GFI’s Ground Fault Interrupters

The Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) is an electrical outlet that detects very small leakage of electricity and very quickly shuts off power. It does this so quickly and with such such small current flows that accidental death from electrical shock is prevented.Newer homes all have them in the kitchen and baths. They are easily identified by the red test button between the two outlets.

You can test the GFCI by plugging in a radio or lamp and pushing in the test button. The reset button should pop out and the power to the outlet go off. If the power doesn’t go off or the reset button won’t stay in there is a problem and you need to have an electrician look at it.

Problems have occasionally been reported when plugging a refrigerator, freezer or other motor-driven appliance into GFI-protected circuits. These appliances generally have a motor that pulls significant startup current. Due to the electrical characteristics of motors, the startup current can look like someone getting electrocuted, causing the protection system to trip. The best remedy is to connect these appliances to a non-GFI outlet.

Usually outlets that are expected to serve such appliances will not have GFI’s installed. The problem most often shows up when putting in an extra refrigerator or freezer.

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  • I am Ed in Melbourne Fl. I recently purchased a 1989 Meri and the exterior receptacles are not working. The tag says they are on a protected circuit however there are no breakers tripped and I cannot find any GFCI breakers that would control them. Could there be another location for the GFCI? I have no owners manual and the manufacturer is out of business.

  • Hi Ed,

    GFCI can be done via breaker in the panel. It can also be done with a GFCI outlet which means nothing in the panel. That same outlet can allow power to other outlets, both GFCI & normal. I assume you have pushed the reset button on all the GFCI outlets you can find? Has there been any work done “upstream” from these outlets? A problem elsewhere can affect these outlets.

    Given how GFCI work, the potential for interaction with other parts of the electrical system, and the time previous owners have had to do dumb things, I think you will need someone with good electronic testing tools to solve the problem.