Electrical outlets near water sources like sinks and laundry appliances, as well as all garage and outdoor outlets, should have a ground fault interrupter (GFCI). These are the outlets with the "test" and "reset" buttons. If every home had GFCIs, deaths from electrocution in and around the home could be reduced by 50%.
A GFCI works by monitoring the flow of electricity through the outlet's circuit. If there is any variation in the current, the GFCI will automatically cut off the flow of electricity, preventing injury.
There are three different types of ground fault circuit interrupters:
- Whole-house devices for circuit panels that protect against external power surges. Only a certified electrician should install these.
- Receptacle-based protectors that replace standard wall outlets. You can install these yourself by carefully following manufacturer's instructions.
- Portable units that simply plug into a wall outlet. Any homeowner can use this type.
GFCIs should be tested every month. Plug a lamp or radio into a GFCI outlet and turn it on. Push the "test" button on the outlet; the lamp or radio should turn off immediately. If it doesn't, the GFCI has been wired improperly, and should be fixed by a certified electrician.
GFCIs are inexpensive and provide the best protection against electrical hazards, and we strongly recommend using them in your home. But remember, even the best GFCI can't offer 100 percent protection, so never forget other electrical safety rules.