AFCI is the electric industry term for “Arc fault circuit Interrupter. This is a special type of circuit breaker that might seem new to a lot of homeowners.

However, a growing body of research has found how AFCI breakers can help significantly reduce the risk of many home fires. Many of these long-form studies have shown that electrical wiring issues are responsible for over 150 home fires across the United States every day.

It’s important to note that an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter differs from the GFCI outlets that you find in a lot of bathrooms and laundry rooms. It is also slightly different from a common circuit breaker in that it is specially engineered to detect slow electrical leaks.

These are exactly the type of leaks that usually occur when wiring in one or more circuits has been compromised. Yet it has not completely shorted out. Catching these impending fire hazards before they have a chance to cause a full-blow catastrophe does not provide peace of mind, but it also helps insulate your precious investment.

What Are Electrical Leaks?

One somewhat common example of an electrical leak that can lead to a short circuit or a house fire is when a nail punctures the protective coating of a wire behind the wall and a small electrical current begins to build up heat. As time goes on this gradual heat buildup can compromise increasingly larger portions of the wire until it causes a full-blown short circuit or a fire within the walls of your home.

Another example might be a wire nut from some DIY electrical work loosening just enough to allow a small arc of electricity. This can then cause heat to gradually build up between the wire and nearby ground. This can even happen when an outlet or switch connection becomes loose.

Do Normal Circuit Breakers Detect Electrical Leaks?

Unfortunately, the kind of small leaks and electrical arcs detected by an AFCI differ from the huge amounts of electrical energy that trip a typical residential circuit breaker will not detect the leak. In essence, these minor arc faults as sparks are very small amounts of electrical energy.

Yet they still can generate gradually building heat despite not having a large amount of energy flow. Left unchecked these tiny arcs can create enough heat to consume nearby wood and plastic materials, which can then escalate into a serious fire.

The traditional engineering of residential circuit breakers simply doesn’t give them the sensitivity to detect arc faults. Most 15 Amp and 20 Amp residential circuit breakers only trip when a significant amount of energy rapidly flows to the ground or passes through the circuit due to a short. At the same time, a lot of residential circuit breakers fail to lack the sensitivity to protect connected electrical cords or extension cords plugged into wall outlets.

How Does An Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter Work?

Some laymen refer to AFCIs as being so-called “Smart Breakers.” If you were to open one up to look at its components, you would see that they actually contain small filters and tiny, sophisticated logic devices.

This engineering allows them to detect an arc before it produces the heat and sparking that can cause a short circuit that leads to a dangerous house fire. When the AFCI does detect a fault, it shuts down the circuit immediately.

How Long Have AFCIs Been In Use

AFCI breakers first made their appearance in sections 210-12 of the 1999 edition of the National Electric Code. Though it took until 2002 for there to be a specific code that required them in residential homes for things like bedroom and family room circuits.

However, bedroom fires are seen by most experts and fire marshals as being the most dangerous and life-threatening type of house fire. To that point, a lot of municipalities took the use of AFCIs a step further, requiring them in all residential living areas.

In January 2008, only “Combination Type” AFCI breakers were considered to meet the NEC standards which require the installation of combination-type AFCIs in all 15- and 20-amp residential circuits. Though an exception was made for laundry rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, garages, and unfinished basements, where GFCIs were already considered standard protection by existing, rigorous codes.

As time passed, the NEC further revised its standards, and by 2014 they added kitchens and laundry rooms to the list of residential locations that required AFCI circuitry. It also went so far as to include any devices, such as light fixtures to also require AFCI protection.

Can I Install An AFCI Breaker Myself?

While you might have the technical ability to install an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter breaker in your home, it is not advisable. These are sophisticated electronics that need precision installation. If you do install one or more AFCIs and there is an issue that leads to a short circuit, house fire, or an injury, your homeowner’s insurance policy might not cover it.

How Much Does It Cost To Have An AFCI Breaker Installed?

The good news is that it’s relatively inexpensive to have an AFCI breaker installed. A single circuit can be upgraded by a professional electrician for as little as $150 to $200 in labor cost, and roughly $30 to $50 for the state-of-the-art AFCI breaker.

This is a modest investment that buys you a lot of peace of mind, as well as protects your home, which is your most valuable investment. It might also have an impact on your homeowner’s insurance premiums. Especially if your existing policy was raised due to outdated electrical wiring.

A lot of homeowners choose to have AFCI outlets upgraded for circuits running their bedrooms, and family rooms, as part of a whole home electrical inspection. This is a prime opportunity to make sure that every square inch of your wiring is up to code and safe.

AFCI Breakers Can Improve Resale Value

AFCI breakers will also go a long way toward maximizing your home’s resale value. When a prospective buyer requests an inspection the presence of up-to-code AFCI breakers sends a message that proves your pride of ownership. This generally translates into a more firm offer on the home, as well as a passed electrical inspection!