You probably have two types of outlets in your home: one type with only holes or slots, and one type with holes and buttons. Those with no buttons are regular outlets and those with buttons are GFCIs. Both types can shut off the electricity flowing through them, but in different ways and for different reasons. Knowing which type you have and which type you need can help keep you and your home safe. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to comparing GFCIs vs circuit breakers.
What is a circuit breaker?
Most people are familiar with a tripped circuit in their circuit breaker box. A circuit breaker is designed to stop the flow of electricity (break an electrical current) when there is a current overload. Regular outlets (those without a button) are connected to the breaker box.
An overloaded circuit means that too many power-consuming devices are being run at the same time on the same circuit. For example, if you have a 15-amp circuit with 20 amps worth of electricity running through it, the circuit breaker will trip to prevent overheating. When a circuit trips, a switch in the breaker box is “flipped,” and needs to be manually switched back to its previous position to turn it back on.
A circuit breaker is a way to prevent too much electricity from flowing through one circuit. Thus, it is able to prevent overheating the circuit and prevent fire hazards.
What is a GFCI?
Simply put, a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a way to protect people from electrical shock. The GFCI will turn off (interrupt) the circuit when there is a current leak (as opposed to a current overload like a circuit breaker).
If you look at a normal 120-volt outlet in the United States, you’ll see two vertical slots with a round hole centered below them. The right slot is slightly smaller than the left. The right slot is called “hot,” the left slot is called “neutral,” and the hole below them is called “ground.”
If an appliance is working properly, all electricity used by that appliance will flow from hot to neutral. A GFCI monitors the amount of current flowing from hot to neutral, and if there is any imbalance, it trips the circuit. If the GFCI senses that there is a mismatch of power even as small as four or five milliamps, it can react as quickly as one-thirtieth of a second. So, if power is flowing through anything other than the circuit (say, a human body), the circuit is tripped almost immediately.
Do I need a GFCI or a regular outlet?
Besides the fact that you are required by law to install GFCI outlets in certain areas, they are generally considered to be safer and a better investment. They can help prevent electrical-related injuries, electrical fires, and appliance damage. Additionally, circuit breaker GFCIs are often used as replacements for standard circuit breakers and provide GFCI protection for all outlets on that circuit.
White’s Electrical is a team of local licensed electricians who are up to speed on building codes. This not only keeps us safe, but it keeps our customers safe as well. If you need a new outlet installed, GFCI or otherwise, give us a call.