GFCI and AFCI Outlets: What’s the Difference?

AFCI and GFCI outletsIf you in a new home, or one that has been recently remodeled, your home most likely contains either GFCI or AFCI outlets—or both. It is required under modern building codes. Not being an electrician, you might ask “What’s the difference between GFCI and AFCI outlets?” And more importantly, “Why are these important?”

What is a GFCI Outlet?

GFCI is the acronym for ground fault circuit interrupter, and it is the type of outlet required by electrical codes in areas where water is located, like your bathroom or kitchen. It works by shutting off the electrical current by diverting electrical energy to the ground whenever an imbalance is detected in order to protect you from being shocked or electrocuted.

GFCI outlets “trip” whenever the circuit detects current flowing in an unintended direction. When the circuit trips and electricity is cut off to the outlets, you can easily reset it by pressing the “reset” or red button on its face. This means these outlets must be visible and accessible for ease of resetting, and are not placed behind furniture or appliances. GFCI outlets should not be used for freezers or refrigerators.

A GFCI circuit breaker is installed in the service panel to provide protection to every outlet on its circuit, including the wiring and anything plugged into the outlets. They can be installed as a single-location or multiple-location GFCI.

You would find GFCI outlets in:

  • Kitchens
  • Bathrooms
  • Laundry rooms
  • Wet bars
  • Pool and spa areas
  • Crawlspaces
  • Unfinished basements
  • Exterior outlets

What is an AFCI Outlet?

AFCI is the acronym for arc-fault circuit interrupters, and this type of outlet protects you from heat-arcing electrical dangers and fires caused by arcing faults. Arcing can occur when a wire is damaged, such as if you accidently drive a nail through the wiring while hanging a picture, a rodent chews through a wire, or cords become broken or old.

AFCI outlets are built into your home’s main electrical panel as a specialized circuit breaker, but operate similarly to the GFCI in that they shut down electrical power if an anomaly is detected.

You would find AFCI outlets in:

  • Bedrooms
  • Kitchens
  • Laundry rooms
  • Family rooms
  • Dining rooms
  • Dens
  • Sunrooms and recreation rooms
  • Hallways

When an AFCI trips, it can be a sign that it was not installed correctly. Here are some tips:

  • Complete your wiring after other construction is finished, and use a qualified electrician
  • Install nail places for circuits above and below the panel
  • Use standoffs to prevent nails from hitting the wiring
  • Use insulated staples, and don’t overdrive them
  • Pre-twist wire prior to installing a wire nut
  • Don’t install two circuits in one box, or split them to the left or right

Related: What is an AFCI?

Why are Electrical Outlet Upgrades Important?

In some older homes, you may not find either type of circuit interrupter, however, it is recommended that you take the time to add them into your electrical system to get up to electrical code. They do cost slightly more than a standard outlet, but are well worth the additional expensive. This will help ensure the safety of your home and your family. Your local electrical code will dictate the correct placement of these outlets, and a local electrician can help install them.

Do You Suspect a Construction Defect? Contact Först Consulting Group.

If you think that there has been an error made in your construction project, and you would like to get a second opinion on your AFCI or GFCI outlets, contact Först Consulting Group. As construction experts, we can inspect the electrical codes in your building project to look for defects or errors in workmanship. If we find any, we will document our findings and present them to you along with typical costs for remediation.

Electrical wiring isn’t something to mess around with. It’s best to catch a problem early rather than have to fix the damages later. When it doubt, contact Först Consulting Group. We have a number of homeowner services we can provide, from consultation on choosing and vetting a contractor, to inspections and documentation, to litigation support and expert witness services.  Contact us today.


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