If you ever encounter a dead outlet, one of the first things you should check for is a tripped GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter). Identifiable by the (usually) red and black buttons on the outlet plate, GFCI outlets help prevent (or reduce the risk of) electrical accidents, such as shocks, electrocution, and fire.
Unlike a circuit breaker which breaks the circuit when there is a current overload, a GFCI outlet interrupts the circuit when there is a current leak. The purpose of a GFCI outlet is to provide ground fault protection by monitoring for abnormalities between outbound and inbound electrical current flow within the outlet and cutting power instantly upon detection of a ground fault. When the circuit is broken, the RESET button pops out, and electrical current stops flowing from the outlet into any plugged-in device.
This fail-safe mechanism is designed to reduce the likelihood of ground fault and electrocution if a plugged-in device comes into contact with water (or other liquids) by stopping power flow within milliseconds of detection. That is why these types of outlets often are placed in areas that are prone to liquid contact or wet surfaces, such as bathrooms, kitchens, basements, garages, pools and pool areas, and house exteriors. They can also help to prevent electrical fires or damage to appliances due to faulty circuits and wiring.
Restoring power is as simple as pressing a button – the RESET button to be exact. The inventor of the GFCI, Charles Dalziel, decided to create an easy way of repairing the outlet by adding a RESET button which, when pressed, reconnects the circuit and restores power flow. The TEST button was added later to the GFCI design to help verify whether the protective feature of the outlet was working properly. If the TEST button is pressed, power should not be emitted by the outlet and any plugged-in devices should not operate. Otherwise, the GFCI may need to be repaired, or there may be faulty wiring in the circuit.
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