What are you Plugged into? GFCI and AFCI explained


GFCI Receptacle

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) are usually found on receptacles (aka plugs) in your walls near sinks and on exterior walls of newer houses.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) are usually found in electrical panels on the breakers for bedroom receptacles of new houses.


AFCI breaker in panel

Sometimes a GFCI will be installed at the panel and sometimes an AFCI will be installed at the receptacle, but this is less common.

GFCI’s detect leaky current.  If the current  going out from the panel is not the same as what is coming back to the electrical panel; say it is being diverted elsewhere (shorting) through water, or your body, the device will shut the power off very quickly to protect you from shock.

AFCI’s detect arcing.  Say there is some frayed wire and the current is still going through but making a spark across the gap.   The device will trip off, protecting against electrical fires.

Years ago, these features didn’t exist, hence many houses do not have all the latest receptacles.  The electrical code is frequently changing, and so the requirements for AFCI’s and GFCI’s have been evolving.

There are many ways to upgrade to GFCI and AFCI protected receptacles; consult a licensed electrician.    The electrician can use my home inspection report as a reference to save time in finding what to fix or upgrade to make your home safer.   This is where my home inspection report will save you money.

As a homeowner, test your GFCI and AFCI circuits monthly, and here’s how you do it:

1.  PRESS the TEST button,

2.  Check to see the receptacle has no power (ie plug in a nightlight)

3A.  For receptacles with test buttons – PRESS the RESET button

3B .  For AFCI breaker in panel – push the breaker all the way OFF first, then back ON.

4.  Check to see the receptacle has power.

If it doesn’t respond correctly, the unit has failed and would not likely have protected you in case of a problem.   Have it replaced by an electrician.

You can find certificed electricans at ESA’s website:  http://applications.dmtispatial.com/esa/