How to Test Your AFCI and GFCI Panels
The electricity receptacles in your home are not created equal. This is especially true if your home was built sometime in the 1980s when a change in receptacles started taking off. Chances are you’ve seen the difference among receptacles but maybe aren’t familiar with how they are different.
A Standard Receptacle vs. a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)
Electrical outlets are typically looked over during an inspection to ensure they adequately installed and correctly placed. Standard receptacles are usually found in living spaces, bedrooms, hallways, and the like. GFCI receptacles are placed in environments that share electricity and water, such as kitchens and bathrooms.
GFCI outlets (also called GFI) usually look different and have little buttons on them that say “reset” and “test.” This receptacle is designed to keep people from electrical shocks by monitoring the current at the receptacle site. On one side of this outlet, the GFI controls the “hot” wiring against the other side of the outlet considered the “neutral” side. When there is any change in hot vs. neutral current, the outlet will shut off the receptacle.
Where Should GFI Outlets be Installed?
In today’s building codes, outlets that are located near areas that are prone to moisture (kitchens and baths) should be outfitted with a GFI outlet. Here are other places that these receptacles should be installed or may be required by code. Garages, crawl spaces, unfinished basements, laundry rooms, utility closets, bars, kitchenettes, and all exterior sites.
How Should a GFI Outlet be Installed?
Anyone unfamiliar with how electrical work is done should hire a professional electrician to install the outlets. For consumers who have a decent amount of knowledge or experience with electrical work, they may feel comfortable enough to install these on their own. There are plenty of tutorials online; again, these should only be used if you are comfortable with working around electricity. This can be a dangerous project.
How To Check Your GFI Outlets
The easiest way to check your outlets to see if they are working is to plug something simple into one, like a lamp. Turn the lamp on, and press the “test” button. If the light stayed on, your GFI outlet isn’t working, and you should have it looked at by an electrician. Try also hitting the reset button. If the light comes back on, you may just have needed to reset it, and it’s likely working fine.
Faulty electrical distribution systems are the third leading cause of house fires. Your home’s arc AFCIs and GFCIs protect it from electrical fires and electrical shocks. When you hire a home inspector, these issues may be referred to as arc faults and ground faults.
Mostly, you’ll find GFCIs placed in outlets, with AFCIs in the service panel. No matter where they are installed though, it’s critical that homeowners and realtors regularly test their AFCI and GFCI panels once a month. This can prevent dangerous electrical fires, and also prevent the panels from breaking under a home inspection or testing situation. Often, a lack of regular testing can increase the chances of breakage during a home inspection.
Make sure you have both AFCI and GFCI outlets.
AFCI protection is required in laundry rooms and kitchens, and almost every circuit in the house. It’s no wonder since it’s prudent to try and protect the entire electrical system from arc faults. For homeowners, it’s a good idea to install dual AFCI and GFCI protection on every circuit. Homeowners can place dual protection directly in the circuit panel, which protects the structure from arc and ground faults. During testing, if the breakers do not trip, then homeowners need to contact an experienced electrician for replacement.
How to Test AFCI Panels
AFCI panels will protect your electrical system from dangerous arc faults. An arc fault can happen when electrical wiring or electrical devices are damaged, stressed, or overheated. If you don’t test the AFCI panels, they could be broken without your knowledge. An arc fault can then go undetected within the electrical system and start a fire. Here’s what you can do to test AFCI breakers:
- Leave the lights and other electronics on.
- Locate the electrical panel.
- Leave the breaker in the “on” position, and also leave at least one device turned on in the circuit.
- Press the AFCI “test” button.
- What should happen next is the breaker should trip and move the switch to the “off” position, or the middle “trip” position if that’s what is in the panel.
- If it trips after you press the “test” button, then the AFCI is working.
- Next, flip the breaker switch to “off” before you turn it back to the “on” position.
- For every AFCI breaker in the service panel, repeat the previous steps.
- If one of the breakers doesn’t trip, you’ll need to contact an electrician and have it fixed.
How to Test GFCI
GFCIs prevent electrical current leaks. If someone comes across a leak, they can be electrocuted. These interrupters will shut off the power if there is a suspected current leak. While GFCIs mainly protect against electrocution, they can also prevent fires. Here’s how to test them:
- Hit the “reset” button.
- Plug in a lamp.
- The light should go on.
- Press the “test” button.
- The light should go off.
- Press the “reset” button again.
- The light should turn on again.
If pressing the “test” button does not turn the light off, then the GFCI needs fixed or otherwise replaced by a certified electrician. Always be sure to test your AFCI and GFCI panels once a month to prevent electrical fires and breakage.
A Final Note
You might also want to get familiar with your circuit breaker box as these breakers can also have GFIs installed on them for added extra protection. GFIs at this location will protect from overloading as well as the fixture or appliance it serves. You can always have an electrician walk you through your breaker box, so you know how it functions if you’re ever faced with a problem.