GFCI and AFCI Information

Del Mar GFCI InstallationThe Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter or GFCI and Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter or AFCI are two different electrical devices that serve distinct purposes. A GFCI is designed to prevent electrical shock and is typically in damp and outdoor locations. The AFCI is designed to prevent fires and is usually on bedroom circuits.

When GFCI and AFCI protection is used together, your home is afforded the most modern level of electrical shock and fire protection. More details on both GFCI and AFCI are provided below. If you have any questions or would like GFCI outlet or AFCI breaker protection installed in your home contact us!

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter – GFCI Information

Outdoor receptacles as well as those in kitchens, bathrooms, and anywhere else near water should be the ground fault circuit interrupting type (GFCI).

A “GFCI” is a ground fault circuit interrupter. A GFCI is a modestly priced electrical device that, when installed in residential electrical circuits. Two-thirds of about 300 electrocutions happening each year in and around the home could have been avoided with this GFCI device.

The GFCI is designed to guard people and pets from severe and sometimes fatal electrical shock. A GFCI detects ground faults and interrupts the flow of electric current. Picture a hair dryer (blow dryer) that is accidentally knocked off of a bathroom counter and into a bathtub filled with water. The GFCI will stop the flow of electricity – within milliseconds – of the hair dryer hitting the surface of the water. If someone was in the bath tub, a painful shock may still be felt but the GFCI will prevent their electrocution or serious injury.
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How a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Works
The GFCI continually measures electricity flowing within a circuit to detect any loss of current. If the current passing through the circuit fluctuates a minute amount from that returning (to complete the circuit) , the GFCI instantaneously switches the power off to the affected circuit. The GFCI interrupts power within milliseconds to prevent a lethal dose of electricity.

A Classic Example of the GFCI at Work: Your toaster is old and has a loose bare wire inside it touching the outer metal housing. If the toaster is plugged in, the housing is charged with electricity. You are cleaning the kitchen and moving counter top items around. When you touch the toaster housing with one hand while the other hand is touching a grounded metal object, like a kitchen faucet, you will receive a life threatening shock! If the toaster was plugged into an GFCI protected outlet, the power would have been turned off before a fatal shock was delivered through your body.

Testing a GFCI Outlet
GFCIs should be tested once a month to ensure proper operation and protect people and pets against life-threatening electrical shock. GFCI receptacles should also be immediately tested after installation to guarantee proper functioning and to protect the electrical circuit. To test a GFCI protected outlet, follow the steps below:

1. Plug a light into the GFCI protected outlet.
2. Turn the light on and verify the light bulb is lit.
3. Push the “TEST” button on the GFCI. The “RESET” button should pop out* and the light bulb should go out.
4.Push the “RESET” button to restore power to the outlet.
5. If steps 1-4 worked, the GFCI protected outlet is functioning and no further action is needed.

*If the “RESET” button does not pop out, the GFCI is defective and should be replaced. If the “RESET” button pops out but the light does not go out, the GFCI has been improperly wired. Contact a licensed electrician to correct the wiring errors. Call Chaney Electric for help with your GFCI outlet needs.

Types of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters – GFCI

Receptacle GFCI: This GFCI is used in place of a regular wall outlet or “duplex receptacle”. This GFCI is normally found throughout the house in places like bathrooms, kitchens, garages, outdoor areas and other locations where damp conditions do or could exist.The receptacle GFCI fits into the standard outlet box and protects you against ground faults when an electrical product is connected to the GFCI protected outlet. Modern homes use receptacle-type GFCls that protect other electrical outlets connected on the branch circuit. Picture a bathroom outlet upstairs not working because something tripped the GFCI in the downstairs bathroom.

Temporary/Portable GFCI:
When permanent GFCls are not practical, temporary GFCls are used. Temporary GFCIs contain the GFCI circuitry in an enclosure with plug prongs in the back and receptacle plugs in the front. It can be plugged into an unprotected outlet, then, the electrical appliance/device is plugged into the temporary GFCI. Portable GFCIs is simply an extension cord combined with a GFCI. It adds flexibility in using receptacles that are not protected by GFCls. Extension cords with GFCI protection incorporated are great for use when permanent or portable GFCI protection is unavailable.

Circuit Breaker GFCI:
Residences equipped with circuit breakers can have circuit breaker GFCI protection installed in the panel box to give protection for specific circuits The circuit breaker GFCI serves two functions. The circuit breaker GFCI will shut off power to the circuit in the instance of a ground fault plus the GFCI protected circuit breaker will turn power off if a short circuit or overload is detected.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter – AFCI Information

The below information is provided by several sources, primarily the Consumer Products Safety Commission or CPSC. The information provided is not intended to be the most current information available. Please research AFCIs and their uses to obtain the most up-to-date notices on AFCIs, where AFCIs are required and what dates the National Electrical Code will set forth additional AFCI installations.

Problems in home wiring, like arcing and sparking, are tied to more than 40,000 residential fires annually. The fires take over 350 lives and injure 1,400 victims a year. An electrical safety device for homes,known as an arc fault circuit interrupter or AFCI, is hoped to afford greater protection from fires resulting from unsafe home wiring conditions.

Typical household fuses and circuit breakers do not respond to early arcing and sparking conditions in home wiring. By the time a fuse or circuit breaker opens a circuit to defuse these conditions, a fire may already have begun. Several years ago, a CPSC study identified arc fault detection as a promising new technology. Since then, CPSC electrical engineers have tested the new AFCIs on the market and found these products to be effective.

Are AFCIs Required?
AFCIs are proven devices for their effectiveness in preventing fires. The most recent edition of the National Electrical Code (NEC), the widely-adopted model code for electrical wiring in the US, Colorado and locally in El Paso County does require AFCIs for bedroom circuits in new residential construction, including remodels and basement finishes. The effective date was January 2002. Future editions of the NEC, which is updated every three years, will probably expand coverage to more than bedroom circuits. Look for this to occur after the adoption of the 2008 NEC.

AFCIs vs. GFCIs
AFCIs serve their purpose and must not be confused with a ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI. GFCI devices are designed to provide protection from electric shock. Both AFCIs and GFCIs are important safety devices but they have different functions. AFCIs are designed to identify fire hazards; GFCIs detect and prevent shock hazards. Combination devices housing AFCI and GFCI protection in one unit are expected to be commercially available in the near future.

AFCIs breakers can be installed in any 15 or 20-amp branch circuit in residences and are currently available as circuit breakers with built-in AFCI features. Soon, other types of devices with AFCI protection features will be made available.

Should You Install AFCIs?
Home owners and tenants may wish to add AFCI protection for both new and existing homes. Homes built prior to 2002 with ordinary circuit breakers will benefit from the added protection against the arcing faults that can occur in aging wiring systems.

For more information about AFCIs, contact Chaney Electric. Sometimes these components can be replaced with AFCIs in the existing electrical panel box.

CAUTION: Insist a licensed electrical contractor to install AFCIs; do not let an unlicensed “electrician” do this work and please do not perform the AFCI installation yourself. The installation involves working within electrical panel boxes that are electrically live, even when the main circuit breakers are turned off! 

Types of Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters – AFCI

Branch/Feeder AFCI: A device installed at the origin of a branch circuit or feeder, such as at a panel board, to provide protection of the branch circuit wiring, feeder wiring, or both, against unwanted effects of arcing. This device also provides limited protection to branch-circuit extension wiring. It may be a circuit-breaker type device or a device in its own enclosure mounted at or near a panel board.

Outlet Circuit AFCI: A device installed at a branch circuit outlet, such as at an outlet box, to provide protection of cord sets and power-supply cords connected to it (when provided with receptacle outlets) against the unwanted effects of arcing. This device may provide feed-through protection of the cord sets and power-supply cords connected to downstream receptacles.

Combination AFCI: An AFCI which complies with the requirements for both branch/feeder and outlet circuit AFCIs. It is intended to protect downstream branch-circuit wiring, cord sets and power-supply cords.

Portable AFCI: A plug-in device intended to be connected to a receptacle outlet and provided with one or more outlets. It is intended to provide protection to connected cord sets and power-supply cords against the unwanted effects of arcing.

Cord AFCI: A plug-in device connected to a receptacle outlet, to provide protection to the power-supply cord connected to it against the unwanted effects of arcing. The cord may be part of the device. The device has no additional outlets.

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