Arc Fault Breaker Safety
 
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Smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and escape ladders are all examples of emergency equipment used in homes to take action when a fire occurs. AFCIs are products designed to detect a wide range of arcing electrical faults to help reduce the chance for a fire to ignite. Conventional breaker overcurrent protective devices do not detect low level hazardous arcing currents that have the potential to initiate electrical fires.

AFCIs are the next generation product in electrical circuit protection. As you evaluate your new home’s construction or consider upgrading or remodeling your current electrical system, consider enhancing the protection of your electrical system with AFCI.

In 1992, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) contracted with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to provide research and evaluation of products and technology that could reduce the likelihood of residential fires. A result of the research, UL identified an electrical hazard called “arcing faults” that could eventually lead to the ignition of a fire as one possible cause of residential fires.

Typical causes of arc faults

Example conditions where arc faults may start include:

- Damaged Wires
- Worn electrical insulation
- Wires or cords in contact with vibrating metal
- Overheated or stressed electrical cords and wires
- Misapplied or damaged electrical appliances

Furniture pushed against or resting on electrical cords can damage the wire insulation. Damaged cords can become a potential condition for arcing.

Extension or appliance cords that are damaged or have worn or cracked insulation can contribute to electrical arcing.

Cord insulation can be deteriorated by heat generated by hot air ducts or sunlight.

Cables that are improperly nailed or stapled too tightly against a wall stud can sever insulation and cause arcing.

 

Wires located behind walls can be accidentally punctured by a screw or drill bit damaging the insulation of the wiring.

Nails carelessly driven into walls can break wire insulation and cause arcing

 

Cords caught in door jams can deteriorate the cable insulation through the action of opening and closing, allowing arcing to occur

 

Electrical Fires Kill Hundreds Every Year

According to the U.S. Fire Administration*, home electrical problems accounted for an estimated 67,800 fires and $868 million in property losses in 2003. Electrical fires also cause an estimated 485 deaths annually and injure almost 2,300 more individuals.

Electrical fires can be caused by a number of failures. Appliance defects or misuse, incorrectly installed wiring, or misapplied extension cords can lead to electrical hazards.

In 1992, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) contracted with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to provide research and evaluation of products and technology that could reduce the likelihood of residential fires. A result of the research, UL identified an electrical hazard called “arcing faults” that could eventually lead to the ignition of a fire as one possible cause of residential fires.

Fire Data Supports AFCI Use

The National Fire Protection Association, the insurance industry and others track the incidence of electrical fires across the United States and categorize those fires based on their causes. In reviewing statistics dating back to 1999, fires in the home electrical system exceed 31,000 annually.

Updated figures from a March, 2006 report <<Link to report>> from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) - (Healthy Home Issues: Injury Hazards) provides additional support for the need to protect residences and their occupants:

Electrical problems spark an estimated 28,300 home fires on an annual basis, according to the most recent data from the United States Fire Administration (USFA). The USFA is an agency of the federal government and is committed to reducing the number of deaths and economic losses due to fire and related emergencies. The USFA also reports that electrical fires kill 360 innocent victims and injure approximately 1,000 others, while causing $995 million in residential property damage each year. ( USFA. 2008. Topical Fire Report Series: Residential Building Electrical Fires. US Fire Administration)

The HUD recommendation was to promote AFCIs as one of the many devices that can be used to prevent burns and fire related injuries. In addition, it cites a 1999 CPSC Report recommending the use of AFCIs to “prohibit or reduce potential electrical fires from happening.”

As you can see from the data above, fires of electrical origin are a significant issue that must be addressed. Frequently, it is argued that fires only occur in older homes. However, it should be recognized that new homes become older homes. It is critical to install the AFCIs in the beginning so that they can perform their protection function from the start. Seldom are devices such as AFCIs added to homes after they are constructed and occupied.

*Ref: 1999 Revised - 2002 Residential Fire Loss Estimates, U.S. National Estimates of Fires, Deaths, Injuries, and Property Losses from Unintentional Fires, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, November 2005

**Healthy Homes Issues: Injury Hazards, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Version 3, March 2006