What is an AFCI? Information for your Phoenix Home Inspection

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs)

Problems in home wiring such as arcing and sparking are a serious safety problem. The Consumer Product Safety Commission(CPSC) tells us that residential electrical equipment starts approximately 41,000 fires each year, causing 360 deaths and $650 million in property loss.

Arcing is a luminous discharge of electricity across an insulating medium and causes most of these fires. When an arc fault occurs inside the walls or ceiling, or inside an electrical appliance, temperatures can exceed 10,000 degrees F. Nearby combustibles such as wood studs or insulation can be ignited by an electrical arc.

Common causes of arc faults in a house include:

  • Loose or improper connections, such as electrical wires to outlets or switches.
  • Frayed or ruptured appliance or extension cords.
  • Pinched or pierced wire insulation, such as a wire inside a wall nicked by a nail or screw, or a chair leg sitting on an extension cord.
  • Cracked wire insulation stemming from age, heat, corrosion or bending stress.
  • Overheated wire or cords.
  • Damaged electrical appliances.
  • Wires or cords touching vibrating metal.
  • Electrical wire insulation chewed by rodents.

An Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter or AFCI, is similar to a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter(GFCI), but instead of interrupting power when there’s a ground fault, it interrupts power when arcing occurs. Typical household circuit breakers do not respond to early arcing and sparking conditions in home wiring. By the time a fuse or circuit breaker opens a circuit to defuse these conditions, a fire may already have begun. AFCI’s should not be confused with GFCI’s. GFCI’s are designed to provide protection against serious electrical shock. AFCI’s are designed to address fire hazards.

The Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter has an enormous potential for improving home electrical safety. AFCI’s are already recognized for their effectiveness in preventing fires. The National Electrical Code(NEC), the widely adopted model code for electrical wiring started requiring AFCI protection in all residential bedrooms effective in January 2002. Future editions of the NEC could expand the use of AFCI’s to include the entire home.

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