AFCI Technology: Saving Property and Lives

Equipping a home with smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and escape ladders is the best defense for keeping loved ones safe from a home fire. But what if you could prevent a fire rather than just prepare for it?

“Electrical wiring malfunctions, specifically “arc faults,” cause over 30,000 fires each year and hundreds of deaths and injuries,” explained Rick Coons, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “But advances in electrical technologies are driving down those statistics.”

Arc faults in home wiring are among the leading causes of electrical fires. They occur when an electrical current arcs or jumps between wires and ignites nearby flammable materials. This can happen when:

  • older wires become frayed or cracked,
  • a nail or screw damages a wire behind a wall,
  • outlets or circuits are overburdened,
  • cords are exposed to heat vents and sunlight
  • furniture is pushed tightly against a cord plugged into a wall outlet.

Often unseen, arc faults happen in a split second, igniting a fire that can severely damage or destroy a home.

The solution to the problem is an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI). This technology is designed to detect a wide range of arc faults and interrupt the flow of electricity in a split second, before can arc can ignite a flame. “That split second,” said Coons, “can be the difference between a safe, secure home and one that is destroyed by fire.”

AFCIs are not found in wall receptacles, but are incorporated into your home’s main electrical service panel in the form of special circuit breakers. Existing breakers can easily be replaced with AFCI-equipped breakers, now required by the National Electrical Code for new electrical wiring that serves all sleeping areas. What about traditional fuses and circuit breakers? They simply do not respond quickly enough to early arcing and sparking in home wiring. By the time a fuse or circuit breaker opens a circuit, a fire may have already begun.

What about a GFCI? A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a specially equipped wall outlet that senses when electricity strays from its intended path, through a person for example. It interrupts the flow of electricity before a person can be electrocuted. They are not designed, however, to disconnect an entire circuit when an arc fault occurs.

AFCIs should be installed by a qualified electrician and should be tested monthly to ensure they are working properly and protecting the circuit.

“These advances in technology offer added protection from potentially hazardous situations for a relatively small investment.” added Coons, “As you consider home improvements and upgrades, consider enhancing the protection of your electrical system with AFCIs.”

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Electrical Safety Foundation International
Consumer Product Safety Commission