The inspection done yesterday on a Boulder condominium reminded me that one of the most common issues found during a home inspection is missing GFCI receptacles or circuits. This particular unit had some missing GFCI’s and some non-functioning GFCI’s. GFCI units are electrical outlets equipped with a ground fault sensor and a circuit breaker which senses a ground fault and is programmed to turn off the electric power to the electrical receptacle when danger is sensed. They should be found in all areas where a water source is present such as those located in kitchens, wet bars, bathrooms and garages, as well as in unfinished basements, basement crawl spaces, laundry room, mud rooms and on the exterior of a home. Receptacles for disposals and dishwashers have been more recently added to the list.
There are a few exceptions to these GFCI requirements. GFCI protection is not required for receptacles that are not readily accessible or are located on a dedicated branch circuit and identified for a specific cord-and-plug-connected appliance, such as a sump pump, a refrigerator/freezer or a ceiling mounted garage door opener. On the exterior GFCI protection is not required for fixed electric snow melting or de-icing equipment receptacles that are not readily accessible and are supplied by a dedicated branch circuit.
GFCI units are easy to identify, they are equipped with test and reset buttons. When the test button is depressed, electric power to the receptacle is turned off; depressing the reset button restores electric power to the receptacle. It is good practice to test your GFCI units on a monthly basis to be sure that they are functioning properly. GFCI units that have not been tested on a scheduled basis may not reset after being tested and therefore, need to be replaced. Replacing or installing new GFCI receptacles in not a difficult or expensive process.
Some GFCI units may be located in the electric service panel; these units serve the same function as units located in the receptacles and should be similarly tested. One of these GFCI units in the service panel may serve all bathroom receptacles or other common locations. If, for instance, a bathroom has a non-GFCI receptacle, your inspector should be able to tell you if it is on a GFCI circuit.
Multiple receptacles may also be protected by a single GFCI receptacle. If, for instance a kitchen GFCI receptacle is the first in line from the main breaker box, any receptacles down line are also protected. This would also be true for multiple bathroom or exterior receptacles. There is an easy way to determine if other receptacles are protected by another GFCI: push the test button on the GFCI; any other receptacles that lose power when this is done are also protected.
A final thought on GFCI’s for the holiday season. Be sure that all exterior electrical decorations are protected by a GFCI. If you have exterior outlets that are not GFCI and you’re not comfortable changing out your outlet, consider using a portable outdoor GFCIs.