Hello, this is Jose Cortes with Cortes Electric Inc., and today I would like to talk to you about GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) and Arc fault technology. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters(GFCI ) and Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters(AFCI) are individual devices that detect an arc fault(an unintended arc created by current flowing through an unplanned path). Once an arc fault is detected, these devices shut the circuit off to interrupt the flow of electricity to prevent danger to life or property.


GFCI technology


Let’s start with GFCI technology, and I’ll give you a little bit of information about what it does and how it works.

 GFCI(ground fault circuit interrupter) technology comes in different devices; you can have GFCI receptacles or GFCI breakers. Both of them have small computer chips inside them that detect deviations in the circuit. They sense electricity flowing in the circuit and must have an equal amount of electrons moving in the front and back parts of the circuit. So if there is any deviation or electrons are escaping from the usual path of the circuit, it detects that deviation and immediately determines that there’s something wrong. When this happens, the computer device inside the GFCI receptacle or the GFCI breaker immediately shuts off the circuit at a sensitivity of .004 mA. This life-saving technology prevents electrocution. However, homeowners can become frustrated with their GFCI’s tripping. For example, Outdoor GFCI circuits using extension cords may collect moisture from the morning dew or rainfall, causing electrons to escape due to the water passing the hot conductor to the neutral, causing the GFCI to trip. 

One GFCI receptacle or breaker can protect multiple receptacles. For instance, you may have a GFCI receptacle in the garage that protects the bathroom receptacles. Also, exterior circuits typically are covered by a singular GFCI receptacle or breaker.

For the safety of you and your loved ones, it is crucial to be sure your GFCI’s are in proper working order. Testing is quick and easy. Simply press the “Test” button located on the GFCI; this should turn the circuit off. To reset the circuit press the  “Reset” button. Pressing the “Reset” button brings the circuit back online. If all outlets on the circuit are working correctly, all is well.  If something is not working, contact us, and we will help you resolve the situation.  This test is recommended every six months for every GFCI in your home.

According to AccuWeather, Jacksonville, FL ranks #6 for the highest lightning densities in North America. Therefore, we have many situations where a storm has the potential to cause problems with your GFCI receptacles and breakers. Lightning storms wreak havoc on GFCIs; they create surges of electricity that destroy their electrical components. Other times the strike will simply cause the GFCI to trip. 

It is essential to have a qualified electrician check your GFCI’s when you have a situation because the GFCI may be doing its job and letting you know there are unsafe conditions.


Arc Fault Breakers

Now let’s talk about Arc Fault Breakers. As stated above, Arc Fault Breakers detect arc faults in your circuit. An arc fault is an unintended arc created by current flowing through an unplanned path creating a fire hazard. This arcing could be in a switch, receptacle, light fixture, or in the wire of the circuit inside the walls. For instance, let’s say your house has not had electrical problems; when someone hangs a picture on the wall, they drive a nail into the drywall; it just barely skins the outer jacket of the electrical wire. The nail does not create a direct short, which would turn off the circuit; it’s just close enough that the electricity can jump and start an arc fault. The Arc Fault Breaker is designed to protect us from this scenario. The computer technology inside the Arc Fault Breaker turns the circuit off when it detects an arc fault.

One of the most common locations for an arc fault would be in the receptacles or switches where the wires terminate to the terminal lugs. If this connection is not tight over time, it can start creating an arc fault. The arc fault would only worsen over time due to the heat and the degradation of the metal and would eventually cause a fire, hence the importance of the Arc Fault Breaker to detect this problem before it causes damage.

So, in conclusion, I would like to say that the safety devices, the GFCI receptacle and or breaker, and the Arc Fault breaker are relatively new to the industry, and they’re not cheap. But, what dollar amount can we put on our safety and the safety of our loved ones. According to the NFPA, electrical failures or malfunction were the second leading cause of U.S. home fires in 2012-2015.  So, investing upfront for protection pays big dividends in the end. 

The National Electric Code (NEC) requires electricians to upgrade the circuit when changing a receptacle in a circuit where the new code requires GFCI or Arc Fault protection. So when we touch a circuit that is not compliant with the NEC, we must upgrade that circuit with GFCI and Arc fault protection. This requirement increases the cost of many service calls, but it’s for your safety.