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GFCI outlets safety guide for everyday people [2024]

BY Steve Rodriguez
Steve Rodriguez
BY Steve Rodriguez
Steve Rodriguez


Home inspectors keep you safe and sound.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets do the same thing with electricity.

In this guide, we’ll go into what GFCI outlets are, how they work, where to find them, and why they’re important.

So, whether you’re trying to understand GFCI outlets in an older home or want to know where to find them, you’ll keep your home safe.

What Is A GFCI Outlet?

gfci outlets

A GFCI outlet is a special kind of socket that keeps you from getting shocked.

It’s like a guardian for your home’s electricity. If something goes wrong and the electricity goes stray, the GFCI outlet stops it before you get hurt.

Part of a home inspectors’ job is testing GFCI outlets to make sure they work right.

You can spot it by its “Test” and “Reset” buttons.

How Does A GFCI Outlet Work?

A GFCI outlet works by monitoring the flow of electricity moving through it.

But only if it’s wired right. That’s why home inspectors use a special tester to make sure it’s installed correctly.

If the GFCI outlet senses something wrong with the way power flows through the hot and neutral wires, it stops the flow of electricity to keep you from getting shocked.

It does this by tripping the RESET button.

This helps keep you safe and prevents accidents, especially in places where water and electricity could mix.

What led to the creation of GFCI outlets?

The creation of GFCI outlets came about because of a need for more safety in homes.

People realized that regular outlets could be dangerous, especially if water got near them.

So, smart folks invented GFCI outlets to stop accidents from happening.

These special outlets detect when electricity is going somewhere it shouldn’t.

And because they contain sensitive components that easily fail, home inspectors check to make sure they’re functioning correctly.

This way they actually keep us safe from shock and our homes safe from electrical fire damage.

How long have GFCI outlets been around?

GFCI outlets have been around for a few decades now.

They were first invented in the 1960s. About the same time home inspectors were created!

These safety outlets were created to make our homes safer from electricity problems. Over time, people realized how important they are, so now you can find them in nearly every home built in the last 50 years.

How long do GFCI outlets last?

GFCI outlets can last for a long time, usually around 15 to 25 years.

But just like anything, they might need to be replaced eventually.

It’s important to test them every month to make sure they’re still working right. This is why home inspectors test GFCI outlets during a home inspection.

If the “Test” button doesn’t click and turn off the outlet or the “Reset” button doesn’t push back in, it’s time to get a new one.

Regular testing and updating helps keep your home safe from electricity problems.

Why are GFCI outlets important?

GFCI outlets are really important because they keep you from getting shocked.

If something goes wrong with that circuit, like if it gets near water or a person, the GFCI outlet cuts off power to that outlet.

This helps to prevent accidents and keep us from getting shocked.

GFCI outlets make sure that our homes are safe places to be, and they help us stay away from dangerous situations with electricity. This is the biggest reason home inspectors suggest them in every home.

Where are GFCI outlets installed?

GFCI outlets are installed in places where water and electricity might mix.

You can find them in bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoor areas.

When we use things like hairdryers in the bathroom or blenders in the kitchen, GFCI outlets help keep us safe if they come in contact with water.

Home inspectors check them to make sure that electricity behaves and doesn’t cause any harm to you or your homes.

How do home inspectors find GFCI outlets?

Finding and resetting GFCI outlets can sometimes be a challenge, even for home inspectors.

That’s because they can be hidden in other rooms, behind furniture, inside cabinets, behind appliances, on different floors of the home, or tucked away in a dark basement corner.

This can make finding your GFCI outlets seem like a little adventure.

Fortunately, experienced home inspectors have inspected thousands of homes and have seen GFCI outlets hidden in the strangest places.

Start by looking in places where water could be, like the bathroom and kitchen.

If you see an outlet with “Test” and “Reset” buttons, that’s a GFCI outlet.

You can press the “Test” button to make sure it’s working, and then press “Reset” to turn it back on.

Remember, GFCI outlets want to keep you safe, so finding them is like discovering a safety secret in your home.

If the buttons don’t work, the outlet should be replaced.

How do I know if my outlet is protected by a GFCI?

To find out if your plain outlet has GFCI protection, you can look nearby for another outlet with “Test” and “Reset” buttons.

Sometimes, multiple outlets are connected to the same GFCI protection.

If you press the “Test” button on the GFCI outlet, and your regular outlet turns off, that means it’s protected by the GFCI.

You can check by plugging something into the regular outlet then trying the “Test” and “Reset” buttons on the GFCI.

If it turns off and on, your regular outlet is safe thanks to the GFCI’s protection.

Also, if your plain outlet suddenly has no power, it’s a good idea to check your GFCI outlets to see if any are tripped.

Sometimes a quick push of a button will save you the time and trouble of calling a licensed electrician.

Professional home inspectors are trained to know where these long distance GFCI outlets might be and will tell you where they are inside the home inspection report.

GFCI protection can also come from a circuit breaker

GFCI protection can come from either an outlet or a circuit breaker.

Sometimes, it’s a special outlet with “Test” and “Reset” buttons.

Other times, it’s in the main electrical panel with the rest of the circuit breakers. This is like the control center for your home’s electricity.

GFCI protection in the circuit breaker can keep all the outlets connected to it safe.

So, whether it’s in an outlet or a circuit breaker, home inspectors will find it so you and your home stay safe from these types of electrical accidents.

Why aren’t GFCI outlets in older homes?

GFCI outlets weren’t around before the 1970s, so they didn’t exist these homes were built.

In fact, these homes followed different rules for electricity safety.

And part of the job for home inspectors is to let you know this little tidbit of history that has to do with electrical safety.

But when people realized how helpful GFCI outlets are, they started using them.

If you live in an older home, it’s a good idea to follow the advice in this guide and add GFCI protection to circuits that need them, especially in places with water.

This way, you can have a little extra safety for you, your family, and your home.

What is ‘grandfathering’?

“Grandfathering” is like a special rule that lets old things stick to the old rules even when new rules come along.

For GFCI outlets, older homes don’t have to use them if they were built before GFCI outlets were required.

It’s like they get a pass. This can be a problem because older homes might not have the same safety as new ones.

They might not have GFCI outlets in places like bathrooms and kitchens where they’re really important.

So, even if a rule changes, older homes might still follow the old way unless the electrical is updated or someone decides to update them for safety.

Good home inspectors will talk to you about this so you can make the right choice.

How much does a GFCI outlet cost?

A GFCI outlet can cost around $15 to $50, sometimes even a bit more.

It’s like getting a special safety gadget for your home. The price depends on the brand and where you buy it.

You might also need to pay an electrician to install it if you’re not sure how to do it yourself.

Even though it might seem a bit pricey, having GFCI outlets is really important to keep you safe from electricity problems.

Home inspectors will tell you if any are missing or not working so you can budget for this cost or maybe even ask the home seller to put them in for you.

Where are some hard-to-find places GFCI outlets are located?

Sometimes, GFCI outlets can be hard to find!

Look behind big appliances like fridges or under cabinets in the kitchen. They can also be in another room, inside a cabinet, or on the other side of the room.

In the bathroom, they might be inside a cabinet, in the closet, behind the sink, near the toilet, under your jetted tub, in another room, or under a mirror.

Outside, you might find them near the garage or on the porch. GFCI outlets are like secret protectors, so they can be in unexpected places.

Sometimes it feels like electricians might be playing practical jokes by putting them in the strangest places.

If you’re having a hard time finding them, check your home inspection report. Home inspectors will tell you where they are and know the best spots to look!

How long does it take to install a GFCI outlet?

Installing a GFCI outlet usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

It’s like adding a special safety device to your home’s electricity.

An electrician knows what to do to put it in the right way. They’ll turn off the power, take out the old outlet, and put in the new GFCI one.

Then they’ll make sure everything is safe and working before they’re done.

Or you can ask the home inspectors during the home inspection.

Even though it might take a little bit of time, having GFCI outlets is worth it to keep you safe from electricity problems.

Can anyone install GFCI outlets?

The short answer is yes.

You can do it yourself if you’re comfortable working around electricity and follow strict safety guidelines.

Because installing a GFCI outlet takes care, but it doesn’t require a licensed electrician.

Even so, it’s usually best for trained people like electricians to do it. They know how to work with electricity safely.

So, if you’re not sure how, it’s safer to ask for help.

Electricians can make sure the wiring is right and everything works the way it should the first time.

Even though it might seem like a cool project, remember that electricity can be dangerous. It’s better to let the experts handle it to keep you and your home safe.

If you’re curious, you can ask an electrician or watch a YouTube video to see how they do it!

Or ask the home inspectors during your home inspection. You’ll already have access to them, and good home inspectors will have the experience to give you a good idea of what to expect, how long it will take, and how much it might cost.

If you end up doing it yourself, take plenty of pictures marking each step.

Why it might be cheaper for an electrician to install your GFCI outlets

Using a licensed electrician to put in GFCI outlets might seem a bit more expensive at first, but it’s safer and smarter in the long run.

Electricians know how to do the job right the first time, so you won’t have to worry about mistakes. They can also check if your home needs any changes to make everything work well.

If you try to do it yourself and something goes wrong, it could cost even more to fix it. Plus, it’s easy (and expensive) to put in too many GFCI outlets that could make things confusing for you later.

So, spending a bit more to hire a pro can avoid headaches later and could actually save you money.

Also ask your home inspectors. They’re trained to be objective and will know you a little better. This means they won’t try to convince you to just hire them to install the GFCI outlets. Experienced home inspectors will ask you questions and give you straight answers to keep you safe and save you money.


Part of being a responsible homeowner is knowing about the systems and components that make your home function and keep it a safe place to spend your time.

This includes knowing what GFCI outlets do, where to find yours, or where they should be installed so you and your family stays safe.

Professional home inspectors will check the GFCI outlets during a home inspection (and many more safety items), so you and your family know what you’re buying, know what to expect, and have the information you need to avoid surprises later or negotiate with your sellers.

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Steve Rodriguez is a Certified Master Inspector® and the owner of Bulldog Professional Inspection Services. He will perform your home inspection and has personally uncovered tens-of-thousands of defects in 14,000+ Kansas City properties since 2003.
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