If you recently refinanced, purchased, or sold a home, the appraiser or home inspector may have noted that one or more GFCI outlets need to be repaired or added. While this could happen with a conventional loan, it is more frequently seen in VA, FHA, or USDA loans because these have stricter underwriting requirements - one of which is a strong emphasis on SAFETY. So what is a ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI? It is an electrical device that protects people from electric shock. It detects even a slight flow of electricity to a grounded item and immediately shuts off the flow of electricity to protect you from electrocution.
The requirement to install GFCIs in homes began in 1971, and additional requirements have been added to the National Electrical Code (NEC) every code cycle since then. For example: 1973 – exterior outlets
1975 – bathroom outlets
1978 – garage outlets
1987 – any outlet within six feet of a kitchen sink
1987 – at least one basement outlet
1990 – crawl spaces
1993 – wet bars
1996 – every kitchen outlet that serves a countertop
1999 – electrically heated floors This is not an all-inclusive list. Most local codes are based on NEC, however, this is not always the case so you should verify with your local building authority and/or a professional electrician as to what you should do to bring your electrical to code.
In an older home, there may have been no requirement for GFCIs to be installed at the time of construction. An owner is not required to upgrade the receptacles unless the electrical system has been modified. So, if the kitchen in a 1950s house has been remodeled, and receptacles have been added or moved, they must be upgraded to GFCI receptacles if they are within 6 feet of a plumbing fixture.
When a lender, an appraiser or a home inspector suggests or even requires upgrading certain receptacles to GFCI receptacles, it's important to know that they have your safety in mind. Many times the upgrade or repair is a requirement for the loan to close, but if not, the individual who ultimately has ownership of the property should consider doing it for the safety of their family or tenants. (Special note to sellers: If you wish to entertain buyers who will be acquiring an FHA, VA, or USDA loan, it will probably save you time and money to have any required GFCI outlets repaired or installed prior to the initial appraisal inspection. It could save you a required final inspection which could delay closing. And no matter what type of financing, it is ALWAYS a good idea to address any obvious SAFETY issues such as frayed wiring, missing cover plates, missing outdoor outlet weather covers, etc. before an appraiser arrives).
GFCI receptacles are important in protecting people from electric shock. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), electrocutions are down 83 percent since the 1970s when GFCIs were introduced. These quick-to-react outlets are required by law in new home construction, and it’s a good idea to put them in older homes as well. If you're unsure about the presence or absence of GFCI receptacles in your home, it's best to consult with a professional electrician. Sources: