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The Importance of Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters

If you’re building a new home, you must have arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) installed to protect your home’s wiring. The National Electric Code (NEC) requires the installation of AFCI breakers or receptacles on designated circuits.

Homeowners in residences with older wiring should also have AFCI protection installed on their wiring to reduce the possibility of electrical fires in the home. Here’s what you should know about AFCI and your home’s wiring.

Electrical Arc Faults Are Hot and Dangerous

An arc is a glowing plasma discharge that occurs when electrical current flows through an air gap. The arc flows from a part that’s energized to a part that’s grounded. An arc fault occurs when the plasma discharge flows in an unplanned path from a current source to another object.

If you’ve seen a lightning strike, you’ve witnessed an extreme electrical arc fault created by nature. Now, imagine that lightning on a smaller scale in your home’s wiring.

A non-intentional arc, or arc fault, is extremely hot and dangerous. According to AFCI Safety, an arc fault in home wiring can reach temperatures over 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Wiring, insulation, and wood framing in a home quickly ignite in the presence of the extreme heat.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, electrical fires occurred in almost 24,000 U.S. homes in 2014. Arc faults are one of the leading causes of household fires.

Arc Faults May Form for Many Reasons

Old and outdated appliances are one cause of electrical fires. Arcs can form inside the appliance due to old age or failing components.

Other sources of arc faults include:

  • Broken and frayed cords and wires
  • Pierced wiring by nails and screws
  • Kinked and over-extended power cords
  • Covered cords (with rug or furniture)
  • Loose wiring in outlets and switches
  • Spilled liquid on electrical device

You may think that a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) will protect your home from fires due to water and electricity mixing. However, GFCI devices are intended to stop current flowing to a person.

GFCI devices prevent accidental shocks, burns, and electrocution of people by cutting off current flow. Only the AFCI device protects against arcs within the wiring.

AFCI Circuit Breakers Are Superior to AFCI Receptacles

AFCI breakers are installed in your home’s main electrical panel. These devices protect the entire run of electric wire when installed correctly. There are also AFCI receptacle devices that plug directly into a home’s outlets.

According to the manufacturers of AFCI breakers, the AFCI breakers installed at the main panel are preferable to AFCI receptacle devices when it comes to detecting and stopping dangerous arcs in home wiring.

Testing was done on both products to determine their respective effectiveness at protecting homes from potential arc-fault electrical fires. AFCI breakers were able to detect and protect parallel arcing for the entire run of wiring in a new home.

AFCI receptacles offered protection only at the outlet. The receptacles did not protect the rest of the wiring down the line from parallel arcing.

In new homes, AFCI devices must be installed at the origin of branch circuits. The only time AFCI receptacle devices are permitted in new construction are when they are situated a precise distance from wiring components. They must be encased in metallic sheathing or concrete.

AFCI receptacles are better than no AFCI protection in older homes. However, install the AFCI breaker on the main panel whenever possible if you want to reduce your risk of suffering a home electrical fire due to arc faults.

AFCI Breakers Are Not a DIY Project

If installed incorrectly, an AFCI device can cause a lot of problems. The breaker or receptacle AFCI may not protect your home from fire and can lead to a false sense of security.

Improperly installed AFCI devices can also lead to nuisance tripping of the circuit. This is a common occurrence when the installer doesn’t realize that neutral conductors for several circuits are connected somewhere in the wiring away from the main panel.

AFCI breakers must also be compatible with multi-wire circuits. If a single-pole AFCI breaker is installed on a multi-wire electrical circuit, the circuit breaker will be tripped as soon as any device on the line begins using power.

Some electronic products can trigger the AFCI to shut down power to the circuit. These products cause the AFCI to wrongly detect an arc fault where one does not exist.

Common causes of false arc-fault readings include:

  • Treadmills
  • Televisions
  • Fluorescent light fixtures

In some cases, faulty wiring can cause AFCI breakers to trip without warning. An electrician must be called to inspect and test your electric lines to determine the source of the false arc-fault readings.

A trained, licensed electrician will use the correct AFCI device for your electrical system. They will wire the device properly to reduce the chances of nuisance tripping of your power supply.

Contact A To Z Electric Co. today and schedule AFCI installation for your new or older home. Our professional, highly skilled electricians have been helping Chicago and Cicero, Illinois customers with their electrical needs since 1967.

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