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Installing and maintaining a GFCI
(ground fault circuit interrupter)

You may have heard of a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) or GFI (ground fault interrupter). The GFCI is a valuable safety device that should be installed in bathrooms, kitchens and any other rooms with a sink; in the garage; near pools; and at all exterior outlets.

If your home is fairly new, it already has GFCIs. They have been required in new construction and remodeling for about 15 years. If you are spending the money to remodel a kitchen or bathroom, add GFCI outlets there and at every other spot in your home where damp or wet conditions occur. Hire an electrician to do this job.

The GFCI uses sensitive circuitry to prevent shocks. A tiny imbalance in the power and neutral line will trip the GFCI. The imbalance indicates the possibility of current leakage that could deliver a shock.

GFCI outlets or circuit breakers provide a high level of safety for a very small cost. The GFCI outlet can cost less than $10. In most locations, it can be installed in just a few minutes.

Don’t confuse a GFCI with the fuse or circuit breaker in the basement. The fuse or breaker protects the wire from overloading, overheating and burning. A fuse will allow 15 or 20 amps to flow through the circuit before it trips-that’s more than enough power to electrocute you.

Once the GFCI is installed, test it monthly with the test/reset button on the face of the breaker or outlet. Push the test button, and the GFCI will trip. Reset the GFCI by pressing the reset button. Often a GFCI outlet in one bathroom also protects other bathrooms, the garage, and exterior outlets.

I provide home inspection services, during which I always test the GFCIs, and I’ve found that about 5% to 10% of the existing GFCI outlets are not working properly.

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Doorbell blues

Don’t be afraid to try to repair the doorbell. All of its parts are low voltage-12 to 24 volts-and can’t really hurt you. All of the light gauge "doorbell" wire will be low voltage. However, you should not attempt to repair or replace the transformer for the unit. It converts a 110-volt supply to 12 or 24 volts.

Start with the doorbell button. It’s the most common source of problems because of its exposure to weather. If the button is recessed or flush with the wood trim, slip a screwdriver or putty knife under the edge and pry it out of its hole. If it is screwed to the frame, remove the screws.

Now you can see the low voltage wires. If they are corroded or are not tightly attached, you have found the problem. Use your metal screwdriver to short between the wires, and the doorbell should ring. You can easily replace the button. If it does not ring, the problem is in the chime or transformer.

Take a peek at the chime. Make sure it is level. Vacuum away any dust. You will see a round plunger that needs to move freely in the magnet surrounding it.

After you have checked these items, the next step would be to use a voltmeter to analyze the transformer and wiring. This is a task you may wish to leave to a professional.

For about $20, you can buy a new battery operated chime and button that needs no wires. The button is mounted anywhere within 100 feet of the chime. This is a great option when wires are damaged.

I use a battery operated doorbell to "chime" my son when he is enjoying loud music in his second floor bedroom and can’t hear the phone. Some people carry the button in their car to chime the folks inside a home to announce that the car pool has arrived.

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