What is the difference between GFCI and AFCI circuit breakers?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

All circuit breakers in an electric panel provide overcurrent protection for the circuits they serve. If too much electricity is flowing, beyond the capacity of the wiring, they cut off the circuit. But GFCI and AFCI circuits each provide additional and different types of protection. Also, both have a small “TEST” button on the breaker for verification that the device is functional.

    GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) breakers are for wet areas like kitchens and bathrooms. A “ground fault” occurs when the electric current leaves the intended route within the wiring and appliance, and the stray current may be traveling through your body. So GFCI is a shock protection device that trips within a fraction of a second when a fault is detected.

    AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) breakers trip when any arcing, commonly called sparking, is detected in the circuit. Because arcing is the primary cause of electrical fires in a home, AFCI is a fire prevention device.

    There are also circuit breakers available that provide both GFCI and AFCI protection. See our blog post What is a Dual Function Circuit Interrupter (DFCI)?

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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about AFCI and GFCI RECEPTACLES AND CIRCUIT BREAKERS:

Does a septic pump or sump pump require a GFCI-receptacle?

What is the difference between what trips a GFCI (ground fault) receptacle and a circuit breaker?

Are Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) really necessary and worth the trouble? 

What is the code requirement for GFCI protection for receptacles near a wet bar sink?

When was GFCI-protection for kitchen dishwasher receptacle outlet first required? 

When did arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) breakers first become required?

Does a washing machine receptacle outlet require GFCI protection?

My spa tub stopped working. What's wrong?  

How do I identify a combination AFCI (CAFCI) circuit breaker? 

What does "listed and labeled" mean for an electrical component? 

What electrical hazards does a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) NOT protect against?  

What is the difference between GFCI and AFCI circuit breakers? 

Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?

When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

What happens when you press the "TEST" button on a circuit breaker in an electric panel?

What is the difference between the electric service to a mobile home and a site built home? 

Why is there a wall switch next to the furnace or indoor unit of the air conditioner in the garage? 

How I can tell if a receptacle outlet is tamper resistant?

What is the difference between a Combination Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (CAFCI) and an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) circuit breaker?  

What is the difference between "grounded" and "grounding" electrical conductors? 

What does it mean when a wire is "overstripped" at a circuit breaker?

Why is there a GFCI breaker in the electric panel for the bathroom shower light and exhaust fan?

What is the switch on the wall with two pushbuttons? 

How far apart should kitchen counter receptacles be spaced?  

How far above a kitchen countertop do electrical outlets have to be? 

How is it possible to provide both GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) and CAFCI (Combination Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) protection for kitchen and laundry circuits?

My bathroom electric receptacle/outlet is dead and there are no tripped breakers in the electric panel. What's wrong?  

My GFCI reset button is hard to push and won't reset. What's wrong?

Why do some breakers in my electric panel have a "TEST" button on them?

    Visit our AFCI AND GFCI page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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