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Circuits, Outlets and Switches

Electrical work is precise and highly technical and requires a good deal of education and training to master, and is well beyond the scope of most homeowners’ knowledge. Still, it doesn’t hurt to know a little something about what is going behind the scenes, like how all those switches, outlets and circuits work.

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You can certainly read up on the subject or get a quick primer, but keep in mind that that is still no substitute for professional training and licensure. For any kind of electrical repair, maintenance or installation, you need to call an electrician. The Seattle metropolitan area electricians at G & S Heating, Cooling & Electric can handle all your electrical needs.


Every day, you interact with any number of switches and outlets, using them to light a room or charge up your cell phone. These outlets and switches are wired into your home’s electrical system as part of a circuit.

This circuit is a closed loop that allows electricity to travel out from the source, along the wiring to any receptacle or other component within the circuit before connecting back to the source. Because of the nature of electricity, it cannot be conducted unless the circuit is closed, meaning that the connection is being made back to the source.

This is the concept behind the safety provided by circuit breakers and fuses, which interrupt the circuit when too much current flows through them in order to prevent the strain on the circuit from growing too great.


If you take a close look at the outlets you encounter every day, you will see that there are different types. For starters, some outlets are grounded—you can tell the difference by how many prongs the outlet can accept. Most modern outlets are of the grounded, three–prong type, but there homes that still have some older outlets that are not grounded.

Other outlets may be protected, either by means of a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), or an arc–fault circuit–interrupter (AFCI). Each of these outlets provides a greater degree of protection than a regular outlet, but each protects against different potential dangers. GFCI outlets are designed to prevent human electrocution by tripping a small circuit breaker any time it detects that it is "getting back" less electricity through the neutral prong than is going out through the "hot" prong. These outlets are common in bathrooms and kitchens, and in some municipalities are required by law to be installed in certain areas of the home.

AFCI outlets are designed to prevent fire caused by heat. The circuit breaker concept is the same as in a GFCI outlet, just triggered differently. AFCI outlets are now required by law to be installed in bedrooms in many areas.

Professional Electricians

Working with outlets, switches and circuits is highly technical and the amount of expertise necessary to safely and adequately install, repair or maintain any electrical system is great. If you need to have a new outlet, switch or circuit installed, call the professionals at G & S. Our electricians have years of experience with all types of electrical systems in the Puget Sound area and they can answer your questions and perform any necessary service efficiently and safely.