Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) are required by the National Electrical Code for certain electrical circuits in the home. Below are some frequently asked questions about AFCIs and the benefits of installing them in your home.
- Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) were created as a direct response to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report conducted by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that identified an electrical problem in branch circuit wiring systems that was causing numerous residential fires. In 1999, AFCIs became a requirement in the National Electrical Code (NEC®). An AFCI breaker provides a higher level of protection than a standard circuit breaker by detecting and stopping a hazardous arcing condition before it can become an electrical fire.
- AFCI protection is required by the 2017 edition of the NEC® for all new residential construction and in areas when receptacles are replaced where AFCI protection is currently required. The 2017 requirement includes all 120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere branch circuits supplying outlets or devices installed in dwelling unit kitchens, family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, bedrooms, sunrooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, laundry areas, or similar rooms or areas. More details.
- AFCIs save lives, protect individuals and families from injuries and make homes safer. AFCIs have been thoroughly field-tested. Underwriters Laboratories, the National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM), the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and other experts have found AFCIs to be reliable and effective. Fire safety groups, firefighters and fire marshals, fire inspectors and burn survivors support AFCIs as a proven technology that is advancing electrical fire safety.
- AFCIs eliminate a significant source of electrically related fires. The National Fire Protection Association indicates future statistics on AFCIs will demonstrate a reduction in fires of electrical origin and the CPSC estimates more than 50% of electrical fires that occur every year can be prevented by AFCIs. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, each year home electrical problems cause nearly 70,000 fires, resulting in 485 deaths and $868 million in property loss. Thanks to AFCIs, better construction materials and other fire prevention technologies, the number of fires in the U.S. has dropped more than 20% since 2004, down to 1,240,000 in 2014, per the USFA.
- From 2006-2010, more than 80 percent of home structure fires involving washers or dryers started in a laundry room or area, per the National Fire Protection Association. The 2014 NEC® expands the AFCI requirement from bedrooms and other areas of the home into laundry areas and kitchens to provide additional electrical fire protection.
Frequently Asked Questions
A typical circuit breaker costs around $15, while an AFCI costs around $40 to $50. Both can be found at national/local chain stores. AFCIs however specifically detect dangerous arc faults that cannot be detected by typical circuit breakers and will help prevent electrical fires from starting. Industry estimates indicate that installing enough AFCIs to protect a 2,100 square foot home will cost an average homeowner around $400 to $500 dollars based on 2017 NEC® requirements. That cost is small when factored into the total cost of a home, and provides the peace of mind to protect families from deadly electrical fires for many years to come.
Unfortunately, builders in some states have suggested that new homeowners might be better off putting their construction dollars toward granite countertops, high-end cabinetry or some other amenities versus spending around $400 to $500 on installation of a fire prevention technology currently required in 48 states. Burn survivors and fire chiefs have been appalled by that thinking. They recognize AFCIs protect families and prevent deadly and dangerous electrical fires from occurring.
When AFCIs were first introduced there were some initial tripping issues, however efforts were made to help better educate those in the field on the proper installation of AFCIs and determining the source of the tripping that often revealed the dangerous arcing AFCIs can detect. AFCI manufacturers have also continued to improve AFCIs virtually eliminating past issues.
The CPSC estimates nearly 50 percent of all home electrical fires each year can be prevented with AFCIs. Since arc fault circuit breakers became a requirement in the National Electrical Code in 1999, they have combined with other fire prevention technologies and building materials, to help decrease electrical distribution as the cause of many fires according to the USFA.
Per the NFPA, fire safety officials recommend the use of AFCIs in all dwellings. While it is true that fire statistics in many cases are derived from older dwellings, damage to appliance cords or to wires hidden in a wall can occur regardless of the home’s age. In addition, incorrectly performed electrical installations can occur in both new and old homes. As technology evolves and the NEC is revised, the enhanced level of safety is typically required only in new construction that is subject to the latest adopted edition. Homes wired per the 2017 NEC will have the majority of their circuits protect by AFCIs for the life of the electrical system.