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Do Arc Fault Breakers Prevent Electrical Fires?


Electrical Repair and Service Greenville SC

Do Arc Fault Breakers Prevent Electrical Fires?

Each year in the United States fire claims the lives of more than 3,000 children and adults, and according to the National Fire Protection Association, 77% of fire-related deaths happen within the home. The NFPA reports that "electrical failures or malfunctions were the second-leading cause of U.S. home fires in 2012-2016", with only unattended equipment such as cooking and heating appliances causing a greater number of residential fires. 

According to a recent study by the NFPA of residential fires that involved electrical malfunction were responsible for 18% of all fire-related deaths and 20% of property damage, and electrical arcing was found to be the primary source of heat which sparked approximately three out of every five house fires involving electricity.

The NFPA also found that 39% of fires involving electrical arcing or faults occurred during the winter months from November to February, which is the time homeowners are most likely to be using high-draw electrical heating devices like portable heaters and electric fireplaces. 

What Is An Arc Fault Breaker?

Arc fault breakers, also known as arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) is a small device that is added to your home's electrical system. These devices are designed to help prevent electrical fires that occur when electricity travels outside of your home wiring, which can happen if your wiring becomes worn out due to age, rodent damage, exposure to moisture or incorrect installation. 

Arc fault circuit breakers are available in a variety of styles, including the traditional breaker style and AFCI receptacles that add extra protection against arcing for all wiring connected to the outlet including appliances. 

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How Do Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters Work?

Arc fault circuit interrupters work by constantly monitoring the flow of electricity in your home for arcing. If abnormal activity is detected by the AFCI, the breaker immediately interrupts the flow of electricity, known as the circuit, to prevent dangerous electrical arcs that generate enough heat to start a fire. 

There are two common types of electrical arcs - parallel and series. When a parallel arc happens, there is contact between the hot and neutral conductor or the hot and ground conductor which causes a sudden spike in the electrical current along with a tremendous amount of heat. 

A series arc occurs when the electricity arcs along the conductor or at the point of connection, such as can happen when an extension cord catches fire where it is plugged into an electrical device. 

The risk of an arc fault occurring increases with the age of your home wiring. Over time, all electrical wires can become worn out due to fluctuation in operating temperatures and natural deterioration. Another common cause of arc faults is when the electrical wiring located between the floors and walls of a home is compromised by a nail or screw, something that can happen when a homeowner decides to install a picture, mirror or television on the wall and they inadvertently hit an electrical wire. 

Arc fault breakers, also known as arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) is a small device that is added to your home's electrical system. These devices are designed to help prevent electrical fires that occur when electricity travels outside of your home wiring, which can happen if your wiring becomes worn out due to age, rodent damage, exposure to moisture or incorrect installation. 

When Did AFCI Use Become Mandatory? 

The laws around AFCIs have evolved over time, and arc fault breakers are a relatively new technology — that's why you'll usually only find AFCIs in the original wiring of homes built in the last 20-25 years. 

The installation of arc fault breakers was first proposed in the 1999 in the National Electrical Code, or NEC, with a requirement that AFCI breakers be used in all bedroom receptacle circuits, and with the 2002 NEC edition, AFCI use was expanded to include all circuits serving bedrooms. 

As of 2008, the NEC again updated the regulations around arc fault breaker installation to include mandatory installation of AFCIs for all 15 and 20 amp residential circuits with the exception of garages, unfinished basements, kitchens and laundry rooms. By 2014 the NEC added all kitchen and laundry room circuits to the list of locations where arc fault breakers are required, and that includes all lighting fixtures in these rooms as well.

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Do Arc Fault Breakers Help Reduce the Risk of Residential Fires? 

Yes. 

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the use of arc fault breakers in all residential buildings throughout the country could prevent more than half of the home fires in the United States each year. 

Simply put, adding arc fault protectors is proven to dramatically reduce the risk of a residential fire, which in turn reduces the number of fire-related injuries and deaths. 

Should I upgrade to AFCI's?

If your home was built prior to 2014 you and your family may not be fully protected against the risk of an arc fault fire, while homes constructed prior to 1999 rarely have any arc-fault protection at all if the original wiring is still in place. 

According to a recent study by the NFPA of residential fires that involved electrical malfunction were responsible for 18% of all fire-related deaths and 20% of property damage, and electrical arcing was found to be the primary source of heat which sparked approximately three out of every five house fires involving electricity. Adding these devices to your house can prevent your family from falling victim to a devastating and potentially deadly fire. 

Having your home's Obsolete Breakers Upgraded with proven safety devices such as AFCIs can help to cut the chances that you'll have a electrical fire in your home.

To learn more about having your older home upgraded with AFCI breakers, contact an Electrician near Greenville, SC today.

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