GFCI vs. AFCI: What Is the Difference?

Advances in circuit breaker and electrical technology have made our lives safer. Fuses and circuit breakers are essential components that prevent excess current from running through the system. When a problem occurs, fuses blow and circuit breakers trip to shut off the flow of electricity. Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) are two types of safety devices designed to protect you and your property from electrical issues that could lead to fire, injury, and death. While these devices share similarities, such as providing greater protection than a standard outlet, each component also serves distinct purposes.

A GFCI-equipped outlet or a circuit breaker is designed to prevent electrical shocks, burns, and electrocution. The sensors in a GFCI measure the current flowing through the circuit. The amount of electrical current flowing back into the circuit through the neutral lead should be the same as that flowing out through the “hot” prong. If the current is out of balance because the circuit has made contact with something or someone that it should not have touched, the GFCI senses the change in current and interrupts the circuit, which stops the flow of electricity. The sophisticated system “assumes” that the missing electricity must be flowing through another electrical ground, such as a person or water, which could lead to electrocution or damage to electrical equipment. This “assumption” is why GFCI circuits and outlets are installed in kitchens, bathrooms and utility rooms as well as on outside receptacles.

Electricity can leak from decaying or damaged wiring and start a fire. These fires can spread quickly through the wiring, which is typically hidden behind walls. Electrical fires cause more damage than any other type of house fire, and they are twice as deadly. An electrical arc can occur when an animal chews through the insulation separating the wires, or a nail is driven through a wire when someone attempts to hang something on a wall. An AFCI circuit breaker contains a processor that is designed to recognize the unique current and voltage characteristics of an electrical arc that could start a fire. The AFCI senses that electricity is leaking from the wiring or the spark that occurs when electricity is being conducted through the air. The AFCI then stops the flow of electricity.

In essence, a GFCI prevents electrical shock, and an AFCI prevents fires. Although modern building codes mandate the installation of these protective devices during the construction phase, it was not routinely installed in older homes. All Phase can help you protect your property and family as well as provide peace of mind. Our experienced technicians can quickly install these safety devices with minimal disruption to your household or routine. Give our team a call if you need additional information or assistance.

All Phase Electric
2340 Bruner Lane Suit 100
Fort Myers, FL 33912

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