What’s the difference between AFCIs and GFCIs? As previously discussed in this safety article, AFCIs help prevent fire hazards caused by arcing faults in damaged or deteriorated wires and cords. But when it comes to electrical-shock hazards, that’s where GFCIs play an important role.
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), GFCIs have cut the number of home electrocutions by half. By detecting ground faults–an unintentional electric path between a source of current and a grounded surface; essentially, current leaking to the ground–a GFCI protects you from severe or fatal electric shocks.
If you have ever experienced an electric shock, it probably happened because part of your body contacted an electrical current and provided a path for the current to go to ground. If your body provides the path, you could be seriously injured. For example, if a bare wire inside an appliance touches its metal case and that case is then charged with electricity, you would get shocked if you touched the appliance with one hand while another part of your body is touching a grounded metal object, such as a water faucet. If the appliance is plugged into an outlet protected by a GFCI, the power will be shut off before a shock can occur. A GFCI does this by constantly monitoring electricity moving through a circuit. If it detects a difference in the electrical current, the device quickly switches off power. They are typically installed around areas with water hazards such as bathrooms or kitchens and are also appropriate in outdoor spaces near pools, gardens and garages.
According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) and the Electrical Safety Foundation International, a portable GFCI is easily installed with little effort at a low cost ($12-$30). Electricians however, should be consulted to guarantee proper installation. To determine if you already have GFCIs in your home, look at your outlets. The standard U.S. socket with three prong holes is 120-volts. The left vertical slot of an outlet is “neutral” and slightly larger than the right vertical slot, which is “hot.” The bottom circular hole is referred to as “ground.” A GFCI outlet can be identified by its test and reset button in the center. When the reset button is pressed on, power can freely flow to the outlet. Pressing the test button disconnects or interrupts the current and shuts down the circuit to the outlet. The test button will automatically trigger when the GFCI detects that a decrease in current has shifted the flow of power out of balance.
Having GFCIs in your home is an important way to keep you and your family safe when it comes to the dangers of electric shock.