A GFCI or ground fault circuit interrupter is a device used to protect people from electrical shock while a circuit breaker or fuse is meant to protect a house from an electrical fire. Both are very important and require proper installation to be effective.
A typical GFCI outlet.
A properly sized circuit breaker or fuse, when properly installed, will disrupt an electrical circuit before the wires heat up enough to start a fire. If too large of breaker or fuse is installed, the wires will overheat before the circuit is interrupted and quite possibly start a fire. That is why it is essential to use the proper size breaker or fuse for the circuit it is protecting.
A GFCI has a totally different purpose than fuses and circuit breakers. As I stated previously, a GFCI circuit is meant to protect people from electrical shock. In order to understand this a little better, a short course in Electricity 101 is in order.
A basic circuit in a home has three wires: a hot wire, a neutral wire and a ground wire. If an appliance that is plugged into an outlet is working properly the electricity will flow from hot to neutral. A GFCI monitors the amount of current flowing from hot to neutral. If there is any imbalance, it trips the circuit. It is able to sense differences as small as 4-5 milliamps and can interrupt the circuit in as fast as 1/30th of a second.
With that in mind, lets say you are using a tool with a metal casing. If for some reason the hot wire comes in contact with the metal case, the electrical current will flow through you to get to ground rather than flowing back through the neutral wire. This could be a devastating scenario that could cause death. The GFCI would recognize the drop in current from the hot to the neutral and trip the circuit.
This is a very basic explanation of electrical circuits in your home to help you understand the importance of properly installed GFCIs, circuit breakers, and fuses. If you have any concerns about the electrical circuits in your home, especially if it you have an older home, its time for you to call and schedule a Maintenance Inspection.
How Electrical Circuit Breakers and GFCIs Protect a Home
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