Why a Functional Breaker Panel Isn’t Enough
You may not be a professional electrician, but you know a thing or two about electrical safety. For instance, you’re well aware that you need working breakers to protect you from fires caused by excessive current flows, such as power surges and spikes, whose extra energy might burn up the wiring in your walls or appliances. What you may not know, however, is that these tools are just one type of defense. Ground-fault circuit-interrupter, or GFCI, devices play critical roles in minimizing damage. Here’s how to make your bathroom safe using this crucial piece of technology.
Getting to Know the Humble GFCI
GFCI circuits are present in many electrical outlets, power strips and other supply-side electrical components. For instance, you may be familiar with ones like the outlet near your kitchen or bathroom sink, which probably has a “TEST” and “RESET” button.
Why are GFCIs so important? You’ll need to understand a few things about electricity to appreciate them. When electrical current flows, it seeks the path of least resistance. This is why wires carry power safely: The inner metal offers an easier route than the insulation surrounding it, so you can touch an extension cord while it’s plugged in or powered on without getting painfully shocked.
What about when you’re operating an appliance? In most cases, properly wired devices use insulation and other circuit components to keep the electricity flowing through safe channels. If, however, one of these devices gets wet, the current has a new, highly accessible path in the form of the water, which doesn’t offer much resistance at all. Since there’s not much standing in the way, the current tries to rush through the new path all at once. This is bad because it might generate more heat energy than the device or wiring can handle safely, leading to hazardous conditions. If you’re blocking the path, you might get badly hurt, since the current doesn’t see much difference between the spilled water and the fluid that makes up 70 percent of your body.
GFCI devices are designed to monitor how much current is flowing through different paths. When they notice abnormal conditions, they switch the power off extremely quickly to minimize damage and harm. Although remote breakers operate in a similar fashion, they’re often positioned too far away from the source of trouble to provide quite as rapid of a response. Breakers are also made to power larger sections of a building, so they might not notice current spikes that are smaller yet still dangerous.
Why Install GFCIs?
GFCIs are essential safety devices that perform some critical functions:
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