How to Choose the Right GFCI Outlet for Your Home
A GFCI outlet is a special type of electrical outlet that can protect you and your home from electric shock. GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter, and it works by detecting any imbalance in the flow of electricity and cutting off the power before it can cause harm. GFCI outlets are required by law in new home construction, and they are recommended for older homes as well, especially in areas where water is commonly used, such as bathrooms, kitchens, garages, and outdoors.
But how do you know which GFCI outlet to buy? There are different types, sizes, and features of GFCI outlets available on the market, and choosing the right one can be confusing. Here are some factors to consider when shopping for a GFCI outlet:
- Amperage: The amperage of a GFCI outlet determines how much current it can handle. Most household outlets are either 15 amps or 20 amps, and you should match the amperage of the GFCI outlet to the existing wiring and circuit breaker. If you want to connect a heavy-duty load, such as a power tool or a hair dryer, you should go with a 20-amp GFCI outlet. If you want to power a lamp or a phone charger, you can go with a 15-amp GFCI outlet.
- Style: The style of a GFCI outlet refers to its shape and orientation. There are two main styles of GFCI outlets: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal GFCI outlets have two plug-in slots on each side of the outlet, while vertical GFCI outlets have one plug-in slot on top and one on bottom. The style of the GFCI outlet should match the existing outlet box and cover plate in your wall. Horizontal GFCI outlets are more common and fit most standard outlet boxes, while vertical GFCI outlets may require a special cover plate or adapter.
- Features: The features of a GFCI outlet include its indicators, buttons, and resistance. Most GFCI outlets have LED indicators that show the status of the outlet: green means that the device is working properly, red means that there is a problem or that the device needs to be reset. Some GFCI outlets also have audible alarms that beep when there is a ground fault or when the device needs to be tested. All GFCI outlets have test and reset buttons on their face that allow you to check and restore the function of the device. Some GFCI outlets also have tamper-resistant and weather-resistant features that prevent unauthorized access and damage from moisture .
To summarize, when choosing a GFCI outlet for your home, you should consider the amperage, style, and features of the device. You should also consult an electrician if you are not sure how to install or replace a GFCI outlet safely and correctly.
How to Install a GFCI Outlet
Installing a GFCI outlet is not a difficult task, but it requires some basic electrical knowledge and safety precautions. Before you start, you should turn off the power to the circuit that you are working on at the main panel. You should also use a voltage tester to make sure that there is no electricity flowing to the outlet. Then, you can follow these steps:
- Remove the cover plate and unscrew the existing outlet from the outlet box.
- Disconnect the wires from the existing outlet and label them according to their color: black for hot, white for neutral, and green or bare for ground.
- Connect the wires to the new GFCI outlet according to the instructions that come with the device. Usually, you will have to attach the black wire to the brass screw, the white wire to the silver screw, and the green or bare wire to the green screw. If there are more than one set of wires in the outlet box, you will have to identify which ones are the line wires (the ones that come from the main panel) and which ones are the load wires (the ones that go to other outlets or devices). You will have to connect the line wires to the terminals marked LINE and the load wires to the terminals marked LOAD on the GFCI outlet.
- Screw the new GFCI outlet into the outlet box and replace the cover plate.
- Turn on the power at the main panel and test the new GFCI outlet by pressing the TEST button. The outlet should trip and cut off the power. Then, press the RESET button to restore the power. If the outlet does not work as expected, you should turn off the power again and check your wiring connections.
How to Maintain a GFCI Outlet
A GFCI outlet is a reliable device that can last for many years, but it still needs some regular maintenance to ensure its proper function. You should test your GFCI outlets at least once a month by pressing the TEST button and making sure that they trip and cut off the power. Then, press the RESET button to restore the power. If your GFCI outlets do not respond to the test button or do not reset, you should replace them as soon as possible. You should also check your GFCI outlets for any signs of damage or wear, such as cracks, burns, or loose screws. If you notice any problems with your GFCI outlets, you should contact an electrician for repair or replacement.