Electricity Safety: AFCI vs. GFCI

Posted on — By Marisela Thompson

We all install locks on our doors. Locks protect our homes from uninvited guests. The safety they offer us puts our minds at ease. Security, yet, is not limited to keeping intruders out. The right circuit interrupters protect our homes and ourselves from unexpected consequences. Thus, electrical safety should also draw the right attention from any homeowner. It then becomes important that one understand the difference between circuit interrupters.

Image Credit: Ben Gromicko



AFCIs or Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters protects the home against fires. Fires caused by arcing faults are common to happen in damaged or deteriorated wires or cords. Damage can occur when hanging a picture or when furniture is pushed against plugs in an outlet. Deterioration can occur by cords when exposed to heat vents and sunlight. Natural aging can also take its toll on cords.

Fires caused by arcing circuits can spread quickly. The intense heat from arcing results in the burning of particles. These particles ignite surrounding material, such as wood framing or insulation. Known by reputation as a silent killer, electrical fires can occur hidden from view. By igniting out of sight electrical fires can avoid early detection. The goal is then by using an AFCI it will reduce the chances of a circuit being a source of an electrical fire.


Common locations for AFCIs include dining rooms, living rooms, bedrooms or similar areas.

Image Credit:  Electrical Safety Foundation International



GFCIs or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters protect against severe or fatal electric shocks. GFCIs can help prevent burns, electric shocks, and electrocutions. GFCIs have sensors that measure the current going in and out of the circuit. Usually, the current in a circuit is balanced. It can become unbalanced when a ground fault occurs.  A ground fault is an unintentional electric path diverting current to ground. A fault occurs when current leaks from a circuit. This leak can be dangerous if a person’s body offers a path to ground for the leakage. This situation could leave a person injured, burned, shocked or electrocuted. When an imbalance occurs the sensors in a GFCI registers it and shuts down the circuit.  By shutting down the circuit, the GFCI effectively stops the flow of electricity.

A GFCIs capability of stopping the flow of electricity becomes important in wet areas.  Water is an electrical conductor, thus GFCIs are installed where water and electricity can meet.

Common locations for GFCIs include bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, garages and outdoors.

Overall, AFCIs and GFCIs differ in functions. GFCIs protect people from the effects of electric shocks. AFCIs protect circuit wirings from starting electrical fires.  While commonly separate, AFCI and GFCI technologies can co-exist. The two technologies combined offer the most complete protection on a circuit.

Video Credit:  Electrical Safety Foundation International