Since the 1960s, receptacles and circuit breakers with ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) technology have become standard in homes to protect occupants from electric shock. Required by the NEC for outlets located in certain wet or damp locations, such as near bathroom sinks, GFCI receptacles monitor variations in electrical current. In instances where a person accidentally becomes part of an electrical circuit, a GFCI receptacle would immediately trip, preventing electrical current from going through a person on its way to ground.

Until only recently, however, UL safety standards for GFCI circuit breakers included exceptions that could allow power to continue flowing through devices that had reached their end of life.

An alarming trend
UL 943 Self-Test GFCI End of Life standards state that when a self-test GFCI reaches end of life it must either deny power with inability to reset, give a visual or audible indication, or trip with reset ability subject to the next test cycle or repeat tripping. However, even with diligent testing, a GFCI device without true power-denial features could potentially be reset and continue to provide electricity without providing ground fault protection.

A research study based on information collected by members of the American Society of Home Inspectors from more than 13,000 building inspections revealed that, on average, 15% of GFCIs were inoperative when tested. In areas of the country that experience a high volume of lightning, such as central Florida and the Great Plains, there was an even higher incidence of failure, with as many as 58% of GFCIs working improperly.

These findings helped propel the industry toward the reset/lockout-style GFCI devices in use today, along with heightened UL safety standards for end of life. However, while these safety standards were universally applied to all GFCI receptacles, many GFCI circuit breakers on the market today took advantage of exceptions in the standards that could allow them to be reset and continue to provide power without ground fault protection. These exceptions pertain specifically to silicone-controlled rectifiers (SCR) and solenoids—two components common to all tripping mechanisms in both receptacles and circuit breakers with GFCI technology.

Safety without exceptions
Fortunately, UL has recently updated its standards to close these loopholes for GFCI circuit breakers. However, manufacturers will have more than three years to comply with the new standards, meaning many circuit breakers currently in operation and on the market will be unable to provide complete ground fault protection.

Thankfully, owners and property managers don’t have to wait that long to provide more complete protection against ground faults. Leviton, a leading brand of smart, whole-home electrical solutions, recently introduced the first true power-denial circuit breaker on the market. Its new GFCI and AFCI/GFCI circuit breakers feature patented reset-lockout technology that already meets the revised standard.

For more information, visit