Understanding AFCI and GFCI Outlets: What You Should Know

Arc-fault and ground-fault circuit interrupters offer protection from electrical hazards, but that — and their two buttons — is where their similarities end.

AFCI and GFCI outlets help prevent electrical shocks and fires — a leading cause for home blazes — but each has a certain function, and it’s important to understand the differences.

AFCIs detect arcing conditions — a high power discharge of electricity — and shut off power to the branch circuit. Arcs arise due to punctured and pinched wires, like when an electrical cord is squished under a nightstand or repeatedly stepped on.

AFCI and GFCI outlets may look alike, but they function very differently.
AFCI and GFCI outlets may look alike, but they function very differently.

GFCIs constantly track electrical current flow; if they detect a change, they immediately cut power to the outlet. This is helpful if you drop an appliance — like a hair dryer — into a sink or tub filled with water. GFCIs are often found in kitchens and bathrooms, as well as outdoor areas, garages and crawl spaces.

Now, about those buttons! Leviton’s AFCIs and GFCIs have TEST and RESET buttons to ensure the outlets are working correctly. You should press the TEST button once a month to simulate arc-faulting and grounding issues; power to the outlet will cut off as soon as you do. Press the RESET button and power will return.

Another reason why AFCIs and GFCIs are important? They’re required by law!

The National Electrical Code requires AFCIs and GFCIs in new homes, older homes that are renovated, and homes up for sell.


  1. Keep the information coming. I love using your videos to help train realtors information on electrical and plumbing items required by appraisers as repairs!

    • Hi, Tom,
      It depends on the room and your home’s current electrical connections, so we’d need more information about your setup.
      Let us know!

  2. Thanks for explaining the differences between these. I had always wondered what they were and how they functioned.

    • Glad to hear you enjoyed this content! Please share it with friends — that’s how we’re able to create similar content.


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