Consumers can depend on a pair of important safety devices to protect them from electrical hazards in the home: ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). Each device protects against different dangers: GFCIs address shock hazards while AFCIs fight fire hazards.

Get Grounded!

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), GFCIs have cut the number of home electrocutions by half. By detecting ground faults?an unintentional electric path between a source of current and a grounded surface; essentially, current leaking to the ground?a GFCI protects you from severe or fatal electric shocks. It can also prevent some electrical fires.

If you have ever experienced an electric shock, it probably happened because part of your body contacted an electrical current and provided a path for the current to go to ground. If your body provides the path, you could be seriously injured.

GFCIs constantly monitor electricity moving through a circuit. If the current flow differs from that returning, the device quickly switches off power.

Fighting Fire

AFCIs, a relatively recent technology, help prevent home fires caused by arcing faults in damaged or deteriorated wires and cords. Home wiring problems, like sparking, are associated with more than 40,000 home fires each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. These fires kill more than 350 and injure 1,400 victims annually.

Nominal arcs may happen in the brushes of a vacuum sweeper or light switch; dangerous arcs can occur in frayed cords. When unwanted arcing occurs, it generates high temperatures that can ignite nearby combustibles such as wood, paper, and carpets.

Conventional circuit breakers only respond to overloads and short circuits. By the time a fuse or circuit cuts power to defuse these conditions, a fire may have already started. AFCIs use unique current-sensing circuitry to discriminate between normal and unwanted arcing conditions. In the event of an arcing fault, the AFCI shuts off electricity flowing through a circuit.

For more information on where to install GFCIs and AFCIs, visit And for more safety ideas, visit our website at

Sources: Christine Smith, Electrical Safety Foundation International, Consumer Protection Safety Commission

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