AFCI vs. GFCI is a common question. Usually we think of electrical concerns as something that homeowners and landlords need to worry about, not renters. That’s a fallacy, and it’s one that’s started more than a few fires. Renters do need to understand the basic operation of devices like AFCI and GFCI, so they can protect themselves.
AFCI vs. GFCI – What Makes Them Different?
First, what are they, and what makes them different?
A GFCI, or Ground Fault Circuit interrupter, is a breaker that detects when the ground of a circuit is not working properly. It can either be in the breaker box (less common in older installations) or it can be on the outlet itself. The kind on the outlet itself is the type you’re likely most familiar with. It has two buttons, one to test and one to reset. This keeps you safe by cutting off power if it detects that the current is grounding itself to anywhere other than the ground wire, such as you. Serving as the ground for 120 volts of AC current is generally hazardous to your health, and GFCIs are installed in wet areas and other high risk areas to prevent that.
AFCI breakers are somewhat newer, and less likely to be found in older homes and apartments. It stands for Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter, and it’s designed to shut off power when it detects arcing. Arcing is when current jumps between two things that either should be connected solidly, or between which power should not be moving at all. If one of the wires on the back of an outlet were loose and caused a spark inside the wall, an AFCI would shut off power to that outlet to prevent fire danger. This also keeps you safe if insulation on an old wire has begun to wear away and is allowing current out where it shouldn’t. Just like GFCI, AFCI can be found at the breaker or at the outlet.
AFCI vs. GFCI – Why Should Renters Care?
Succinctly, renters should care about AFCI vs. GFCI because they trip for different reasons. Generally speaking, a properly installed GFCI tripping is user error – standing in a puddle of water might allow a small current to flow through you, and even that is enough to trip a GFCI in the right circumstances.
AFCI trips, on the other hand, are less often user error and more often something that an electrician needs to be called to resolve. While it’s possible to trip one by pulling a plug out of a socket incorrectly, that’s somewhat less common. Usually it’s a sign of an underlying condition in the wiring of the home that needs to be addressed by a professional.
Smoke alarms are designed to alert you to a fire. Fire extinguishers are designed to help you put out a small fire, if it’s safe to do so. AFCI receptacles and breakers are designed to prevent fires. Where present, they can stop small electrical arcs from becoming large ones that can start a fire inside a wall, unbeknownst to you.
Great strides have been made in keeping people safe from fire hazards. But you still need Renters Insurance to protect you from the hazards you don’t expect.
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