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What are Arc Fault Circuit Breakers and Why Do I Need Them?

You may be wondering, “Why do I have all these circuit breakers with little push buttons and lights on them in your electrical panel and why it costs more to have a circuit run from your panel these days.

      Behold the “Arc Fault Circuit Breaker”. 

      The United States has seen the transformation of circuit protection over the years.  From glass fuses, molded case circuit breakers and now Arc Fault Circuit Breakers. 

Glass Fuse:

       The first type of overcurrent protection was a glass plug fuse.  The glass plug fuse would screw into a socket and would make the connection from the line feeding your house to the individual circuit.  These fuses had a small alloy ribbon inside which would melt when too much current was drawn on the circuit.   This would disconnect the circuit.  After the problem was remedied a new fuse would need to be inserted.

Molded Case Circuit Breakers:

      The molded case circuit breaker is what most of us are familiar with.  This type of circuit breaker is molded in plastic and has a tripping mechanism in the body of the circuit breaker that will “trip” or disconnect the circuit when current is higher than the predetermined value.  These breakers are resettable by turning “off” and back to the “on” position. 

Arc Fault Circuit Breakers: 

     The Arc Fault Circuit Breaker was introduced to the National Electrical Code in 2002.  Inspectors found that 82% of all electrical fires were caused by arcing circuits.  Faulty appliances and extension cords were found to be the main culprit causing these electrical arcs and fires.   These advanced circuit breakers have technology that allows them to sense series and parallel arcs in a circuit before they become a danger.  The NEC adopted the use of the AFCI in the 2002 electrical code for bedroom circuits only.  Over the last 5 code cycles the requirement for AFCI protection in the home has grown to include;  all 120 volt 15 and 20 amp branch circuits in bedrooms, kitchens, family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, libraries, sunrooms, den, closets, laundry areas and similar rooms. 

     By adding these outlets in the above mentioned rooms and similar areas in your home, to the requirements for AFCI protection, you will have approximately 10 to 15 AFCI circuit breakers in your electrical panel.     Of course the new technology is not inexpensive but it is well worth the investment to protect you, your family and your home.