What's the Difference Between a Circuit Breaker and a GFCI Breaker?

What's the Difference Between a Circuit Breaker and a GFCI Breaker?

Both circuit breakers and ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) cut the flow of electricity when there is a fault—this is an occurrence where there’s an abnormality in the electric current. While circuit breakers and GFCIs share some similarities, they each serve distinct purposes in protecting your home and its contents. In this article, we’ll break down the difference between the two, allowing you to fully understand your electrical systems. In that way, you’ll be armed with knowledge when you have electrical work done.

What is a circuit breaker?

In your circuit breaker box is a device that controls the flow of electrical current: the circuit breaker. It promptly trips when it detects faults, particularly overloads and short circuits, which often occur when too many electrical devices running at the same time. In that way, it prevents the circuit from overheating, ultimately reducing the risk of fire and damage to your power-consuming items. This makes it a critical component of your home’s electrical system.

What is a GFCI breaker?

Like the circuit breaker, the GFCI breaker is installed on the main service panel, protecting all outlets powered by that circuit. Its main distinction is that, instead of cutting the flow when there’s an overload, it interrupts it when there’s a leakage of current near a wet location, or a ground fault. This can occur when an electrical current escapes its pathway, traveling through another route like water.

The main purpose of a GFCI breaker is to protect people from electric shock. It’s essential to your home’s safety, particularly in areas where electricity and water may mix, like the bathroom, kitchen, etc.

Can a GFCI breaker function as a regular circuit breaker? It’s important to note that although a GFCI may be a type of breaker, it is not your regular breaker. Because they serve vastly different purposes, one can’t be a substitute for the other.

What is a GFCI receptacle?

GFCI breakers shouldn’t be mistaken for GFCI receptacles. While both of them protect against ground faults and electrical leakage, a GFCI receptacle is installed in an individual outlet instead of in the main breaker panel. Their purpose is to monitor the flow of electric current within that particular outlet, protecting all the appliances that are connected to it.

Note that according to the National Electrical Code, GFCI receptacles must be installed in all wet locations.

Do you need a GFCI breaker?

The choice of whether or not to opt for a GFCI breaker rather than receptacles is up to you. If your home only has a few outlets near water sources, it may be reasonable to forgo the GFCI breaker, and instead, focus on single-location protection (you have to do this by law, anyway).

However, do make sure to use circuit breakers as they are indispensable for protecting your electrical circuits from excessive currents. While GFCI breakers protect against electric shocks, they do not guard against overloads.

Contact us for your electrical needs

Consulting with an electrician ensures that your home is equipped with all the protective devices it requires. Call Beeson Mechanical Service, Inc. at 317-535-9338 today—we’ll conduct a comprehensive assessment of your property, allowing us to carry out solutions tailored to your needs.