When were GFCI outlets mandated?
Q. My home inspector advised me to install GFCI outlets in my home for added electrical safety, but I'm wondering if this is required for an older home. What are the requirements for a house built in 1984?
A. GFCI is the abbreviation for "ground fault circuit interrupter." This is required for outlets that are used in potentially wet locations, such as outside or near sinks in bathrooms and the kitchen. GFCI outlets are easily recognized because they have two built-in buttons, one to test and one to reset the circuit.
Most people have seen GFCI outlets, but many are unaware of their intended purpose, which is to prevent shock or electrocution in the event of a short circuit to ground. For example, if a hair dryer were to fall into a sink full of water, or if a short were to occur in a whirlpool bathtub, the GFCI would instantly disconnect the power in that circuit.
The specific years when GFCI requirements became code vary from one municipality to another because the process for reviewing and adopting new codes varies among states and counties. For example, a new standard that was added to the code book in a particular year might have been adopted a year later in one state but not approved until two or three years later somewhere else.
In the late 1970s, GFCI protection became mandatory for outlets in bathrooms, building exteriors, beneath buildings, and near pools and spas. In the early '80s, garage outlets were added to the list. For a home built in 1984, those would be the applicable standards. In the late '80s, requirements were expanded to include all outlets within 6 feet of a kitchen sink, and in the mid '90s, GFCI rules began to include sinks at wet bars and laundries. At that time, kitchen outlets farther than 6 feet from the sink were also added to the list.
If the outlets in your home comply with older requirements, upgrading to current GFCI standards is strongly advised. After all, electrical safety is more important than rigid legal compliance.
Q. The home inspector who checked my house recommended anti-siphon valves for the lawn sprinkler system. This came as a surprise because the system works perfectly. Please tell me the purpose of anti-siphon valves and whether they're really necessary.
A. Anti-siphon sprinkler valves are a form of backflow protection for your water supply. Their purpose is to prevent contaminated water from flowing back into the plumbing system in your home. The absence of anti-siphon valves indicates your irrigation system was installed by someone who lacked adequate plumbing knowledge.
The irrigation pipes in your yard retain standing water when the system is not in use. This water can become stagnant, harboring bacteria and other microorganisms. It is also possible for fertilizers and weed killers to drain back into open lawn sprinklers. In the event of back-siphonage, non-potable water in the irrigation system could pollute the potable water supply. For this reason, the Uniform Plumbing Code requires that all irrigation lines be equipped with anti-backflow protection. These should be installed by a licensed plumber or landscaping contractor.
It is also required to have anti-backflow fittings on hose faucets, but these often turn out to be a troublesome nuisance.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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