As a homeowner, it’s important to be at least somewhat familiar with your home’s electrical system because when it comes to electricity, what you don’t know can absolutely hurt you. So how knowledgeable are you about the different types of electrical outlets around your house? Do you know which are GFCI and which are AFCI? Or what they do and why they’re important for your safety? Below, the team at Harrison Electric outlines what everyone homeowner needs to know about their household safety outlets.
GFCI Outlets: What Are They and How Do They Work?
GFCI outlets, formally known as ground fault circuit interrupter receptacles, are specialized safety outlets designed to halt the flow of electricity when there’s a current overload. In 1971, the National Electric Code first mandated that all homes must contain GFCI outlets outdoors, and over the following decades, that mandate extended to indoor areas near water sources.
GFCI outlets work by sensing the amount of current that flows into the circuit and weighing it against the amount of current that flows out of the circuit. When the outlet detects a current spike generated by an outside source (typically a device that’s plugged into the outlet), it stops the flow of electricity to the receptacle within one-tenth of a second. For example, if you accidentally dropped a hairdryer into your bathroom sink, the dryer would generate an instant current spike. To protect your safety, a GFCI outlet would immediately cut the flow of electricity to the hairdryer when it detected that spike.
GFCI outlets operate much like circuit breakers: when a circuit can’t handle an electrical load, it shuts down. But when you flip the breaker switch, the circuit turns on again. The same idea applies to a GFCI outlet: when you press the “reset” button on the front of the outlet, the flow of electricity to the receptacle is restored.
What Are AFCI Outlets?
Arc fault circuit interrupter receptacles, more commonly called AFCI outlets, are essentially a type of circuit breaker. These outlets, much like GFCI outlets, are also designed with consumer safety in mind. However, unlike GFCI outlets, AFCI receptacles are designed to halt current flow when an electric arc fault is detected, not a current spike.
So what exactly is an arc fault?
An arc fault occurs when electrical current flows along an unintended path, creating a literal arc of electricity. Generally, arc faults are due to loose electrical connections or faulty wiring, and when an arc occurs, it generates a tremendous amount of heat — more than 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit in some cases. The intense heat produced by an electrical arc can spark an instantaneous fire, which unfortunately, is hot enough to rapidly burn through anything in close proximity to the arc’s location.
Though certain appliances and electronic devices naturally produce arcing, there’s a significant difference between that type of arcing and an arc fault. Therefore, an AFCI outlet continually monitors the circuit, differentiating between normal arcing and potentially dangerous arcing conditions. Only excessive current flowing along an unintended pathway will cause an AFCI to trip, shutting down power to the outlet.
Where Do You Need AFCI and GFCI Outlets?
Because AFCI outlets are designed to protect against house fires, they are required for all 15- and 20-amp branch circuits that supply outlets installed in the following household areas:
● Kitchens and dining rooms
● Living rooms and family rooms
● Dens and sunrooms
● Recreation rooms and libraries
GFCI outlets, on the other hand, are required in all household areas in close proximity to a water source, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and outdoors. Because GFCI receptacles are designed to protect against electric shock, they should be installed in all locations where water may be a risk factor for electrocution.
Need Electrical Outlet Replacement? Contact Harrison Electric
Not sure if you have AFCI and GFCI outlets in the appropriate locations around your house? Then it’s time to get in touch with our team at Harrison Electric. Since 1985, we’ve proudly served the electrical needs of Twin Cities homeowners with comprehensive electrical installation, repair, and ongoing maintenance. To schedule a service appointment or request a quote, feel free to give our team a call at 763-544-3300. You can also get in touch with us via our contact page, and a member of our team will be in contact with you promptly.