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Home electrical safety is no trivial matter. Even if you’ve never noticed an inkling of a problem with your home’s electrical system, you should keep a close eye out for small signs that something might be amiss.
When everything is working safely and correctly, you really shouldn’t notice your electrical system at all (other than the fact that you’re able to turn lights on and off and power appliances, of course). A hot light switch, a buzzing outlet, or a circuit breaker that trips just often enough to be annoying are all indications that a professional needs to take a look.
When your electrician arrives, he or she will probably look for the presence of GFCI and AFCI devices around the house. These are important electrical safety devices that can prevent serious problems, such as electrical fires.
If you’re not sure whether your home is equipped with GFCIs or AFCIs, what they are, or even what those acronyms stand for, you’ve come to the right place! Keep reading to learn more.
GFCI vs AFCI
Ground fault circuit interrupter
GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter and is likely the better known of the two acronyms. A ground fault is an irregularity in the electrical current flowing through a circuit in your house.
In a ground fault, the current leaves the circuit and goes directly into the ground. The ground doesn’t have any resistance to slow down the current, so this event can shock a person if they are between the current and the ground—holding an appliance, for example.
GFCI protection can be installed in the form of a power outlet or circuit breaker. Portable GFCI devices in the forms of GFCI-equipped cords and outlet attachments provide protection on the go.
Arc fault circuit interrupter
AFCI stands for arc fault circuit interrupter. An arc fault is similar to a ground fault, but rather than the current aiming for the ground, as it does in a ground fault, an arc fault occurs when electricity discharges between two conductors, such as two pieces of wire.
This type of electrical arcing is especially dangerous because of the high temperatures created by the unprotected electrical current. Arc faults most often occur where electrical wiring has corroded or otherwise deteriorated. Since most residential wiring is hidden behind walls, the likelihood that you would know about deteriorated wiring is low. AFCI devices can help prevent electrical arcs before they start a fire.
AFCI protection typically takes the form of either a branch/feeder breaker or a combination breaker. These devices are installed as breakers in your home’s main electrical panel and provide protection against arc faults throughout your home.
Choosing Between AFCI and GFCI
GFCI and AFCI devices both provide protection against electrical faults, but they work in different ways. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, and the reality is that for your safety at home, you need to have both.
The National Electric Code dictates where GFCI and AFCI protection is required in residential buildings. GFCI protection is required in most areas of your home, including unfinished spaces, outdoor living areas, and any spaces—both indoor and outdoor—with sinks, spas, countertops, or plumbing fixtures.
AFCI protection is a relatively new requirement that was included in the 2017 edition of the National Electric Code. Depending on its age, your home may or may not have AFCI protection, but if it doesn’t, that’s an easy fix for a licensed electrician.
If you remodel your home or add circuits to your electrical panel, you will most likely need to add AFCI protection to ensure that your house meets current building code.
If you do not have either device or are uncertain if you need additional GFCI or AFCI devices, contact a licensed electrician. He or she will help assess your needs, and professionally installed devices are required by building codes.
What You Need To Know About Home Electrical Safety
Ensuring that your home’s electrical system stays safe and functional takes ongoing attention and effort. Now that you know more about GFCI devices and AFCI devices, let’s take a look at how to take care of the electrical wiring in your home.
One of the best (and simplest) ways to monitor your home’s electrical system is to test your GFCI and AFCI devices and outlets on a monthly basis.
For a GFCI power outlet, press the test button to ensure that the circuit shuts off properly. Press the reset button afterward to reactivate the circuit.
To test AFCI and GFCI breakers, press the test button to ensure that the breaker trips and shuts off the circuit. Remember to reset the breaker handle to restore power and protection to the circuit.
If any of your GFCI or AFCI devices do not trip properly, contact a licensed electrician to determine the problem and recommend a fix.
Minimizing hazardous conditions is another important element of good home electrical safety. Follow these precautions to stay safer:
- Ensure that no flammable materials are kept in close proximity to outlets, power strips, or electrical panels.
- Periodically check cords, plugs, and surge protectors for fraying, breaks, and exposed wires.
- Unplug kitchen and bathroom countertop appliances when you aren’t using them.
- Keep countertop appliance wires away from water.
The Bottom Line
Your home’s electrical system can seem like a mystery at times, but the right knowledge can help you feel empowered to seek help when things aren’t right. GFCI and AFCI protection is an important part of keeping yourself and your family members (and your house!) safe and sound.
Stick to a monthly testing schedule to identify issues before they turn into dangerous problems. And don’t hesitate to call in an experienced licensed electrician if you see anything concerning. Best Pick electricians are the best of the best, and when you register for the Best Pick Guarantee, you can rest assured that your experience will be top-notch.
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