How to Choose a Gfci Receptacle

GFCI receptacles are safety outlets that prevent electrical shock by sensing spikes in current.
GFCI receptacles are safety outlets that prevent electrical shock by sensing spikes in current. (Image: electricity image by Mat Hayward from

A ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, receptacle is an outlet designed to prevent electrical shocks in areas of homes and businesses at which the possibility of such accidents is high, such as bathrooms, kitchens and swimming pools. These safety devices, required by the National Electric Code, sense a spike in current and shut down to prevent accidental shock. Selection of proper receptacles is dependent on the type and amperage of appliances plugged into the outlet, as well as the building’s overall electrical system.

Things You'll Need

  • Fuse box or circuit breaker
  • Assorted GFCI outlets
  • Electrical wiring
  • Appliances

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Three Different GFCIs

Locate the building’s electrical panel box. Determine whether the building’s electrical supply is regulated by fuses or by circuit breakers. Select wall receptacle GFCIs for fuse boxes, while circuit breakers GFCIs must be installed directly into the circuit breaker box. Wall receptacle units provide reset function at the point of use and are less expensive. Circuit breaker units provide protection for a greater number of outlets.

Determine the current amperage requirements. Look at existing receptacles. The 15-amp receptacles have two slots and a U-shaped grounding hole. A 14-gauge wire will serve the outlet.

The 20-amp receptacles have a horizontal slot branching off of a vertical slot. These are served by 10-gauge or 12-gauge wires. Check the plugs of existing appliances, such as microwaves or washing machines, for extra clues on amperage requirements.

For outdoor applications, determine the amp requirements first. Choose a portable GFCI for an area in which there is no permanent electrical connection. Two types are available. One type houses GFCI components in a self-contained enclosure, which in turn plugs into a standard receptacle. The other type combines a traditional extension cord with a GFCI receptacle, providing more flexibility.


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