There is often a question that comes up in surge protection queries and that is does a surge protector offer GFCI protection? The answer is: it can, but it will most likely be due to a device that has been plugged into a surge protection device. There is, to my knowledge, no surge protector with GFCI integration.
It’s a separate technology and neither protect one from the other.
For those who don’t know, GFCI is an acronym for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters. It’s synonymous with GFI. Either can be wall mounted or installed in the breaker panel. Generally, they are installed, per coding regulations, as outlets near water sources
GFCI outlets protect against ground faults. It seeks out current imbalances between incoming electricity and outgoing electricity on the hot wire and neutral.
What this assumes is energy on the hot wire that doesn’t exit the neutral wire like it should, will exit through the next available conduit, you, to find grounding.
A circuit on the outlet detects these shorts and trips like a circuit breaker to prevent you from getting shocked. The device has two buttons on it. One to test connections and the other to reset a tripped circuit.
As surge protectors cut power to equipment affected by electrical spikes, the difference between them is one protects from shorts, the other protects from surges.
You can buy GFI outlets that act as if they are surge protectors in the sense that they can cut power to equipment, but let me explain that one.
The thing to remember is that ground fault outlets are for shock prevention. They don’t protect equipment. The most trip under very low conditions, between 4 – 6 milliamps (mA). That’s considered a Class “A” device.
Devices able to disable equipment and therefore resemble surge protection trip higher at 20 to 40 milliamps; these are considered Class “B” devices. And the equipment it protects will not have electronic components but are used in underwater environments, for example, as in pool lights.
1000 milliamps are equal to 1 amp. Even the most basic one-outlet surge protector will have a 15 amp capacity to offer electronic equipment any damage prevention. It has to have a higher capacity because surges can reach that kind of intensity and melt delicate electronics.
Another difference is surge protectors require a grounded outlet to function correctly. GFCI outlets do not. Nor will a GFCI outlet prevent surge energy from passing through it when it trips.
IT ONLY OFFERS PROTECTION AGAINST GETTING PHYSICALLY SHOCKED
What it boils down to is both devices protect you from electrical issues, but they are different kinds of electrical issues. One, the GFCI, protects you from electrical shock due to mis-wired electrical power; the other protects your equipment from power failure due to an excessive amount of energy flowing into it.
Now that we have all that understood, you can surge protect a Class A outlet. But there are rules to follow to have this effectively serve both areas.
In many cases GFCI outlets are installed as a two-wire system, leaving the outlet ungrounded. Your outlet must be properly grounded in order for surge protection to work.
What makes surge protection devices effective is that they push surge energy to ground. If the receptacle to which the SPD is connected isn’t grounded, surge energy will not be stopped from entering your equipment.
The reverse of that, and probably a better situation, is to surge protect a regular outlet and install a GFCI extension cord into the surge protector. This avoids undue tripping of a GFCI outlet that has an SPD plugged into it.
Don’t be fooled by devices whose names suggest they protect you in both instances. If you actually read the description, you’ll see that most offer ground fault protection only. Something claiming to be a GFCI Surge protector is probably a misnomer for a retailer who doesn’t know the difference.