GFI (ground fault interrupt) or GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupt) outlets really do save lives. This is why they were invented.
By the way, those two sets of initials are just two different names for the same thing.
These outlets have little circuit breakers built in. They have two buttons, one to test, and one to reset.
Let me explain why they work.
First, a little (very little) background: For electricity to do any real work for us, it must have a “path to ground” for the electric circuit to be complete. The intended path to ground of any electrical circuit is the neutral wire of an electric circuit.
For what it’s worth, the neutral wires in your home connect to the neutral bus in your electrical panel, which in turn connects to ground at a power pole near you. Conversely, the ground wire of an electric system is grounded at the electrical panel for that building. It exists for safety reasons, and is not the intended path to ground for electrical circuits.
Having said that, ANY ground connection can complete a circuit.
You might make good electrical contact to ground if you are well grounded, such as standing in water, touching a cold water pipe (your pipe system is grounded so touching a faucet can be a path to ground), etc.
Water always tends to make a good ground connection a better ground connection.
GFI outlets monitor how much current goes through the hot wire, and how much current goes through the neutral wire. If those two amounts deviate by as little as five milliamps (which is a really small about), the GFI or GFCI trips, the assumption being that the “missing” current is traveling through you.
In short, GFI receptacles do in fact save lives. They are required for any outlets that are close to sources of water. They may not be necessary for external outlets (check with your local planning department) but I strongly recommend them.
If you have outlets near sink that are not GFI, please consider converting them, especially if there are young children in your home who can reach them.
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