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How To Install A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter

A ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, will shut off power in 1/40 of a second to protect people from shock hazards. For safety, GFCI's are required by code in areas around water, kitchens and bathrooms for example, among other areas in the home.

Often, people with older homes will replace a standard outlet with a GFCI to get that extra measure of safety... so here's All Merrick of the Northern Indiana Public Service Company to give us a look at what's involved.

Al: The first thing we're going to do today, before we can do anything, is to make sure that this particular circuit is shut off. So I'm going to put a normal lamp, whether it's a night light or a table lamp, plug it in and prove that the outlet is working. Now, I have to go find it's circuit breaker to make sure I can shut it off to be safe to work on it.

The next step is to find the circuit panel that controls that particular outlet. So, we'll open it up and there should be a label in here, labeling every room. We're pretty sure we've got the right one so we're going to shut it off, but we're not done, we must make sure. So the next step is to go back to that outlet to make sure it is off and safe.

Ellen: Now that Al knows the electricity if off, he can remove the face plate and get to the outlet. Once you pull the outlet out, pay close attention to where the different colored wires are connected.

Al: Now, before we go any further, we want to inspect the wiring. I want to make sure there is no frayed wiring or cracked wiring in here. If you do see a problem, then we may have to cut the wire back a little bit. As you see, these look fairly good. I don't see a problem, but you want to make sure you look at it.

Ellen: Once the wires are removed, it's time to connect the GFCI.

Al: Now, I want to turn this over because there's something very important here. You'll see some writing on the back and it says line and it says load. We must wire, if this is the only outlet we're wiring, into the line side. If you went to the load side, this would not function properly and we would not have our personal protection. The reason that we have a line and a load is sometimes, like in a kitchen, we'll have four or five outlets off the same circuit breaker. We can take that first outlet, go into the line side and connect the ones following it off the load side. In all four of those outlets, even though they're standard, they would be protected by this circuit interrupter. So, if I had a problem in any one of those outlets, this would trip and shut all the rest of them off.

Now, what we're going to do is install this. And the way to install it is to connect our ground first. So, you want to make sure that you have your ground screw, that's the green one, open as far as it will go and you want to put in the copper wire.

What you need now is needle nose pliers to make sure that it stays under the screw. The other thing you want to make sure of is that you go clockwise around the screw. As I tighten the screw up, it kind of brings the wire down around the screw, not forcing it out. So the wire must go in clockwise. As we tighten that up, we want to make sure that it is a good tight electrical connection. That's my ground wire, that's my protection.

Ellen: Next, following the same steps, connect the white wire to the silver screw and then connect the black wire to the gold screw.

Al: Now, this new outlet, the GFCI, is a little bigger than the old conventional ones, because it has some electronic sensing in it. So there isn't as much room with a GFCI. It makes it very important that you get the wiring in as straight as possible. Now, we're going to put the screws back in that were holding the old outlet in.

Ellen: After the GFCI is connected to the outlet box, connect the face plate.

Al: This finishes the installation of the ground fault circuit interrupter. Now I have to go back to the circuit panel and re-energize that circuit.

Our job now is to test and make sure it's working correctly. So, I'm going to plug a test lamp into the bottom. That's working well. I'm also going to check the top to make sure that it's working. Now, to prove that it's going to do the job for us if we get in trouble, I'm going to simulate that there is a short going out of this outlet in an appliance that I'm using. It has a built-in safety check. That safety check is a black test button. When I push that button, it simulates a fault. Notice that my outlet has switched itself off. It's doing its job. It is protecting me or my family from an electrical shock. Now, I push the reset button, the red one, and that will re-energize the outlet.


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