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What’s the Difference Between a GFCI Breaker and Receptacle?

A GFCI breaker is built into the electrical panel and protects the entire circuit, while a GFCI receptacle is part of an individual power outlet that protects a single outlet location. Both GFCI breakers and receptacles automatically turn off the power when they sense imbalances between incoming and outgoing electrical currents. You may only need one or the other, but it’s important to choose the correct one for your home.

How Breakers and Receptacles Help

GFCI breakers and receptacles both work to keep you and your appliances safe and reduce the potential for electrical shock. While they both immediately turn off power once they detect imbalances in electrical current, they do so in different ways.

GFCI breaker

GFCI breakers are installed in the main electrical panel to protect the entire circuit, plus the wiring and devices connected to the circuit. If the GFCI breaker trips, it needs to be reset at the service panel.

GFCI receptacle

GFCI receptacles are built into single electrical outlets and normally have both a “RESET” and “TEST” button on the outlet’s faceplate. They monitor how much energy is entering the outlet and will trip the circuit in one-tenth of a second if there’s an electrical overload or imbalance.

Receptacles can be wired in two different ways: Single-location receptacles offer GFCI protection at only one receptacle, and multi-location wiring protects the first receptacle and those downstream of it in the circuit.

It’s important to note that a GFCI receptacle doesn’t protect the part of the circuit between itself and the main service panel.

Choosing the Right GFCI

Both GFCI breakers and receptacles have their perks, so it’s important to choose the right one depending on what you and your home need most.

Bargain for the Breaker

Now that you know what a GFCI breaker does, you should consider installing one when:

  • Most of the outlets on the circuit require GFCI protection

  • Outlets that need GFCI protection don’t have enough space for larger GFCI receptacles

  • You’d prefer to protect the entire circuit rather than individual receptacles

Accept the Receptacle

A GFCI receptacle may be a better fit for your home if and when:

  • A single circuit powers some outlets that require GFCI protection and others that don’t

  • You only need GFCI protection for one or two receptacles

  • The individual receptacle requires GFCI protection, but is located far from the breaker box

Not sure which to choose? You can also call on a pro for help. Our Remote Assist experts can give you a free virtual diagnosis and advice for your GFCI dilemma!

Let's Get It Fixed!

Our virtual experts can diagnose your issue (for free!) and resolve simple problems.

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