Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) is the only device designed specifically to protect people against electric shock in a home’s electrical system. Before the widespread use of GFCIs, an average of 800 people died annually in U.S. homes due to electrocution. Today, this number has dropped below 200. These devices are different than a electrical breaker or fuse. Breakers and fuses protect the wiring in a home and sometimes you. GFCIs monitor the electricity going into and out of the receptacle you are using. When it detects a difference, meaning a hazardous condition, they shutoff power to the receptacle immediately, preventing someone getting hurt.
New homes built (or remodeled) since 1971 have required them be installed in the kitchen. GFCIs have proved so successful over the years, they are now required in all areas of the home considered to be damp or possibly wet. New homes now require them in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry areas, garages, unfinished basements and exterior receptacles.
About 20% of the homes that I inspect do not have the proper GFCIs or not installed in all the right places. This poor coverage despite their low costs and proven safety record. People assume their wiring is safe, the appliances they purchase are safe, and electrical breakers are protecting them. This lack of understanding is dangerous, especially with children in the home.
If you do not know you have GFCI devices and installed in all of the right places, hire a home inspector to perform a safety inspection. It is not always obvious whether these devices setup in the home.
Chuck retired from an engineering management career to start a home inspection business