What is a GFCI?

GFCI ReceptacleA GFCI, or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, is a safety device designed to protect people from electrical shock and prevent electrical fires. It works by monitoring the electrical current flowing through a circuit and quickly shutting off the power if it detects any imbalances or leaks to ground.

Here are some key points about GFCIs:

Safety Function

GFCIs are primarily used to protect against ground faults, which occur when electrical current unintentionally flows through an unintended path, such as water or a person’s body. This can happen due to damaged wiring or electrical appliances, wet conditions, or other factors.


GFCIs come in two different forms:

  • Receptacle: These are electrical outlets that have GFCI protection built into them. They often have two buttons, “Test” and “Reset,” on the face of the outlet. When a ground fault is detected, the GFCI will trip and cut off power to the connected devices. You’ll need to reset it by pressing the “Reset” button.
  • Circuit Breaker: GFCI circuit breakers are installed in the electrical panel and provide GFCI protection to an entire circuit. They also have a test and reset button on the breaker itself.

Rapid Response

GFCIs are designed to react very quickly to ground faults, typically interrupting power in less than 20 milliseconds. This fast response helps prevent electrical shocks and accidents.


GFCIs are commonly installed in areas where there is a higher risk of electrical accidents due to water exposure, such as bathrooms, kitchens, garages, outdoor outlets, and near swimming pools.

Cascade Effect

In many cases, GFCIs are interconnected so that if one GFCI trips, it can cause other GFCIs downstream on the same circuit to trip. This helps ensure safety throughout the entire circuit.

Compatibility with Circuit Breakers

It’s important to note that a GFCI receptacle cannot be reset if the circuit breaker serving it is also tripped or in the off position. This dual protection helps enhance safety.

Overall, GFCIs are a crucial safety feature in electrical systems. They help reduce the risk of electrical accidents, particularly in areas where water and electricity are in close proximity. GFCI’s are an important part of electrical code requirements to ensure the safety of homes and workplaces.

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