Over the past 30 years, modern electrical devices have dramatically transformed American homes. These same devices also have contributed to the shocking number of electrical fires this country suffers every year. Existing homes can be overwhelmed by today’s electrical demands, putting them at greater risk of arc faults and arc-induced fires.
What Is an Arc Fault?
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, when a nail or screw damages a wire behind a wall, or when outlets or circuits are overburdened.
In the United States, arc faults cause more than 30,000 home fires each year, resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries, and more than $750 million in property damage. The solution to this problem is an arc-fault circuit interrupter, or AFCI. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that AFCIs could prevent more than half the electrical fires in the U.S. every year.
AFCIs and the NEC
Since its 2008 edition, the National Electrical Code has included significantly expanded requirements for AFCI protection in all new homes. However, states and cities must formally adopt the code’s current edition for these new provisions to take effect. Local adoption and enforcement is key to preventing fires, protecting homes and saving lives.
Homebuilders in some states complain that the increased AFCI requirements will significantly increase the cost of a new home while improving safety very little. Yet the cost of installing additional AFCIs in a home, depending on its size, is $140–$350, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International.
Safety advocates maintain that the added cost for AFCI protection is well worth the benefits provided to homeowners—especially if it prevents a fire that could consume the entire home.