What is this outlet with test and reset buttons?

RS.EN.BG. What is this outlet
If you’re in your bathroom or kitchen, you’ve probably noticed outlets with ‘test‘ and ’reset’ buttons. This outlet—called the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlet—is designed to prevent electrical accidents. Different from a fuse, which is intended to prevent electrical fires, GFCI outlets are designed to prevent injury from electrical shock. Because water is a main cause of ground faults, national electricity codes were updated in 1971 to require GFCI outlets to be used anywhere the electric current may encounter water. Kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, near swimming pools, and even unfinished basements must have GFCI outlets if they’ve been built or remodeled since 1971.

What is a Ground Fault?

As electricity comes out of an outlet, it follows the easiest path toward the ground. Normally that path is through the copper wires we use for powering our homes; however, in the case of a ground fault, the electricity takes a shortcut through something else—like a person—to get to the ground. A ground fault can happen because of a number of reasons, such as: 

  • Faulty or loose wiring in what is plugged into the outlet
  • Presence of water near the electrical device or outlet
  • Old or ungrounded electrical wiring

GFCI outlets “weigh” the power coming in and going out

The two flat prongs on your plugs are for carrying positive and negative charges, which means the power from your electrical service box leaves the outlet from one prong, travels into your plugged in device, and returns through the other prong back to the service box. Without the return trip, your devices wouldn’t work. The GFCI outlet was designed to measure the power flowing in and out of the plug to make sure there is a balance. It measures electrical charges as small as 5 milliamps for any variation and when it finds a difference, the outlet “pops”, or breaks the flow of electricity.

So, let’s see this in action: if a hair dryer drops into a sink full of water, for instance, the electricity will fault to a new ground through the water. After all, it’s an easier path to ground than routing all the way back through the house. The GFCI outlet senses that there has been less electricity coming back through the outlet and completely stops the power flowing to the device. This process takes less than one-tenth of a second. In fact, it’s saved an estimated 1,000 lives, in the United States,  since its nationwide adoption in 1971.

Test and reset for peace of mind

Because a popped GFCI outlet no longer carries an electrical current, Charles Dalziel—inventor of the GFCI—created a way to repair and/or reset the outlet after it has popped. The element inside the outlet is fairly easy to reset with a simple mechanism, so a reset button was added to the outlet. Then, to give the user reassurance that the outlet is functioning properly, the test button was also installed. Later models of the GFCI include a tiny LED light for even more assurance to whether or not the outlet is live.

To test your GFCI outlet, simply plug something in and press the button labeled ‘test’. If what is plugged in stops working, your GFCI is working properly. To make the outlet active again, simply press the ‘reset’ button.

Protect your outlets

The GFCI outlet is a remarkable invention that can save your life in a click. Give yourself peace of mind by running a simple test, and then reset it as needed. It’s always a good idea to take a moment or two to make sure your outlets are safe and working as they should. This is why many of our home warranty plans include your electrical outlets in their protection.

So, if you have an electrical problem* and have protection with IGS Home Warranty, simply report an issue and we’ll get the process started of coordinating with a licensed technician.

*Even if you’re not sure if something is protected, we’d be happy to see if your issue is protected under your Service Agreement.

Learn more about our home warranty plans.