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Home Electric Safety Tip: Install A GFCI Electrical Outlet By Your Bathroom Sink

by Sheila Vasquez

A bathroom sink can be a busy area in many homes, with people cleaning up and using electrical devices like curling irons and hair dryers. The sink can also become a dangerous place if one of those devices falls into the sink while it is filled with water. People have been seriously injured or killed when they reach into the sink to grab the device without turning the electricity off first. Many municipalities now require newly built homes to have Ground Circuit Fault Interrupter (GFCI) electrical outlets installed in the bathroom to protect people. The GFCI outlet will switch off the power to the outlet whenever a short or electrical surge triggers it—like when a hair dryer falls into a sink full of water. Unfortunately, older homes typically have old electrical outlets that don't turn off the electricity to the device, and this can make the sink area very dangerous. You need to switch the electrical outlet from an old standard one to a newer GFCI one. This is something a regular homeowner can usually do by themselves. Here is how you can change out your old standard outlet and put in a GFCI one.

Turn Off the Electricity

You need to turn the power off to the outlet at the circuit breaker box before you start working. If you don't know which circuit breaker to turn off, you should plug a light into the outlet and turn it on. Switch each circuit breaker off one at a time until the light goes off. You should get someone who can yell at you when the light goes off if you don't want to spend the time walking back and forth from the circuit breaker box to the bathroom.

Remove Old Outlet

Unscrew the plastic cover to the outlet and remove it. Remove the screw holding the outlet to the electrical box. Take the outlet out of the electrical box and remove all the wires running to it.

Install GFCI Outlet

The old standard outlet will either have one set of black and white wires running to it or it will have two sets of wires. One set will be connected to the top of the outlet and the other set will be connected to the bottom of the outlet. If there are two sets of wires, you'll need to determine which set supplies power to the outlet and which set carries power to another outlet in the circuit.

You should use a multimeter to test the wires. A multimeter is a device that measures an electrical current, and you can buy one at your local hardware store. Make sure all the wires are not touching each other, and then turn the circuit breaker back on. Take the multimeter and set it on the current setting. The multimeter has two probes: one black and one red. Touch the white wire with the black probe and the black wire with the red probe in one set of wires. The set that causes the monitor to move is the set carrying power to the outlet. Turn the circuit breaker back off immediately after doing this test to protect yourself from getting an electrical shock.

The wires carrying power to the outlet need to be connected to the bottom of the GFCI outlet. Connect the black wire to the dark screw and the white wire to the light-colored screw. Do the same for the wires at the top of the outlet. There may be a copper ground wire in the old outlet, but that wire isn't needed for a GFCI outlet to operate properly, and it can be ignored.

Screw the GFCI outlet into the electrical box, and put the plastic cover back on. Turn on the circuit breaker and test the outlet with the light again to make sure everything is working well. If you don't feel comfortable working with electricity, contact an electrical contractor at a company like Conway Electric.