[fa icon="calendar"] August 17, 2014 / by Home Services Expert
It's one of those electrical terms that just sounds like it portends trouble: an arc fault. And in this case, it does.
Understanding Arc Faults
An arc fault occurs when electrical wiring, appliances or electrical devices become overheated, damaged or otherwise stressed. Most often, arc faults occur when old electrical wires become cracked or frayed, when outlets or circuits become overloaded or when a screw or nail pierces a wire through a wall.
To say that arc faults are a dangerous electrical problem is an understatement: more than half of the nearly 51,000 electrical fires that occur in the United States each year are traced to arc faults. And the damage is devastating, as the fires cause about 1,000 injuries and deaths and more than $700 million in property damage.
What is an AFCI?
This is why it's vital that your home is equipped with arc-fault circuit interrupters. True to their name, they literally “interrupt” an arc fault; they prevent an overheated, overloaded or short-circuited breaker from wreaking havoc in your home. Located in your home's electrical panel, an AFCI functions as a “normal” breaker while providing a higher level of protection. And like a normal breaker, an AFCI will “trip “ – or shut down the electricity – when it senses a hazardous condition. AFCIs often can be distinguished from a normal breaker by a different-colored button near the handle.
Prevention is a Key Part of Electrical Safety
The National Electrical Code – the electrician's “Bible” that establishes electrical standards – has required AFCIs for bedroom wiring since 2002. The use of AFCIs was expanded in 2008 to include the wiring of other rooms in a home, including the living room, dining room, family room, hallways and closets.
What, you may ask, about the kitchen, bathroom, laundry and garage – where the frequent use of water poses even greater electrical risk? The code requires that these rooms be protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI). We'll explain the difference between the two in a moment since they are often a source of confusion.
In the meantime, it's important to know that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says that AFCIs could prevent more than 50 percent of the electrical fires that occur every year in American homes. And this statistic points out the obvious: just because the electrical code requires AFCIs doesn't necessarily mean that your home is equipped with them. So if you're uncertain, call a licensed local electrician at Experts In Your Home to inspect your home's electrical panel. Installing AFCIs is one of those tasks that should never be attempted by novices; it can be complex, and the risk of error is far too great.
Plus, you can always consider our visit part of your electrical learning curve, for this continues to be one of our greatest rewards at Experts In Your Home. There's no other way to say it: we love educating our customers.
The Difference Between AFCIs and GFCIs
GFCIs became common in the 1960s to protect people from electrical shocks if a tool or appliance becomes energized because of a ground fault. This risk was (and is) especially prevalent in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms. Again, an AFCI protects branch circuit wiring from igniting into electrical fires.
It's important to combine the protection afforded by AFCIs (which protect the wiring) and GFCIs (which protect people). The obvious way to accomplish this is to use an AFCI circuit breaker along with a GFCI outlet (otherwise known as a receptacle). In this way, you can ensure that your home is as safe as it can possibly be – and the only way that Experts In Your Home wants it.
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