Under the National Electrical Code, the installation, operation, and maintenance of electric power systems should be closely monitored. It also specifies rules and guidelines on what devices must be installed for electrical safety. One such device is a circuit breaker – an arc fault circuit interrupter or a ground fault circuit interrupter.
What many homeowners don’t know is that there is a difference between AFCI and GFCI circuit breakers. But when it comes to electrical safety, what you don’t know can hurt you. Keep reading to learn the following:
- What is a circuit breaker, and how does it work?
- Where are AFCI and GFCI required?
- What the installation process involves, and who should do it?
What Is a Circuit Breaker?
A circuit breaker is an automated switching device designed to protect an electrical circuit. It does so by detecting a fault condition, such as overload or short circuit. In this case, these devices stop the flow immediately to prevent damage.
There are three main types of circuit breakers: standard, GFCI, and AFCI. How does a GFCI breaker work, and does the principle differ from an AFCI breaker? Later in the article, we’ll cover how they differ. But for now, let’s see how this device works in general.
Circuit breakers are located inside the service panel (or the breaker box). When the circuit breaker is on, electricity is successfully delivered to each circuit in the house. Every circuit breaker has a maximum level of amperage. If the current flow exceeds 15 amps, for example, the breaker will trip and shut down the power automatically.
While knowing how an AFCI outlet or breaker works is helpful, there are still many nuances. You probably want a fully trained and committed professional to take over this task. Call Handy Kith to ask any questions about or schedule a consultation right away!
Difference Between AFCI and GFCI
Both GFCIs and AFCIs are circuit breakers within the electrical system that consist of fixed and moving contacts. On the surface, they look similar. For example, both of them have two buttons – pressing the test button and a reset button. However, this is where similarities end.
Because they work differently and serve different purposes, the AFCI breaker installation is required for some rooms, whereas the GFCI installation is reserved for others. Below you will see more detailed descriptions of both.
How Does a GFCI Breaker Work?
GFCI protection connects a “hot” power source and a grounded wire. It shuts off power if it detects a leakage current, i.e., when electricity flowing into the circuit differs from that returning.
The main purpose is to protect people from being harmed by electric shock and electrocution. For example, according to the GFCI in the bathroom code, each bathroom should have at least three GFCI-protected receptacles. Otherwise, the combination of moisture and electrical devices would pose a risk to every household member.
Here are a couple of situations that may cause a ground fault:
- damaged or broken electrical appliances
- damp or wet electrical equipment
According to the National Electrical Code, they should be tested each month to make sure it trips properly. If it doesn’t, make sure to order a GFCI replacement as soon as you can.
GFCI Breaker vs. Outlet
Ground fault circuit interrupters fall into two categories: outlets and breakers. Depending on what you go for, the GFCI installation will differ as they aren’t meant to protect the same parts of the circuit.
GFCI outlets are acceptable when:
- There are only a few outlets that require ground fault protection
- The outlets are too far away from the breaker panel (for example, a garage GFCI outlet)
- If you only need to install a few outlets and are not interested in spending a lot of money on an entire GFCI breaker.
On the other hand, a GFCI breaker makes more practical sense when:
- Most of the electrical outlets in the circuit require ground fault protection
- You need extra peace of mind knowing all receptacles are fully protected
- It’s required for special use, such as heated pools, large workshops, or outdoor patio spaces
As a homeowner, you most likely aren’t aware of the various aspects of the electrical code. Not to mention, most people don’t know the safety measures when dealing with electrical components.
Bring in a Handy Kith professional to make sure that your house is wired properly and safely. During installation, we will also teach you how to test a GFCI breaker, how the reset button works, and other essentials.
How Does AFCI Work?
Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) detect arc faults that occur between two different conductors or along connections. By doing so, these devices protect against fires caused by these faults. Below are some conditions that can lead to an arc fault:
- Un-insulated wires (melted, damaged, overheated, or pierced through)
- Loose/improper connections
- Faulty electrical equipment
- Damaged outlets and circuits
- Excessive heat from sun or heating vents on devices and wiring
As of the testing of an AFCI breaker, it should also be done on a monthly basis. If you notice a problem with how it’s tripping (or not tripping), seek help and proper AFCI breaker installation.
AFCI Outlet or Breaker
We’ve talked about AFCI protection in general, and now we can get into the subcategories. Similar to GFCIs, AFCI outlet and AFCI breaker installations are required for slightly different purposes.
When are AFCI breakers required? The 2014 code revisions resulted in some changes. But it’s safe to say that AFCIs need to be installed in almost every room in newly built houses. You will find more on that down below.
Outlet-branch circuit (OBC) AFCIs don’t need to be installed in every outlet in a room. These protect from series and parallel arcs downstream, including every appliance in it.
AFCI breaker replacement is usually more expensive, whereas OBC AFCIs are cheaper. Still, it’s up to your electrician to decide which kind your house or particular room will need.
Where Are AFCI and GFCI Required?
Since you know the difference between AFCI and GFCI, you can probably guess that they are placed in different areas. You may have heard something about installing GFCI in the kitchen or even GFCI-protected fridge circuits. Still, it makes sense to look at the full list of units.
Arcing faults often occur in damaged or deteriorated wires and cords. This means they should be installed in easily accessible areas around the house.
Required locations for AFCI breakers include:
- Family rooms
- Dining rooms
- Living rooms
- Recreation rooms
- Laundry areas
GFCI protection devices need to be installed in:
- Kitchens (with countertop surface receptacles)
- Garages (in addition to a garage GFCI outlet, you will also need some for accessory buildings limited to storage areas, work areas, etc.)
- Laundry, utility, and wet bar sinks
- Unfinished basements
- Crawl spaces (at or below grade level)
More accurate information on when to use AFCI vs. GFCI can be obtained from a licensed electrician. This guide is meant to provide a general explanation. But when it comes to GFCI in bathroom code, GFCI in the laundry room, or any other specifics, you’ll need someone with relevant experience.
Q: Are arc fault breakers required in older homes?
Whenever you add an extra circuit or an outlet, the AFCI breaker installation is required by the National Electrical Code. If you live in an older house and haven’t replaced the electricals, you might want to consider replacing multiphase plugs and sockets.
Q: Can you put multiple GFCI outlets on one circuit?
First of all, it’s not recommended simply because of increased costs. Second of all, there is no actual reason for doing so. During the proper GFCI installation, the device should be put as the first link in the chain. This way, downstream receptacles will be protected.
Q: Do GFCI circuit breakers go bad?
Yes, this can happen. Just like any house system or equipment, it can stop working the way it should for one reason or another. For example, one of the common reasons for malfunctions is moisture, like a heavy fog for an extended period.
Q: Does the dishwasher need an arc fault breaker?
Yes. According to the NEC, AFCI protection has been extended to all120-volt, 15- and 20-ampere branch circuits. This includes dishwashers (which are often placed on 15-amp dedicated circuits), furnaces, and even smoke detectors.
Q: How to test a GFCI breaker?
Open the service panel door and press the test button on the breaker. This will cause it to trip and cut the power to the entire circuit. If that doesn’t happen, it means the breaker is faulty.
Q: How to detect ground fault?
Simple troubleshooting is the best method to identify the cause and location of your fault. Disconnect your appliances and reset the breaker. Plug each appliance back into the outlet until something causes it to trip again. But to be safer, call a professional to detect the problem and fix it.
Q: What rooms require AFCI protection?
Any readily accessible locations should have AFCI devices and undergo regular testing and AFCI breaker replacement. This includes the kitchen, living room, dining rooms, bedrooms, sunrooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, and laundry areas.
Professional Work from Licensed NYC Electricians
There are a few aspects of home improvement that are filled with risks as DIY electrical repairs. We want to focus once again that knowing the difference between AFCI and GFCI isn’t enough. For instance, you may not know when AFCI breakers are required and install the wrong breaker type. From inspection issues to electrical shocks and fire hazards – there are many reasons to entrust this work to a professional.
Handy Kith specialists are readily available to handle all of your electrical and data needs – AFCI breaker replacement and GFCI installation included. With us, you can count on fast, reliable service by a team of friendly and experienced electricians. Reach out to us, and we’ll gladly make your house safer.