In order to hang a heavy framed picture above your couch, you find a stud in the wall and hammer in a large nail to support the size and weight. But hidden behind the wallboard is a wire that provides electricity to a wall outlet located in back of the furniture. Your nail penetrates the wire, tearing the insulation and shorting the electrical circuit to the room. The wall quickly becomes hot, as a fire explodes behind the wall. This is an arc fault which generates high temperatures in excess of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, igniting nearby combustibles such as wood, paper, wallboard and carpets. An arc fault is a dangerous electrical problem often caused by damaged, overheated or stressed electrical wiring or devices.
In the U.S., arcing faults cause many of the estimated 67,800 electrical fires in homes every year, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). To help reduce the number of electrical fires in homes, an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) is a type of circuit breaker that replaces standard circuit breakers in your home’s electrical service panel and provides a higher level of protection by detecting dangerous electrical conditions and shutting down the electricity before a fire has a chance to ignite. These devices are equipped with advanced internal electronics that detect arc fault hazards – which traditional breakers are not designed to recognize.
- The most common conditions that usually trigger arc faults include:
- Loose or improper connections, such as electrical wires to outlets and switches
- Extension or appliance cords that are damaged or have worn or cracked insulation
- Natural aging, and cord exposure to heat vents and sunlight
- Cables that are improperly nailed or stapled too tightly against a wall stud
- Wires located behind walls that can be accidentally punctured by a screw or drill bit
- Cords caught in door jams, deteriorating the cable insulation through the action of opening and closing the door
- Furniture pushed against or resting on electrical cords
Arc fault circuit interrupters can be purchased at any local electrical distributor, hardware store or home improvement center for approximately $35 – $45 each. Make sure to have a certified electrician install them for you, ensuring its compliance with the U.S. National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements while meeting your home’s needs.
Electrical fires can be a silent killer occurring in areas of the home that are hidden from view. Use of AFCI technology could prevent between 50 to 75 percent of these electrical fires, saving hundreds of lives, reducing thousands of injuries and nearly $1 billion in property damage annually.