Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters AFCI, and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI), or both, is one of the most important upgrades that can be made a building and should be considered whenever an improvement is made to an electrical system.
AFCI, and GFCI circuits, are two different important safety devices serving completely different purposes. AFCI receptacles and breakers are designed to prevent fires and GFCI receptacles and breakers are designed to prevent electrical shock.
If your home or office was built before 2002, chances are that you may have circuits that could benefit from both AFCI and GFCI protection.
According to the 2014 National Electrical Code, Section 210.12(A), Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters are required in all common areas, kitchens, laundry rooms, bedrooms, and smoke detector circuits. Although, not required for existing structures, we highly recommend they be installed to prevent potential fires. The adoption of this new regulation is an effort to prevent the loss of life and property due to fire caused by the arcing (sparking) of electrical components. The United States Fire Administration reports that approximately 67,800 electrical fires occur annually from fires caused by arcing electrical components which result in 485 deaths and more than $868 million in residential property loss.
Arc Fault protection can be accomplished through two means: one is an AFCI breaker and the other is an AFCI receptacle. The detection is accomplished by technology that monitors the circuit for the presence of “normal” and “dangerous” arcing condition. Some equipment in the home such as a motor driven vacuum or furnace motor naturally create arcs. These are considered “normal” arcing conditions. The interrupter will not disconnect the power to a circuit under this condition. A “dangerous” condition happens for many reasons, mainly due to damage to electrical wiring.
During this condition, the interrupter constantly detects for current flow through parallel arcs (line to line, line to neutral and line to ground) and/or series arcs (arcing in series with one of the conductors) and disconnects power when and arc is sensed to prevent any potential burning of particles that may ignite surrounding materials.
A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is used in a much different application than AFCI but is an equally important means of protection. The function of a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, or GFCI, is to protect people from the deadly effects of electric shock that can occur if parts of an electrical appliance or tool become energized due to a loss of earth ground, or a ground fault. Like AFCI, the technology within the Ground Fault Interrupter senses for current flow through an unintended path such as through water or through a person. The GFCI disconnects power in this scenario preventing serious injury and potential arcing which may cause fire.
When GFCI’s were introduced in the 1970’s, on an annual basis, there were approximately 400 electrocutions related to electrically powered consumer product use. Ten years after their introduction those statistics were cut in half. Solid data acquisition over decades has shown that the implementation of GFCI devices has been effective. Although, AFCI have only been required for a short time, solid statistical evidence will be able to show that AFCI technology is also an equally effective method in helping to prevent loss of life and property.