What are the little colored buttons on the breakers in my electrical panel? These are test buttons for either GFCI or AFCI protection. Well… what’s the difference between the two? In a nutshell, the GFCI (ground fault) breakers protect you and the AFCI (arc fault) breakers protect the wiring in the home. Most of us are familiar with the Test/Reset outlets we see in bathrooms and kitchens. These are GFCI outlets, these can exist in the electrical panel as well and protect all the outlets on that circuit. The other test button in a panel you may see is the AFCI breaker. This breaker is designed to kick out when it senses a dangerous arcing condition at some point along the wiring of the circuit. This could be an arc in a wiring connection, damaged wiring, etc. The breakers themselves will be labeled GFCI or AFCI to distinguish them.
These AF & GFCI breakers should be tested monthly although I suspect most are never tested. When testing an AFCI breaker turn one appliance/fixture on that circuit on and just hit the test button. It should trip, to reset it just push the breaker handle to the outside and then back to the inside of the panel. if the breaker doesn’t trip it has an issue. AFCI’s are becoming more prevalent with changes in the electrical code. Early generations of the AFCI were more prone to nuisance tripping, meaning they would trip oftentimes out of normal use of appliances/fixtures/etc. As technology has improved the AFCI breakers are less prone to this. AFCI’s breakers offer substantial protection from fires caused by electrical wiring. For this reason, I am planning on putting AFCI protection on any circuit I can in the cabin we are building. Having no roads to the cabin means that in the event of an electrical fire it is likely going to be a total loss and anything we can do to lessen the chances of this happening is going to be done.