As its name implies, an Arc-fault Circuit Interrupter is designed to detect electrical arcing, and turn off the current to wiring or appliances where arcing is occurring. An electrical arc occurs anytime an electric current jumps through a gap or air space between two conductors. This typically produces a visible spark or sparks. We’re all familiar with small sparks which can be seen inside electric tools and motors, and tiny sparks which may occur when we plug an electrical device into a wall outlet. Small levels of arcing are normal and benign in these places, but dangerous arcing is a different matter. Dangerous levels of arcing can involve damaged insulation, worn or broken conductors, many other electrical problems. This type of arcing is the single greatest cause for electrical fires across our continent and has resulted in hundreds of human fatalities, hundreds of thousands of fires, and billions of dollars in property damages. AFCI’s are designed to detect dangerous levels of arcing while ignoring benign occurrences. When dangerous arcing occurs, an AFCI will immediately detect this and turn off the electrical current for the affected circuit. If someone tries to reset the AFCI, and it trips again rapidly, this is typically an indicator of a larger problem.
While a GFCI is designed to detect electricity which has become shorted to ground, an AFCI is designed to detect arcing within wiring or electrical devices or appliances. AFCI units look a lot like circuit breakers and are typically located inside breaker boxes, rather than outlets. However, they are able to detect dangerous arcing conditions a breaker cannot detect. In addition, AFCIs are manufactured for circuits carrying up to 100 amps, so they can protect buildings from arcing in large equipment like stoves and central air units.
AFCIs have been developed and mandated by law to protect lives and property from electrical fires caused by arcing. However, many older homes and buildings have not been retrofitted with these devices and remain unprotected. To make matters worse, older buildings are more likely to have outdated wiring and appliances, and insulation problems and other conditions which cause arcing problems.
If you are concerned about your wiring and would like to schedule a safety inspection, call Bryant Electric Service at 512-402-8587. Our electricians are licensed and equipped to inspect electrical systems, and can determine if your home or building is sufficiently protected by AFCI protective devices.