You’re wielding electric hedge clippers, preparing to battle unruly shrubs. The grass is wet from an earlier storm, but the sky is sunny now and the temperature is perfect for outdoor chores. You flip the switch and suddenly your grip tightens painfully around a tingling handle as the tool revs. Before you can yelp, the electrical outlet clicks loudly and the hedge trimmer shuts off. Congratulations! Breathe a sigh of relief, because that outlet just saved your life.
Before the widespread adoption of ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets in 1971, about 800 people died of electric shock annually in the United States. Since then, all 50 states have mandated GFCI technology in a home’s wet locations. With these special outlets guarding bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens and outdoor areas, fatal electrocutions now number less than 200 per year, and most of those are industrial accidents rather than residential mishaps.
GFCIs save lives by constantly monitoring the flow of electricity to an outlet. If they detect the tiniest difference between what comes in and what goes back out, they shut off the current in less than a tenth of a second. The scary hedge trimming incident further illustrates how they work. Unbeknownst to you, the trimmer had a loose internal wire. When you turned the tool on, electricity flowed from the wire to the metal handle to your hand and headed for your feet standing in wet grass. The GFCI instantly sensed rogue electricity and cut the current. Without a GFCI, you literally had a death grip on that trimmer. You couldn’t have opened your fist, because electricity contracts muscles involuntarily.
GFCIs are vigilant devices that are always on the job and require periodic replacement. Many will last for 15 years or longer, but some can fail in as little as five years in challenging locations outdoors. How do you know if you have a GFCI? It sports two buttons -- labeled “Test” and “Reset” -- for testing the outlet’s function. If it’s functioning properly, pushing the test button will shut off the current (pushing the Reset button turns the outlet back on after testing). Often, one GFCI protects a series of outlets in one area, monitoring all outlets wired down the line.
Protect yourself and your family: test your GFCIs today and ask, “do I have GFCIs installed everywhere I need them?” Older homes often need additional or replacement GFCI technology. Service America swaps out and installs these simple and inexpensive devices and performs all kinds of electrical maintenance and repair.
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