Call Us For A Free Quote - Any Time (704) 368-4694

Energy CostsIN CHARLOTTEFebruary 23, 2022by AndrewWhat’s the Difference Between a Circuit Breaker & a GFCI?

Circuit Breakers and GFCIs Do Different Tasks

You likely know, at least a bit, what a circuit breaker is and what it does. Maybe you don’t know much about a GFCI – ground fault circuit interrupter. Maybe an electrician, doing work or solving a problem in your home, has said something about a GFCI. What’s the difference between a circuit breaker and a GFCI? It’s easy to be confused. You just want the lights, appliances, computers and stuff in your house to turn on. You expect the electricity in your home to be safe.

Circuit breakers and GFCIs seem pretty similar, but they do different jobs. They are both important safety devices for your home and family. We’ll go over some differences and information you should know about circuit breakers and GFCI – which most people don’t pay much attention to until they need to.

What’s a Circuit Breaker?

A circuit breaker – typically in one main circuit breaker box in a home – manages the electrical currents throughout a building. It controls the electricity to specific areas or rooms or major power using appliances or systems. It’s usually built to have one breaker control one room. Where there’s a major power use, such as a refrigerator or water heater, it probably has a breaker for the one device. A circuit breaker box has a master breaker to turn power on and off to the whole system, your whole house.

A circuit breaker is meant to keep your home safe – the people and the property itself. When an electric current surges, or faults, or does something abnormal, the breaker trips the power, or cuts the electricity. It should work right if it cuts the power only to the one area or room the surge hit. Cutting the power as quick as possible saves damage to the wiring and electric system, to appliances or devices, and even to a whole house or building by stopping the chances of sparks, electric damage or a fire.

What’s a GFCI?

The main purpose of a GFCI is to cut electricity – or interrupt the circuit – and stop a shock or damage, when a device or component gets wet. So GFCI outlets are used most often in kitchens and bathrooms. They should also be used in and near places such as pools, laundry areas, near sinks, crawl spaces or unfinished basements and other areas which are likely to have water or moisture.

A common example of a GFCI working properly would be if you’re using a hairdryer in a bathroom and the dryer or cord makes contact with water. The electricity surges or faults. The GFCI breaker trips. The power is cut off. It’s maybe saved you from a major shock and injury. It’s also cut the chance of damage to the hairdryer, the electric components and maybe even a huge hazard or fire.

After a GFCI trips and cuts the electricity, first make sure you are fine. Then, unplug the device and any other devices or electric items nearby. Make sure the area is dry. From there, you can decide to cut the power back on yourself or call a professional electrician to check your system and restart it.

GFCIs are critical to the safety of people and property. If you don’t have GFCIs installed in your home, consider contacting an electrician to ask questions and do installation. GFCIs have been proven to save lives in homes.

If you have GFCI outlets, but never tested them, they should be checked once a month. Most GFCIs have a “TEST” button and a “RESET” button.

More Info about GFCIs

What’s a GFCI?
What’s a GFCI?
  • A GFCI is an automatic outlet and breaker that protects people and items from electric surges, shocks and potential electrocution.
  • GFCIs should be installed any place with the potential or high likelihood of electronic devices or appliances, or wiring, to contact water or get wet. It is more important if this is an area where people will be using and touching devices or appliances.
  • A GFCI stops electricity within milliseconds of it being tripped.
  • GFCIs are highly important for safety concerning electric fires, damage and electrocution. They protect people, including small children, as well as property and homes.
  • Correctly installed and functioning GFCIs should be considered the same as proper, safe electric wiring throughout an electric system.
  • Some areas or rooms in a house, or outside on a property where you have electricity running, to make sure you have GFCIs in the right places include: kitchens, bathrooms, workshops, basements, garages, pools, outdoor kitchens, sinks and bars.

More Safety Thoughts

  • According to the National Fire Security Association, home electric problems cause more than 51,000 fires a year. Electric fires or damage causes more than 490 deaths, 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damages in the U.S. per year.
  • Thousands of kids and adults are seriously hurt or killed from electrocutions in their own residences each year.
  • Total economic losses because of electrical threats are estimated at more than $4 billion a year.
  • Since the 1970s, GFCIs have saved hundreds of lives and cut residential electrocutions by about 50%.
  • If GFCIs were used in older houses and workplaces, professionals suggest 70% of electrocutions could be stopped.
  • Homes and properties are using more electricity than ever, even while older buildings likely have older electric systems which might not have the capacity to handle modern appliances and electric devices, or the increased number of devices.
  • Misuse of surge protectors, power strips and extension cords can cause electrocutions and fires.


Your best bet? Hire an expert to do the job. South End Electric has the background and understanding to ensure a safe and smooth installation. We can provide electrical safety inspections and installation, inspections and work with GFCI outlets. In addition, our professionals provide whole-house generator sales and installation to meet your needs. See everything South End Electric can do for you. Call us direct at 704-368-4694.