Must Know Info: How an AFCI Helps Prevent Electrical Fires

AFCI installations go a long way to prevent home electrical fires.

Must Know Info: How an AFCI Helps Prevent Electrical Fires

Why is AFCI information important?

Although not sexy, arc fault circuit interrupters (or AFCIs) help prevent electrical fires and should be installed in your home!


According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are roughly 45,000 home fires every year due to some type of electrical failure or malfunction.

Electrical fires result in over 350 deaths and around 1,400 injuries annually.

However, there is positive news. AFCIs work.

According to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates, AFCIs can help prevent about 50% of electrical fires every year!

AFCI: The Basics

We rely on our homes to keep us safe and part of home safety is protection against accidents, such as electrical fires. As noted, AFCIs can help prevent these unfortunate fires, but as homeowners, we need to understand how and why they work so efficiently.

What is an arc-fault?

In technical terms:

“An arc fault is an unintended arc created by current flowing through an unplanned path. Arcing creates high intensity heating at the point of the arc resulting in burning particles that may easily ignite surrounding material, such as wood framing or insulation. The temperatures of these arcs can exceed 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.”

In laymen’s terms:

An arc-fault is a dangerous electrical problem caused by damaged, overheated, or stressed electrical wiring or devices. Arc-faults can occur when older wires become frayed or cracked.

For example, when a nail or screw damages a wire behind a wall or when outlets or circuits are compromised, then an arc-fault may emerge.

What is an AFCI?

An AFCI is a product (such as a duplex receptacle or circuit breaker) that breaks the circuit when it detects a dangerous electrical arc in order to prevent electrical fires.

The objective is to protect the circuit from being a source of an electrical fire.

AFCIs distinguish between a harmless arc that occurs (such as the normal operation of switches, plugs, and brushed motors) from an undesirable arc that can occur (such as a broken conductor in a cord, like a lamp or other electronic device).

What the types of AFCIs?

AFCIs are required by the National Electric Code (NEC) to be a listed product, which means AFCIs must be evaluated by a nationally recognized testing laboratory to the national standard for AFCIs (and NEC 210.12 establishes the requirement to use AFCIs.)

Homeowners looking to add AFCIs to aid in electrical fire prevention and protection should note that AFCIs are available as various products.

  • AFCI Receptacle

The AFCI receptacle provides protection from arc faults beyond branch circuit wiring extending to appliances and cords plugged into the receptacle. This device provides enhanced fire protection and protects all downstream wire and appliances from both parallel and series arcs, and also protects from series arcs upstream in the wiring between the source of the circuit and the first outlet of the circuit.

  • Circuit Breakers

AFCI protection was originally required by the 1999 National Electrical Code with certain circuit breakers. The first generation AFCI provides moderate fire prevention and trips when a parallel arc between hot and neutral conductors is detected. Additionally, the combination AFCI breaker provides enhanced fire protection.

The Difference Between AFCI & GFCI

GFCIs are also important to help prevent surges and should be used in conjunction with AFCIs.

What is a ground fault circuit interrupter?

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a device that shuts off an electric power circuit when it detects that current is flowing along an unintended path, such as through water or a person.

Ground fault protection is integrated into GFCI receptacles and GFCI circuit breakers for installation into an electrical system. Ground fault protection is particularly important for circuit outlets in areas where electrical equipment is near water (such as bathroom or kitchen sinks).

How do AFCIs and GFCIs differ?

Homeowners should note that AFCIs and GFCIs can work together to provide the most complete protection that can be provided on a circuit.

The primary function of the AFCI is to protect the branch circuit wiring from dangerous arcing faults that could initiate an electrical fire.

The major difference between an AFCI and GFCI is that the primary function of the GFCI is to protect people from the deadly effects of electric shock that could occur if parts of an electrical appliance or tool become energized due to a ground fault.

Don’t worry if this is confusing.

Hopefully, this infographic helps show the difference between an AFCI vs. GFCI and how both can be used in your home.


Home Electrical Notes & AFCI Testing Info

Keep in mind that AFCI protection means updating circuit breakers from standard breakers to those that are designed to detect arcing and sparking that may cause electrical fires.

Plus, all electrical systems should have an electrical inspection if the home is older than 40 years or has had a major addition, renovation or large appliance added.

  • AFCI breakers and receptacles should be tested monthly.
  • AFCIs should be installed by a qualified electrician.
  • Series Arc: Arc along the same conductor at connections.
  • Parallel Arc: Arc between hot and neutral conductor or between the hot and ground conductor.

For more information about preventing electrical fires, then here are a few more tips, which are part of the Homeowner’s Guide to Preventing Electrical Fires.

There are many part of home maintenance and home improvement that homeowners can take a DIY approach. Electrical safety should not be one of them.

At Snappy, we tend to think we provide excellent electrical services and peace of mind for our customers that the job will be done right because we offer 100% customer satisfaction. We stand behind our techs and work, but understand we might not be the best fit for every homeowner.

It is best to hire an electrical contractor to help you perform a safety check in your home. Hiring a professional who is trained on the equipment in electrical safety is one of the best practices that homeowners can leverage to protect your home and family.

Remember, Snappy offers 24/7 service (at no extra charge), so if you experience any electrical emergencies or would like a routine electrical inspection, then contact us today!

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