Defining GFCI And AFCI

Think of today's blog not in terms of understanding the technical aspects of electric current but as the basic ABC's to keeping you, our neighbors of the Austin, Texas metropolitan area, safe from electric shock and home fires.

By official definition, GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. A ground fault occurs when the flow of electricity seeks an alternative path to the ground rather than continuing the circuit path to an electrical device and then back to the electrical panel. A GFCI receptacle or breaker continuously measures any fluctuation in electrical current. The causes of electric current volatility can be damage to an electrical appliance, worn insulation on wiring, or an incorrect wire size for the electrical device to be powered.

The official definition of AFCI is Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter. An ‘arc fault’ is due to high-powered electric discharges between two electrical conductors that become loose or damaged. Continuous electric arcs within the wall can bring excess heat, resulting in an electrical fire.

The Details Of GFCI Electrical Outlets

In a standard GFCI electrical outlet, there are two vertical slots and a round hole below these vertical slots. The right slot contains the 'hot' wire that flows the electrical current from the electric panel to the device to be powered. The left slot has the neutral wire that brings the electrical current back to the home electric panel, completing the circuit. The third round 'hole' is the 'ground' hole or GFCI.

The sensor in the GFCI outlet can detect any imbalance of electric current flowing to an electrical appliance and current flowing from the electrical appliance.

The grounded hole of the outlet immediately shuts off all power to the outlet before the person touching an appliance or its electric cord feels a shock and 'shudder' suffers electrocution! When the problem is corrected, GFCIs can be reset to restore power to the affected electrical outlet. Should the issue of an imbalance of power of the electrical circuit remain, the outlet or outlets in the same circuit line will not reset.

GFCI Outlet Vs. GFCI Breakers

A new GFCI receptacle will usually show a black ‘test’ button and a red ‘reset’ button in the center of the outlet. Any electrical device plugged into the outlet will be protected from ground faults when properly installed. Such a GFCI outlet will also safeguard the outlets 'downstream' in the electrical circuit on the same line. The GFCI outlet cuts power to the entire circuit line when a ground fault occurs anywhere in the line. Not all GFCI outlets have reset buttons, but a central GFCI receptacle will be placed somewhere in the home, sometimes in the garage or a bathroom.

A GFCI breaker can be added to the circuit breakers of the home's electric panel to protect against all ground faults throughout the home electrical system. GFCI breaker panels are more extensive than the standard breaker panels and will have test and reset buttons.

AFCI Electrical Outlets Vs. AFCI breakers

The purpose of an AFCI outlet installation in Austin, Texas homes is to recognize potentially hazardous ‘arc faults’ within the walls of a home caused by loose electrical cables, loose conductor connections, or electrical cords damaged by being crimped in some manner. In 1999, the National Electric Code (NEC) made AFCI outlets mandatory for bedrooms. Since 2017, AFCI outlets have been required on all 120-volt, single-phase circuits with 15-to-20-amp outlets of a home. As with the GFCI breaker in the electric panel box, an AFCI breaker provides a higher level of protection than the standard panel circuit breakers.

Any Austin, Texas homeowners with a house built before 1999 should call ATX Electrical for information on installing AFCI or GFCI electrical outlets and AFCI and GFCI breakers.

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