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How a ground-fault circuit interrupter works

Emergency Sign

Before the introduction of the ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) power outlet in the United States, nearly 800 people a year died from household electrocutions. Now that this kind of outlet is standard in most new construction, that number has dropped down to roughly 200 fatalities annually.

Basically, GFCIs de-energize a circuit when they detect a ground current to prevent a potentially deadly electrical flow from passing from the outlet through an individual holding onto the device. These outlets are extremely common in most homes and are especially useful for higher voltage appliances.

It's easy to recognize a GFCI as they are found in most buildings with up-to-date electrical layouts. When you look at a normal 120-volt outlet in the United States, there are two vertical slots and then a round hole centered below them. The left slot, which is slightly larger, is "neutral," the right slot is called "hot" and the hole is called "ground." All of the electricity goes back and forth between the hot and neutral prong, while the ground acts to regulate flow.

If there is ever an imbalance in the flow, the round ground prong will detect it and trip the circuit in a fraction of a second - hopefully enough time to prevent electrocution.

Your home or business should at the very least have GFCI outlets on the walls as a safety precaution. If your house's electrical wiring isn't up to date, contact an experienced Washington, DC electrician like the kind found at John C. Flood to have the space upgraded as soon as possible.