The GFCI receptacle: A safe and energy-efficient choice for decorative lighting

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The holiday season is fast approaching; for many, it's a time that includes giving out candy or putting...

The holiday season is fast approaching; for many, it's a time that includes giving out candy or putting up decorations, and, of course, hanging lights.

Safety, both indoors and out, is always a concern when it comes to electricity, perhaps even more so in the cooler months. Along with safety, energy efficiency is a top priority, especially these days. With that in mind, here are a few tips for installing a GFCI receptacle, a great choice for the safety and energy conscious!

Basic electrical safety tips

Before re-routing grounded wires, or installing or removing anything that will require re-wiring, you should make sure that power to the area that you will be working in is shut off.

After you've shut off power to the appropriate circuit, you'll want to "tag" it (you can use a piece of colored masking tape) as being off. This will let anyone else that may be around know that this circuit is to remain off.

You'll want to make sure that you're insulated from the possibility of electric shock as well. You can do this by wearing a pair of rubber-soled shoes or working on a rubber floor mat. As you may be working outside in the presence of moisture (melted frost) this is an important step to remember.

The GFCI receptacle

The benefits of a GFCI receptacle, not only in decorative lighting situations but in everyday home use, are manyfold.

Generally, current building codes require GFCI receptacles outdoors (they are also usually required in bathrooms, kitchens and garages).

As far as safety, if there is a fluctuation in power in the connected circuit (say, a power surge), the GFCI receptacle is designed to detect it and shut off. This helps to prevent what could otherwise be dangerous hazards, such as electrical fires.

Installing the receptacle

Assuming you're not working on a new build, you'll probably have to remove an older, standard receptacle. Follow the safety tips listed above before doing so!

If the electrical box that the old receptacle was housed in is in good condition --with no signs of melting and the screw seated properly--you can use it with the new receptacle.

Pay attention to the way the wires are attached to the receptacle being removed; attach the your new receptacle in the same fashion.

  • Incoming power (white and black): Attach to LINE screw terminals (left and right, upper terminals).
  • Ground (copper): Attach to topmost screw terminal.

There will be two other screw terminals on the receptacle on the bottom left and right sides covered by tape; leave them there unless you plan to attach LOAD cable.

If you don't feel comfortable working with electricity, there are a number of Atlanta-area professionals who will happily help you!

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