Are GFI and GFCI the same? Or are they different terms used interchangeably by mistake?
You’d be surprised to know that most professional electricians don’t even know the answer. Most people use both terms without knowing whether they’re the same or different.
And although the issue is minor, there have been a lot of debates on both terms. So, is the Ground Fault Interrupter outlet the same as the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter receptacle? Let’s find out!
Are GFI and GFCI the Same
Technically, yes, they’re both the same thing. That’s why most electricians and regular users use the two terms interchangeably. Both are devices that work to break the current when they detect a change in the current.
There’s a minor difference between the two terms, though. Hence, the extra ‘circuit’ word.
The GFCI is supposed to protect the entire circuit, so it’s usually on the electric distribution panel, covering all the outlets.
Meanwhile, the GFI is at the outlet only and not the panel.
So, although the one-word difference is insignificant, it may refer to the amount of protection you have. It indicates whether you have protection only at the outlet or over all outlets of the panel.
That being said, both terms refer to the same thing, so don’t expect many people to understand the minor difference.
What Is a GFCI
The GFCI is a breaker device that’s used mainly for protection. Its primary purpose is to eliminate the risk of electrocution when anyone comes in contact with an electric current.
The GFCI isn’t an optional device; it’s mandatory in any place with a risk of moisture. For example, some kitchens and bathrooms have plumbing outlets close to electrical wall plugs. In this case, a breaker is a must to avoid unfortunate incidents.
On top of that, breakers are essential in some garages if there’s a risk of moisture coming in contact with electric current.
Of course, the regulations and laws regarding this differ from one state to another, but it’s obligatory to have a breaker device in most cases.
Some countries even demand GFCI breakers for all electric sockets. When you think of it, the law is actually reasonable because moisture isn’t the only cause of electrocution. Any broken cord at any time can result in electrocution, so it’d be wise to consider that.
How Does It Work
To understand how a GFCI breaker works, you need to first understand how the current leak occurs.
If you take a look at your wall outlet, you’ll see a round hole surrounded by two vertical slots. The right is usually smaller, and it’s called the hot current. The left one is neutral, while the round hole refers to the ground.
A leak happens when there’s a difference between the current coming out of the neutral wires and the hot current coming into the circuit. In this case, the lost current is going to the ground.
At the same time, when you come in contact with an electric current, it’ll pass through your body and directly to the ground. Nothing will stop it before flowing through your body, which means you’re subjected to an unlimited amount of electricity until anything interrupts the circuit.
This also means that protection against such incidents is a must because the result may be deadly if nothing breaks the circuit. That’s where GFCI breakers come into play.
Firstly, the devices work by comparing the neutral wires current and the hot current. High sensitivity is needed for this phase; that’s why GFCI breakers can detect down to 4 milliamps of lost current.
Whenever the GFCI breaker detects a lost current, the switch will trip instantly and cut the electric current off. So, let’s say you were using a hairdryer, and you dropped it in water. The second that happens, the GFCI will break the current, protecting you from coming in contact with the current.
It’s worth noting that GFCI breakers are built into the wall outlets; they aren’t actual devices you can see on your walls.
Can You Test a GFCI Outlet
If you want to make sure your GFCi is working and ready to detect any leaks, you can do it easily. However, it’s also worth noting that you should do this test regularly to ensure there isn’t anything hindering the GFCI’s work.
Firstly, plug any light fixture into the wall outlet, then switch the on/off button. Afterward, press the test button on your distribution panel or wall outlet.
Once you press the button, the GFCI should turn off the light fixture, and you should see the on/off button switching off. In that case, you’ll need to press the reset button again to restore the current.
If that doesn’t happen in the first place, and the light stays on, then there’s something wrong with the GFCI. In most cases, it’ll need to be replaced.
Why Is GFCI More Common Than GFI
If you do your research, you’ll find that most people, electricians, and even websites refer to both terms as GFCI. You’ll rarely see anyone using the term GFI. Although both are technically the same thing, GFI is considered the local version of the GFCI.
It protects the outlet only without the panel, which isn’t ideal in a lot of cases. So, most regulations demand that you have GFCI, and it’s the most common between the two similar terms. That’s why you’ll often see people referring to both as GFCI. Remember that not everyone knows that there’s even a difference between the two.
In conclusion, you can refer to both terms as GFCI because it’s more common and because most people don’t know there’s a difference. However, remember that GFI is basically the local version of the GFCI, so there’s a difference, even if it’s slight.
In all cases, it’d be wise to learn about how GFCI works and its purpose so you ensure you’re safe from electrocution incidents.