GFCIs and AFCIs: A Comprehensive Guide

When it comes to items that encompass your electrical safety, often the question is asked: what’s the difference between GFCIs and AFCIs? After all, their names sound similar, and they both help prevent electrical shocks and fires. However, there are a few considerable differences between the two. And when maintaining your home’s electricity safety, you should be aware of their unique qualities.

Roman Electric recommends Milwaukee homeowners understand how both GFCIs and AFCIs work. We have assembled a comprehensive guide below detailing the qualities of these two safety devices.


GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) are a safety mechanism commonly designed for outlets, although they can also be found on circuit breakers and extension cords. They were designed to protect against ground faults, hence their name. GFCIs detect both hot and neutral wire on a circuit. They examine the stability of the current, and whether it’s suitable to pass. When the current is deemed unstable, the GFCI effectively trips or shuts off power to the outlet.

As described, GFCIs mainly protect against ground faults. Ground faults are when electricity travels through the ground. When electricity is on this path, shock and electrical fires can occur, which GFCIs help to prevent. However, GFCIs can also be installed on circuits containing no ground wire. Although they won’t have a ground for electricity to pass through, they can still help protect against the severity of shock.

According to the NEC, GFCIs are required to be in every bathroom, kitchen, and garage of a home. The reason for this is the outlet’s proximity to water sources.

Note: You can easily tell which outlets are GFCI by the “test” and “reset” buttons located between the two plugs. It is recommended you use these to test your GFCIs once a month. More information can be found here.


AFCIs (arc fault circuit interrupters) are another safety mechanism more commonly designed for circuit breakers, although they can also be found on outlets. Like GFCIs, they also protect against unstable electricity, primarily for short circuits and electrical overloads. AFCIs essentially detect all electrical arcs on a circuit, hence their name. Once an arc is determined unstable, the AFCI trips and shuts off the circuit.

Essentially, an AFCI strengthens the already existing function of your circuit breakers. Most circuit breakers are already designed to trip during overloads and short circuits. However, they do not have the ability to constantly detect specific changes in an arc. With an AFCI, arcs are monitored more specifically, helping to prevent issues before they become too detrimental.

Section 210.12 of the 2014 NEC requires AFCI protection on all branch circuits located in every bedroom, kitchen, dining room, and living room of a home.

When maintaining electrical safety in your Milwaukee home, keep in mind the qualities and differences between GFCIs and AFCIs. Contact Roman Electric when you would like to have these defense mechanisms installed in your home. Call us at 414-369-3798 for affordable outlet and circuit breaker services.