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Overview of Arc Fault Circuit Breakers

Case Study

 It was the middle of the night in the summer of 2006 when a fire broke out in a home with parents and three children were asleep in their beds in New Hampshire. Although there were smoke alarms in the home, the smoke alarms didn’t go off until it was too late.

 After two weeks of difficult investigation, the New Hampshire fire inspection revealed the findings. He first stated that the smoke detectors were in working order. They were also located correctly throughout the home. It was determined that the fire had started on the first floor due to a nail that had punctured an electrical wire.

 Electric ArcPartially due to the age of the home, the wood inside the walls were very dry. The nail in the wire caused the electricity to arc. The heat from the arc as well as sparks from the arcing began to ignite the studs inside of that portion of the walls. Because this occurred in a chase that went from the first floor, through the second floor, and into the attic, the fire spread very quickly. The fire grew and went up the chase and quickly spread throughout the attic. Because the fire never spread openly in the living spaces, the smoke detectors didn’t go off until it was too late. Most of the damage was confined to the second floor where the sleeping quarters were. The roof and ceiling had collapsed on the sleeping family.

 One question remained. Could all of this have been prevented? The answer is yes. The technology is now available to stop fires before they start. It is called an Arc Fault Circuit Breaker. The breaker has a computer chip inside that constantly monitors the power. If there is any change outside of how electricity should flow in a normal electrical circuit, the circuit breaker will see the change and trip before the fire can start.

Arc Fault Circuit Breaker
CH series single AFCI Breaker.
Lifetime Warranty

The problem with installing them in the past has been in part to how the home was wired. When electricity flows through a circuit, it leaves the circuit breaker on a “hot” wire, powers the device(s), and returns to the electrical panel on the “neutral” wire. In older homes, there can be two “hot” wires for one “neutral” wire. This type of wiring method has prevented Arc Fault Circuit Breakers from being installed for these types of circuits. Circuits that have one “hot” and one “neutral” could accept an Arc Fault Circuit Breaker.

There are now Arc Fault Circuit Breakers on the market that can protect the circuits that have two “hot” wires and one “neutral” wire. Not only can these breakers protect the wiring in your home from a fire, but they can also protect anything else that may be plugged into the circuit that can cause a fire. One Arc Fault Circuit Breaker is required to protect each circuit.

 Arc Fault Circuit Breakers have been required since January 1, 2002 for all new 120V circuits. Originally, they were only required in bedrooms where most residential fires were known to start. Because they worked so well, beginning on January 1, 2008, they became required on ALL 120V residential circuits that weren’t already required to be protected by a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.

 helmet AFCIAlthough they cost more than a standard circuit breaker, they work. Our company has documented cases similar to the case study in which a nail or screw ended up in a wire and the breaker tripped. Someone tried to reset the breaker and it continued to trip. We have seen other cases where lamp cords were damaged and the breaker tripped to prevent a fire. Even more common is squirrels or other animals getting into the attic and chewing the insulation off of the wires. The Arc Fault Circuit Breakers have found those as well. Yes, it can frustrating to lose power with these breakers, but they only trip when there is a problem. It’s cheaper to have an Arc Fault Circuit Breaker trip to stop a fire than it is to have your home put back together because of a fire. Bottom line, Arc Fault Circuit Breakers save lives and protect your property. They are like having a fireman constantly watching over your electrical system!

©2014 Stewart Electric Co., LLC | 103 Wildflower Dr. Jacksonville, AR 72076 | 501-833-8764

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