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Never Heard Of An AFCI?

“I want the new picture right there, dear.”  And with those explicit instructions you begin hanging a large picture and frame above the sofa.  Because of its size and weight, you use a large nail, find the stud, and begin to pound.

But hidden behind the wallboard was a wire that provided electricity to a wall outlet behind the sofa.  Your nail penetrated the wallboard, clipped the edge of the stud, and poked deep into the wire tearing the insulation and shorting the electrical circuit to the living room.  The wall soon became hot, a smoke odor was prevalent, and fire erupted behind the wall and down fell the new picture you just hung.  Never mind the picture and frame were destroyed, your house was on fire!

Hours later the fire inspector finds you sifting through the remains of your home and asks what you might know about the start of the fire.  Taking notes, he writes, “hanging picture, nail through the wallboard,” and he stops to ask if you had an arc fault circuit interrupter.  Since you have never heard of one, he says an AFCI would have saved your home, and for a few dollars, it would have detected the short circuit behind the wallboard, cut the power to the circuit, and you would be living in your home, instead of at your in-laws.

Arc faults are common, and cause many of the 40,000 electrical fires in homes every year.  When unwanted arcing occurs, the electricity raises the temperature that will cause combustion to wood, paper, wallboard, and carpet.  Such faults occur where circuits have been damaged in some way, whether the wires were damaged, or failed because the aged insulation deteriorated.  Other reasons include improperly installed switches and outlets, cords mashed by doors or under furniture legs, and various environmental conditions.

The AFCI monitors the current flow and when it senses an unwanted arcing condition, the circuitry trips the internal contacts and interrupts the circuit before a fire can occur.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission says, “Presently, AFCIs are designed into conventional circuit breakers combining traditional overload and short-circuit protection with arc fault protection. AFCI circuit breakers (AFCIs) have a test button and look similar to ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) circuit breakers. Some designs combine GFCI and AFCI protection.”

What is the difference between an AFCI and a GFCI?  The ground fault circuit interrupter will protect against a severe or fatal shock, and the electrical code requires them to be placed in bathrooms, kitchens, near swimming pools, and outdoor electrical outlets.  The AFCI protects against unwanted arcing in a circuit, which could cause a fire.

There is a need for both in every home.