Upgrading to a GFCI Outlet
Illustrations: Trevor Johnston & Paul Perreault
Ground-fault circuit interrupter outlets prevent accidental electrocution, and code requires them in baths, kitchens, laundry rooms, garages and outdoor locations. A GFCI has a built-in circuit breaker that interrupts the flow of electricity the instant it senses a ground fault or current leak. But a GFCI won't work unless it's properly connected. If your electrical system has not been upgraded for 20 years or more, you probably need to install GFCIs.

Here's how:

First, turn off the power to the circuit you'll be working on. Take off the cover plate and unscrew the outlet from the box. Disconnect the wires and remove the old outlet.

At the back of the GFCI are screw terminals marked "load" and "line." The single screw at the bottom is the grounding screw. Attach both the black and white wires to the screw terminals on the line side. Fasten the black wire to the dark-colored screw and the white wire to the light-colored screw. Again, make sure that both wires are on the "line" side.

Wrap the bare copper wire around the grounding screw and tighten it. Neatly tuck the wires into the box, screw the outlet in place and replace the cover plate. Finally, check the GFCI by pressing the "test" (power off) and "reset" (power on) buttons.

After turning off the electricity to the kitchen at the main service panel, remove the cover plate and unscrew the duplex outlet from the existing cable inside the box.

Install the new ground-fault circuit interrupter outlet by attaching both the black and white wires to the "line" side of the outlet. Connect the bare wire to the grounding screw. Replace the cover plate, then check to make sure the GFCI is operating properly. Press the test button; the outlet should go dead. Reset to resume current flow.

Code Reminders

• All countertop receptacle outlets must be protected by a GFCI device installed at the outlet or by GFCI circuit breakers.

• A kitchen must have two 20-amp circuits for countertop appliances.

• There should be countertop receptacles installed so that no point along the counter is more than 2 ft. from an outlet.
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