttons are colored, this will be the red one. The black button, conversely, is for testing the mechanism’s ability to kill the circuit.
As our video suggests, other outlets without the buttons are sometimes connected, and therefore protected, through a single GFI receptacle. In that case, those outlets will turn on and off along with the main GFI outlets.