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Electrical circuit-interrupters

Electrical circuit-interrupters, such as AFCI’s (arc-fault circuit-interrupters) and GFCI’s (ground-fault circuit-interrupters), are devices required by the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) that are designed specifically to help prevent fires and electric shock. When installed as required, AFCIs and GFCIs significantly reduce accidents that naturally result in physical loss, electrical shock, and even death. 

AFCIs (arc-fault circuit-interrupters)

AFCIs are required by the NEC to be installed within all dwelling units. Typically, they are special AFCI circuit breakers that can be found within your electrical panel or receptacles in the wall. 

So, what do AFCIs do? AFCIs are designed to detect arcing electrical faults within your electrical system that may otherwise go unnoticed, until they potentially result in a fire. Arc-faults can be caused by things as innocent as putting a nail in the wall to hang a picture or plugging in an appliance with a defective electrical cord. If a nail makes contact with an electrical wire or a cord has a defect, arcing can happen, and is rarely ever seen. An AFCI device, however, will sense abnormal arcing on the electrical system and open the circuit when detected. 

Key points about AFCIs:

  • All AFCIs should be installed by a qualified electrician.
  • Homes that were built prior to AFCI’s being required by the NEC, or homes built in states whose electrical codes do not follow the NEC arc-fault requirements, may not have arc-fault interrupters installed.  While AFCI’s may not currently be installed in your home, ask a licensed electrician to install AFCI protection for your safety.
  • All AFCIs should be tested at initial installation and monthly, at minimum, thereafter to make sure they are working properly.


GFCIs (ground-fault circuit-interrupters)

GFCIs have been required by the NEC since 1971. Initially they were required for all outdoor receptacles, and bathrooms were added as a requirement in 1975. According to ESFI, the required areas for GFCI’s have grown since then based on the immense success they have had in reduction of electrocutions. Since their implementation in 1971, there has been an 83 percent drop in electrocutions, and a 95% drop in electrocutions caused specifically by consumer products.

GFCIs are designed to protect people from hazardous ground faults that can arise from plugging in defective appliances or corded equipment.  When manufactured, installed, and maintained properly, a GFCI essentially negates the ability for shock to take place or a fire to start based on a ground-fault in the system. If a ground-fault takes place at the standard receptacle, it will trip the circuit breaker or GFCI receptacle that feeds it.  

Key points about GFCIs: 

  • All GFCI’s should be installed by a qualified electrician. 
  • All GFCI’s should be tested at initial installation and monthly, at minimum, thereafter, to ensure they are working properly. 

Safety tips
  • All AFCIs and GFCIs, whether circuit-type or breaker-type, should be installed by a qualified electrician.
  • Test AFCIs and GFCIs after installation and once a month thereafter to make sure they are working properly.
  • Replace defective AFCIs and GFCIs immediately. A defective device may create a false sense of security to those who do not know that it is non-functional.
  • Choose AFCIs and GFCIs that carry the label of an independent testing laboratory and always follow the manufacturer's instructions.