GFCI

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs)

What is a GFCI?

A ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is a device used in electrical wiring to disconnect a circuit when unbalanced current is detected between an energized conductor and a neutral return conductor.  Such an imbalance is sometimes caused by current “leaking” through a person who is simultaneously in contact with a ground and an energized part of the circuit, which could result in lethal shock.  GFCIs are designed to provide protection in such a situation, unlike standard circuit breakers, which guard against overloads, short circuits and ground faults.
It is estimated that about 300 deaths by electrocution occur every year, so the use of GFCIs has been adopted in new construction, and recommended as an upgrade in older construction, in order to mitigate the possibility of injury or fatality from electric shock.

History

The first high-sensitivity system for detecting current leaking to ground was developed by Henri Rubin in 1955 for use in South African mines.  This cold-cathode system had a tripping sensitivity of 250 mA (milliamperes), and was soon followed by an upgraded design that allowed for adjustable trip-sensitivity from 12.5 to 17.5 mA.  The extremely rapid tripping after earth leakage-detection caused the circuit to de-energize before electric shock could drive a person’s heart into ventricular fibrillation, which is usually the specific cause of death attributed to electric shock.

Charles Dalziel first developed a transistorized version of the ground-fault circuit interrupter in 1961.  Through the 1970s, most GFCIs were of the circuit-breaker type.  This version of the GFCI was prone to frequent false trips due to poor alternating-current characteristics of 120-volt insulations.  Especially in circuits with long cable runs, current leaking along the conductors’ insulation could be high enough that breakers tended to trip at the slightest imbalance.
Since the early 1980s, ground-fault circuit interrupters have been built into outlet receptacles, and advances in design in both receptacle and breaker types have improved reliability while reducing instances of “false trips,” known as nuisance-tripping.

NEC Requirements for GFCIs

The National Electrical Code (NEC) has included recommendations and requirements for GFCIs in some form since 1968, when it first allowed for GFCIs as a method of protection for underwater swimming pool lights.  Throughout the 1970s, GFCI installation requirements were gradually added for 120-volt receptacles in areas prone to possible water contact, including bathrooms, garages, and any receptacles located outdoors.

The 1980s saw additional requirements implemented.  During this period, kitchens and basements were added as areas that were required to have GFCIs, as well as boat houses, commercial garages, and indoor pools and spas.  New requirements during the ’90s included crawlspaces, wet bars and rooftops.  Elevator machine rooms, car tops and pits were also included at this time.  In 1996, GFCIs were mandated for all temporary wiring for construction, remodeling, maintenance, repair, demolition and similar activities and, in 1999, the NEC extended GFCI requirements to carnivals, circuses and fairs.

The 2008 NEC contains additional updates relevant to GFCI use, as well as some exceptions for certain areas.  The 2008 language is presented here for reference.

2008 NEC on GFCIs

100.1 Definition

100.1  Definitions. Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter. A device intended for the protection of personnel that functions to de-energize a circuit or portion thereof within an established period of time when a current to ground exceeds the values established for a Class A device.

FPN: Class A ground-fault circuit interrupters trip when the current to ground has a value in the range of 4 mA to 6 mA.  For further information, see UL 943, standard for Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters.

210.8(A)&(B)  Protection for Personnel

210.8 Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter Protection for Personnel.

(A)  Dwelling Units. All 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles installed in the locations specified in (1) through (8) shall have ground-fault circuit-interrupter protection for personnel.

(1)   bathrooms;

(2)   garages, and also accessory buildings that have a floor located at or below grade level not intended as habitable rooms and limited to storage areas, work areas, and areas of similar use;

Exception No. 1: Receptacles not readily accessible.

Exception No. 2: A single receptacle or a duplex receptacle for two appliances that, in normal use, is not easily moved from one place to another and that is cord-and-plug connected in accordance with 400.7(A)(6), (A)(7), or (A)(8).

Receptacles installed under the exceptions to 210.8(A)(2) shall not be considered as meeting the requirements of 210.52(G)

(3)   outdoors;

Exception: Receptacles that are not readily accessible and are supplied by a dedicated branch circuit for electric snow melting or deicing equipment shall be permitted to be installed in accordance with the applicable provisions of Article 426.

(4)   crawlspaces at or below grade level.

Exception No. 1: Receptacles that are not readily accessible.

Exception No. 2:  A single receptacle or a duplex receptacle for two appliances that, in normal use, is not easily moved from one place to another and that is cord-and-plug connected in accordance with 400.7(A)(6), (A)(7), or (A)(8).

Exception No. 3: A receptacle supplying only a permanently installed fire alarm or burglar alarm system shall not be required to have ground-fault circuit interrupter protection.

Receptacles installed under the exceptions to 210.8(A)(2) shall not be considered as meeting the requirements of 210.52(G)

(6)   kitchens, where the receptacles are installed to serve the countertop surfaces;

(7)   wet bar sinks, where the receptacles are installed to serve the countertop surfaces and are located within 6 feet (1.8 m) of the outside edge of the wet bar sink;

(8)   boathouses;

(B) Other Than Dwelling Units. All 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles Installed in the locations specified in (1), (2), and (3) shall have ground-fault circuit interrupter protection for personnel:

(1)   bathrooms;

(2)   rooftops;

Exception: Receptacles that are not readily accessible and are supplied by a dedicated branch circuit for electric snow-melting or de-icing equipment shall be permitted to be installed in accordance with the applicable provisions of Article 426.

(3)   kitchens.

Testing Receptacle-Type GFCIs

Receptacle-type GFCIs are currently designed to allow for safe and easy testing that can be performed without any professional or technical knowledge of electricity.  GFCIs should be tested right after installation to make sure they are working properly and protecting the circuit.  They should also be tested once a month to make sure they are working properly and are providing protection from fatal shock.
To test the receptacle GFCI, first plug a nightlight or lamp into the outlet. The light should be on.  Then press the “TEST” button on the GFCI. The “RESET” button should pop out, and the light should turn off.
If the “RESET” button pops out but the light does not turn off, the GFCI has been improperly wired. Contact an electrician to correct the wiring errors.

If the “RESET” button does not pop out, the GFCI is defective and should be replaced.

If the GFCI is functioning properly and the lamp turns off, press the “RESET” button to restore power to the outlet.
central air-conditioning system

Central Air-Conditioning System Inspection

Central Air-Conditioning System Inspection

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
A central air-conditioning system must be periodically inspected and maintained in order to function properly. While an annual inspection performed by a trained professional is recommended, homeowners can do a lot of the work themselves by following the tips offered in this guide.Exterior Condenser Unit
Clean the Exterior Condenser Unit and Components
The exterior condenser unit is the large box located on the side of the building that is designed to push heat from the inside of the building to the outdoors. Inside of the box are coils of pipe that are surrounded by thousands of thin metal “fins” that allow the coils more surface area to exchange heat. Follow these tips when cleaning the exterior condenser unit and its inner components — after turning off power to the unit!
  • Remove any leaves, spider webs and other debris from the unit’s exterior. Trim foliage back several feet from the unit to ensure proper air flow.
  • Remove the cover grille to clean any debris from the unit’s interior. A garden hose can be helpful for this task.
  • Straighten any bent fins with a tool called a fin comb.
  • Add lubricating oil to the motor. Check your owner’s manual for specific instructions.
  • Clean the evaporator coil and condenser coil at least once a year.  When they collect dirt, they may not function properly.
Inspect the Condensate Drain Line
Condensate drain lines collect condensed water and drain it away from the unit. They are located on the side of the inside fan unit. Sometimes there are two drain lines—a primary drain line that’s built into the unit, and a secondary drain line that can drain if the first line becomes blocked. Homeowners can inspect the drain line by using the following tips, which take very little time and require no specialized tools:
  • Inspect the drain line for obstructions, such as algae and debris. If the line becomes blocked, water will back up into the drain pan and overflow, potentially causing a safety hazard or water damage to your home.
  • Make sure the hoses are secured and fit properly.
Clean the Air Filter
The air filter slides out for easy replacement
Air filters remove pollen, dust and other particles that would otherwise circulate indoors. Most filters are typically rectangular in shape and about 20 inches by 16 inches, and about 1 inch thick. They slide into the main ductwork near the inside fan unit. The filter should be periodically washed or replaced, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. A dirty air filter will not only degrade indoor air quality, but it will also strain the motor to work harder to move air through it, increasing energy costs and reducing energy efficiency. The filter should be replaced monthly during heavy use during the cooling seasons. You may need to change the filter more often if the air conditioner is in constant use, if building occupants have respiratory problems, if  you have pets with fur, or if dusty conditions are present.
Cover the Exterior Unit

When the cooling season is over, you should cover the exterior condenser unit in preparation for winter. If it isn’t being used, why expose it to the elements? This measure will prevent ice, leaves and dirt from entering the unit, which can harm components and require additional maintenance in the spring. A cover can be purchased, or you can make one yourself by taping together plastic trash bags. Be sure to turn the unit off before covering it.

Close the Air-Distribution Registers
Air-distribution registers are duct openings in ceilings, walls and floors where cold air enters the room. They should be closed after the cooling season ends in order to keep warm air from back-flowing out of the room during the warming season. Pests and dust will also be unable to enter the ducts during the winter if the registers are closed. These vents typically can be opened or closed with an adjacent lever or wheel. Remember to open the registers in the spring before the cooling season starts. Also, make sure they are not blocked by drapes, carpeting or furniture.
In addition, homeowners should practice the following strategies in order to keep their central air conditioning systems running properly:
  • Have the air-conditioning system inspected by a professional each year before the start of the cooling season.
  • Reduce stress on the air conditioning system by enhancing your home’s energy efficiency. Switch from incandescent lights to compact fluorescents, for instance, which produce less heat.
In summary, any homeowner can perform periodic inspections and maintenance to their home’s central air-conditioning system.

10 Easy Ways to Save Money & Energy in Your Home

Most people don’t know how easy it is to be saving energy, and here at InterNACHI, we want to change that.

Saving energy in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy efficiency, InterNACHI energy auditors can perform in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home.

Why should you be saving energy? Here are a few good reasons:

  • Federal, state, utility and local jurisdictions’ financial incentives, such as tax breaks, are very advantageous for homeowners in most parts of the U.S.
  • It saves money. It costs less to power a home that has been converted to be more energy-efficient.
  • It increases the comfort level indoors.
  • It reduces our impact on climate change. Many scientists now believe that excessive energy consumption contributes significantly to global warming.
  • It reduces pollution. Conventional power production introduces pollutants that find their way into the air, soil and water supplies.

1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house. 

As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that you be saving energy through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:

  • Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.
  • Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters.
  • Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be turned down at night and when no one is home. In most homes, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70° F, for example, saves about 10% on heating costs.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
  • Install a wood stove or a pellet stove. These are more efficient sources of heat than furnaces.
  • At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.
Image of a high-efficiency thermostat at the InterNACHI® House of Horrors® in Colorado.
 

2. Install a tankless water heater.

Demand-type water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don’t produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters, which means you’ll be saving energy. Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don’t need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.

3. Replace incandescent lights.

The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer means you’ll be saving energy by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:

  • CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
  • LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.

4. Seal and insulate your home.

Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can assess  leakage in the building envelope and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings.

The following are some common places where leakage may occur:

  • electrical receptacles/outlets;
  • mail slots;
  • around pipes and wires;
  • wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
  • attic hatches;
  • fireplace dampers;
  • inadequate weatherstripping around doors;
  • baseboards;
  • window frames; and
  • switch plates.

Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that translates to energy saving on cooling and heating, such as:

  • Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
  • Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
  • Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.

5. Install efficient showerheads and toilets.

The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:

  • low-flow showerheads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
  • low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of 2 gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have “1.6 GPF” marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank;
  • vacuum-assist toilets. This type of toilet has a vacuum chamber that uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum-assist toilets are relatively quiet; and
  • dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.

6. Use appliances and electronics responsibly.

Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:

  • Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.
  • Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
  • Use energy saving ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and electronics. These devices, approved by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program, include TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers, and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
  • Chargers, such as those used for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
  • Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.

7. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.

Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home’s interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:

  • skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
  • light shelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
  • clerestory windows.  Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and
  • light tubes.  Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, and then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.

8. Insulate windows and doors.

About one-third of the home’s total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:

  • Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
  • Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, apply weatherstripping around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when they’re closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren’t already in place.
  • Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
  • If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don’t work, they should be repaired or replaced.

9. Cook smart.

An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:

  • Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
  • Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
  • Pans should be placed on the matching size heating element or flame.
  • Using lids on pots and pans will heat food more quickly than cooking in uncovered pots and pans.
  • Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
  • When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster.

10. Change the way you do laundry.

  • Do not use the medium setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load.
  • Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not very soiled. Water that is 140° F uses far more energy than 103° F for the warm-water setting, but 140° F isn’t that much more effective for getting clothes clean.
  • Clean the lint trap every time before you use the dryer. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
  • If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
  • Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer.
Homeowners who take the initiative to make these changes usually discover that the energy savings are more than worth the effort. InterNACHI home inspectors can make this process much easier because they can perform a more comprehensive assessment of energy saving potential than the average homeowner can.
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