GFCI outlets and breakers have been in use in the U.S. since the early 1970s. GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter and these devices protect people from electrical shock by sensing an interruption in the flow of electricity through the hot and neutral wires and tripping off before injury occurs. GFCI’s most often are installed in locations where electrical circuits or appliances may accidentally come into contact with water.
Abbreviated Timeline of GFCI protection requirements:
1971 Outlets within 15 feet of swimming pools
1973 All outdoor outlets
1974 Construction sites
1975 Bathroom outlets
1978 Garages and spas
1984 Protection of non-grounded outlets with no ground wire required
1987 Unfinished basements and kitchen countertops within 6 feet of a sink
1990 Crawlspaces (with exception of sump pumps)
1993 Wet bar countertops and any outlet replaced in locations requiring GFCI
1996 All kitchen countertops (no longer just those within 6 feet of a sink)
1996 Unfinished accessory buildings
GFCI protection is a solution for ungrounded outlets, without re-wiring a house.
As noted in the timeline, ungrounded outlets can be protected with GFCI devices. We know all outlets installed prior to 1963 were ungrounded so many houses in the RI area still have ungrounded outlets. Installing GFCI protection is a cost effective method of adding personal safety protection to these outlets, without the requirement of replacing the ungrounded wiring with new grounded wiring. The GFCI device will not protect expensive equipment as well as a ground wire, however, so GFCI protection for ungrounded circuits has limits on usefulness.
How do our Inspectors deal with GFCI protection?
Hearthstone inspectors will recommend GFCI protection is installed in any area of a house where it is currently required. This is a recommendation, not necessarily a statement that this protection is required since it is often difficult to know exactly when an outlet was installed and whether or not GFCI protection was required when it was installed. However, considering GFCI protection is a relatively inexpensive safety feature we will recommend this protection for all outlets on the exterior, in the garage, basement, kitchen countertops and bathrooms, as well as for swimming pools, spas and hot tubs or any other area where water and electrical circuits could accidentally come together.