AFCI’s & Fire Prevention for Remodelers

by Tim Steingraber

In the fall our kids go back to school and traditionally it’s a time for fire prevention awareness. That sentiment is not lost on what’s important for us to report on here at Qualified Remodeler.

Fire Prevention week is Oct. 4-10 (for details visit 

Fire prevention is imperative in residential building and remodeling and should always be top-of-mind. According to the ESFi (Electrical Safety Foundation International), the leading cause of residential building fires is electrical malfunction. The ESFi estimates arcing faults cause more than 30,000 home fires each year in the U.S. alone, resulting in hundreds of deaths, injuries and more than $750 million in property damage. The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) estimates that Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) could prevent more than 50 percent of these electrical fires each year.

KEY facts (according to the ESFI:

• Extension cords hidden in walls or under carpets can cause them to overheat, possibly leading to a dangerous arc-fault
• The National Electrical Code currently requires AFCIs be installed in most areas within newly constructed homes (see graphic)
• Standard circuit breakers and outlets can easily be upgraded to have AFCI protection
• AFCIs need to be tested monthly to ensure their efficacy

An AFCI is a type of outlet or circuit breaker that interrupts electricity on a circuit when it detects potentially dangerous arcing conditions helping to prevent an electrical fire. An AFCI distinguishes between a harmless arc that occurs incidental to normal operation of switches, plugs and brushed motors and an undesirable arc that can occur, for example, in a lamp cord that has a broken conductor in the cord.

Conventional circuit breakers only respond to overloads and short circuits; so they do not protect against arcing conditions that produce erratic, and often reduced current. An AFCI is selective so that most normal arcs do not cause it to trip. The AFCI circuitry continuously monitors the current and discriminates between normal and unwanted arcing conditions.

Outlet Branch Circuit (OBC) AFCI devices, are an alternative solution to AFCI Breakers. These receptacles are designed to address the dangers associated with both types of potentially hazardous arcing – parallel and series. OBC AFCIs offer the benefit of localized TEST and RESET with these buttons located on the face of the device itself. This is very convenient for the user and saves a trip to the breaker panel.

When installed as the first outlet on a branch circuit, AFCI receptacles provide series arc protection for the entire branch circuit. They also provide parallel arc protection for the branch circuit starting at the AFCI outlet and continuing downstream to other outlets in the circuit. OBC AFCI devices may be used on all wiring systems regardless of the panel and for this reason are ideal for older homes, which often have electrical panels that may not be compatible with AFCI breakers.
OBC AFCI Receptacles contain electronic components within the device that constantly monitor a circuit for the presence of “normal” and “potentially dangerous” arcing conditions. Based upon an established threshold in the sine wave, the AFCI can be triggered to quickly react and de-power a circuit if “potentially dangerous” arcing is detected.

According to the most recent NEC® requirements, OBC AFCI devices are a suitable option for remodeling projects involving extensions to branch circuits and replacement receptacles (see diagram).

There is a wealth of information at to help homeowners and professionals alike.

For link to AFCI infographic click here:

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