GFCI breakers and devices have been around for quite awhile--since the early 1970’s. This one you see pictured here was installed in 1979 and provided GFCI protection to all of the bathroom receptacles and the receptacles at the exterior of the home. It still tripped with the test button and shut off the power to all of the protected locations—just like it should. If you have ever looked at the installation instructions that come with just about any GFCI device it recommends hitting that test button once a month.
Now I want a show of hands as to how many of you “actually” do that?
I know that I do not. I might do it once a year, but even that is only likely at the ones I walk by on a daily basis.
I also want a show of hands as to how many of you “actually” know the proper protocol for testing a GFCI device?
The only “recognized” test is to hit the test button. However, that may not provide enough information, so it is important to have something (like a light) plugged into the receptacle so that you can actually tell that power has been shut down to the location with the test light. This is especially true of some older GFCI type receptacles where the test buttons would trip, receptacles downstream of the device would be de-energized but the receptacle portion of the device itself would stay energized. The newer devices are not allowed to do this and are integrated so that it cannot happen.
This problem is not associated with GFCI type breakers—only GFCI type receptacles.
The next $64,000.00 question, is how many check the little box on the sticker posted at the panel that keeps track of all the times that you test the GFCI breaker?
“What sticker,” you ask?
“You know—the one required to be posted on the panel that comes in the box with the GFCI breaker,” I answer.
(You will only see these stickers at the panel if there are GFCI Breakers in the panel. Most houses have nothing but "point of use" GFCI receptacles throughout the home--not in the panels. AFCI type breakers will also come with these test reminder sheets.)
If you do not have such a sticker it does not surprise me, as they often were not installed. I find them occasionally and typically they look like the one pictured here.
The sticker is pretty much a waste of paper, ink and sticky stuff as near as I can tell. In all of 35 years NO ONE has apparently needed a reminder to test the device at all!
I wonder if any shortening of the device’s life would have occurred had it been tested the recommended 420+ times? For all I know, since the home was a one owner home, I may have been the only person to test the device in 35 years.
While apparently someone thinks these stickers (they still come with the devices) are convenient, handy and possibly even required, they do not seem to serve any real purpose as near as I can tell. It is a perfect example of how you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
Are you “trippin?”
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board