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GFCI vs AFCI: Understanding Your Receptacles & Breakers

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 24, 2018 12:30:00 PM / by Jaron Henkel

In the workforce alone, 300 deaths and 4,000 injuries occur from electrocution in the U.S. annually. Hundreds of “everyday” Americans suffer from electrical accidents each year too.

Do you know if your home’s outlets are safe? Save your family from fatal electrical shocks or fires by educating yourself on the receptacles and breakers you use every day.

We’re here to get you familiar with your systems for better protection:

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What is GFCI?

GFCI stands for “ground fault circuit interrupter,” sometimes abbreviated as GFI, and is designed to protect you from fatal electrocution from current traveling through your outlets as the result of a ground fault.

Once your device is plugged in, it works by monitoring the amount of power surging through device. If you are blow drying your hair and accidentally drop the appliance into a wet sink, the GFCI detects an interruption in current and can quickly cut power to the outlet.

Much like running too many devices at a time can overload or “trip” your circuit breaker, GFCI offers a form of protection to immediately cut the flow of of electricity when you could be in danger or fatal electrocution.

GFCI comes in the form of a receptacle or a breaker, which we’ll break down below”

GFCI Outlet/Receptacle vs. GFCI Breaker

First off, it’s important to note that The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires GFCI compliant receptacles and breakers to be installed in areas with a high potential of water splash like kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, outdoor wall plugs and garages.

You can tell a GFCI receptacle apart from a regular, unprotected receptacle by looking for the two “Reset” and “Test” buttons in the center of the outlet. If you break the circuit, these buttons can be pressed in to reset the power to the outlet, without having to worry about going to a breaker to do so.

GFCI receptacles can be wired in two different ways: single-location or multiple-location. Multiple-location wiring will protect your first GFCI outlet and everyone downstream of it, however, it doesn’t protect the circuit between itself and the service panel.

A GFCI breaker boxes, AKA service panels, can be installed to add GFCI protection to your entire circuit.

Receptacle or Breaker: What’s Best for Me?

GFCI breakers are often beneficial for those with outlets behind furniture or in difficult to reach spots, as NEC requires that GFCI receptacles are installed in readily accessible locations to ensure it’s easy to reset. They could also be a good choice for those who don’t have wide cavities between their walls, as GFCI receptacles require much more depth to nest in your wall than a standard one.

Receptacles, on the other hand, could be ideal for a homeowner who only needs two or three GFCI compliant outlets, say for your bedroom, bathroom and laundry room. Not only are they cheaper than a box, but they can be more convenient for those not familiar with using a service panel.

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What is AFCI?

AFCI stands for “arc fault circuit interrupters” and interrupts the current from an arc fault, not a ground fault like GFCI.

Simply put, GFCI breakers and receptacles protect you from electric shock if a device is energized, while AFCI protects your circuit wiring from arcing faults which could trigger an electrical fire.

Just like GFCIs, they come in the form of outlets or circuit breakers and are required by the NEC.

What is an Arc Fault?

An arc fault is a discharge of electricity which causes an intense amount of heat, sometimes hot enough to burn the insulation around wires and cause an electrical fire. Loose or corroded wires could cause the initial sparking or an external force such as a tree falling and damaging connections.

Both GFCI and AFCI Can Work in Tandem

GFCIs are put in place to protect against electrical shock, while AFCIs are designed to guard against fire.

For this reason, both systems can work hand-in-hand to ensure your circuits and breakers are protected— and should be used in tandem.

Do you have GFCI and AFCI systems setup in your home?

Our team of electricians can help you determine whether receptacles or breakers are best for you. Contact us today for a consultation or in-home walk-through.

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