AFCI Circuit Breakers Among Technologies Contributing To Drop In Residential Electrical Fires

More than a decade ago, a Hampton Township, Penn., family took its electrical contractor’s advice when renovating its 21-year-old home, and the family members are glad they did.

Their EC had recommended they install a then relatively new technology: arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). The contractor explained that AFCIs would protect against dangerous arcing in electrical wires inside the home’s walls by de-energizing the system at the first sign of arcing and well before a fire could start. The homeowners liked the safety aspect of the technology and had 20 AFCI circuit breakers installed.

Soon after installation, one of the AFCIs tripped, warning of arcing in the kitchen. Faulty wiring was discovered behind the walls. Without AFCIs, this family might have lost its home, belongings and, even worse, their lives to an electrical fire.

Introduced in the 1999 National Electrical Code (NEC), AFCI circuit breakers were initially only required for bedroom circuits. Since then, AFCIs are a growing NEC requirement throughout the home, and more families are thanking ECs for leading the way in fire safety by installing AFCIs.

That message resonates especially well in October, which is National Fire Prevention Month. New statistics indicate a positive link between AFCIs and other building material technologies toward protecting consumers from electrical fires.

Electrical fire statistics from a 2012 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report suggest the industry is moving in the right direction as the evolution of fire prevention technologies coincides with a national decline in electrical fires. Per the NFPA’s report, from 2002 to 2009, annual U.S. electrical fires dropped from 55,000 to 45,000. In addition, home fires involving electrical distribution and lighting equipment also declined from 25,000 to 20,000. The study concluded the most frequent cause of fires was wiring or related equipment, followed by lamps, lighting fixtures, cords and plugs. AFCIs detect wire arcing in these circumstances and shut off the current before a fire can start.

Standard circuit breakers protect the wire and the supporting load by interrupting current in the event of an overload or short circuit. AFCI circuit breakers offer that same protection and alert homeowners to dangerous arcing within the wiring that, left unattended, may lead to electrical fires. Commitments by electrical contractors and builders to integrate these technologies to meet Code-compliance requirements and to provide safer residential dwellings are delivering results. This technology is further aided by the dedicated public education efforts of firefighters, consumer safety groups, the NFPA and others who make electrical safety a top priority.

Additionally, several AFCI manufacturers are leading the way with ongoing safety research and development. For example, many manufacturers serve on the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Low Voltage Distribution Section (LVDE) AFCI Task Force. Its mission is to help heighten awareness about the growing usage and safety benefits of AFCIs. Learn more about the AFCI Task Force’s activities at

About the Author

Brad Parlee

Brad Parlee is the Sr. Product Manager, NEMA Load centers/Miniature Circuit Breakers and Meter Socket Load Centers for GE’s Industrial Solutions business. Brad joined GE in 1983 and since then has held a variety of sales and product management positi...

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