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Illinois Country Living

Michael L. Ashenfelter, Safe Electricity Advisory Team

Safety & Health:

Danger Is Lurking Behind Your Walls
You can prevent electrical accidents by installing GFCI outlets

Danger lurks behind those walls. Sounds like a bad horror story doesn’t it? But sometimes those things we take for granted in and around our homes can be very deadly. Electricity is one of those things that we hardly notice. When it does not work correctly it can be deadly. You can easily prevent many of the hazards by using ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI).

If you ever experienced an electric shock it most likely happened because a part of your body was in contact with the source of an electrical current and your body provided a path for the electrical current to go to the ground.

When this happens it is called a ground fault. Current flow in an electric circuit normally travels from the energized conductor through receptacles, light fixtures, etc., and back to its source through the neutral conductor to the transformer completing this path. If your body provides a path to the ground in this circuit you could be injured, burned, severely shocked or electrocuted.

It may happen because you are using that frayed extension cord that you should have thrown away last year, or while using that old coffeemaker that keeps giving you a tingle every now and again.

A common misconception with electricity is the higher the voltage the higher the possibility of death. In reality it is not the voltage but the current that kills people. People have been killed by 120 volts AC in the home and with as little as 42 volts DC. The real measure of a shock’s intensity lies in the amount of current (in milliamperes) forced through the body. The reality is that any electrical device under the right conditions could transmit a fatal amount of current. Currents between 100 and 200 milliamperes (0.1 ampere and 0.2 ampere) are fatal. Here is what happens:

• At 1-8 milliamps you may feel little to no sensation of electrical shock.

• At 8-15 milliamps you will receive a painful shock, but will not lose muscular control.

• At 15-20 milliamps you will experience a painful shock and loss of muscle control and will not be able to let go of what is shocking you.

• At 50-100 milliamps you could experience ventricular fibrillation, an uncontrollable twitching in the walls of the ventricles of the heart, a condition that could result in death.

• At 100-200 milliamps ventricular fibrillation occurs and if immediate medical attention is not available death could occur.

• At 200 milliamps and over, severe burns and severe muscular contractions occur. The contractions can be so severe that chest muscles clamp the heart and stop it for the duration of the shock.

Amazingly, this can actually prevent ventricular fibrillation and if the victim can be removed from the electrical circuit and the heart restarted a victim could survive. However, at this stage the body’s internal organs would have suffered severe damage and a long and painful recovery would ensue.

GFCIs are designed to prevent electrocution by detecting the leakage current, which is typically more than 4-6 milliamps opening the circuit in as little as 25 milliseconds for class A devices like the ones used in our homes. GFCIs are intended to be used only in circuits where one of the conductors is solidly grounded.

According to the 2008 National Electrical Code article 210.8, installation of GFCIs is required in all new and remodel construction projects in dwelling units for all 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles installed in the following locations:

• Bathrooms

• Garages and accessory buildings that have a floor located at or below grade level not intended as habitable rooms and limited to storage areas, work areas and areas of similar use.

• Outdoors

• Crawl spaces

• Unfinished basements

• Kitchens where receptacles are installed to serve countertop surfaces

• Laundry, utility and wet bar sinks where receptacles are installed within 6 feet of the outside edge of the sink.

• Boathouses


For More Information:

Michael L. Ashenfelter is the Sangamon County Electrical/ Mechanical Inspector and a member of the Safe Electricity Advisory Team (, 217-747-5111. Sources: Data referenced from the NFPA, ICC and The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and


© 2014 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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