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    Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters | AFCI FAQ


  • Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters | AFCI FAQ

    September 25, 2015

    Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) and ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are two common electrical safety protection devices. Each of them are extremely important to have in your home, however, they serve different and distinct purposes. Whereas GFCIs protect you from electrical shocks, AFCIs protect you from electrical fires.


    This week we are focusing on AFCIs and the frequently asked questions associated with them:

    What is an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter?

    An AFCI circuit breaker is used to protect your home from electrical fires by shutting off (interrupting) the current when an electrical arc condition is detected. According to Section 210.12(A) of the 2011 NEC (National Electrical Code), “all 15 and 20 amp branch circuits have protection for the entire branch circuit when that circuit has outlets in dwelling family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, bedrooms, sunrooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, or similar rooms or areas” ( The NEC requires AFCI protection in all living areas.

    Most often, AFCIs replace your standard breakers in your home’s electrical panel, however UL 1699 recognizes six different categories of AFCIs:

    1. Branch/feeder types
    2. Combination types
    3. Cord Types
    4. Outlet Circuit Types
    5. Outlet branch circuit types
    6. Portable types


    Your electrical panel can be easily upgraded with AFCIs, however, they should always be installed by a qualified electrician. When a hazardous arc fault is detected on that circuit, power gets interrupted for your safety. Get your Spokane area home up to code today by scheduling service with Mainstream Electric!

    You can check if your panel has AFCI protection by opening up your panel door and looking for breakers with a “test” button. If they have a test button, it could be AFCI or GFCI. Look closely for a label that indicates which kind of circuit interrupter you have installed. After installing AFCIs for your home, remember to test them every month, along with your GFCI breakers/outlets.

    What is an arc?


    Arc faults generate a lot of heat that could lead to a fire. They are caused when there are loose wiring connections, or if the electrical wiring becomes worn, stressed, damaged, or otherwise overheated. AFCIs not only shut off electricity during “arcing,” but also when there is an overloaded or short circuit.

    What can cause an arc?

    Arcing can occur for a variety of reasons, including:

    • Worn, damaged, and stressed electrical wiring
    • Damaged wiring from nails, screws, or drill bits that puncture a wall.
    • Loose electrical connections
    • Accidental piercing/pinching by staples, doors, windows, or something else
    • Cord damage from heat vents, sunlight, or foot traffic

    Do I really need AFCIs?

    Short answer: Yes! Since 1999, when AFCIs were first mentioned in the NEC, all new homes require AFCI protection, however, it’s incredibly important to add AFCI protection to existing homes as well. In fact, although not strictly part of the electrical code, it’s more important that older homes have this protection than newer homes since the wiring is older and more prone to worn or otherwise damaged electrical wiring.

    AFCIs are not going away. We anticipate additional AFCI code requirements for all 120-volt circuits in all homes. Chances of an electrical fire rise dramatically the older a home is, especially if you have outdated, hazardous panels like Federal Pacific or Zinsco. Click here to find out if your electrical panel is safe!

    How much does an AFCI cost?

    Typically, AFCI breakers cost around $30, but require additional installation costs. Some panels are not compatible with AFCI protection, but there are ways to retrofit existing panels to make them work. Call Mainstream Electric and we will do a full safety inspection of your entire electrical system to repair the root causes of your electrical arcing as well as identify any problems with your electrical panel. If you have an older home with a Federal Pacific or Zinsco panel, you may want to seriously consider replacing it with a new panel. Find out if your electrical panel is safe here.


    AFCIs monitor your electrical circuits for any unwanted arcing and shuts off power before any damage is done. If you notice constantly tripping AFCI breakers, don’t just flip the switch back and ignore it. You may have a dangerous arc situation that could lead to a fire! Call your electrician immediately if you notice AFCI breakers frequently tripping. We highly recommend adding AFCI protection to any home, new or old, but especially old, for safety and peace of mind.

    The best thing you can do to ensure the safety of your home and family is to have a complete electrical inspection done by a qualified electrician and repair any electrical hazards sooner rather than later.

    Call Mainstream Electric at 866-411-ZAPP (9277) for Greater Spokane electrical inspections and repairs!

    For more information on AFCIs and other common electrical code violations:

    Choose Smart! Call the Company with Heart! 866-411-ZAPP (9277)

    For more information on home and business electrical inspections, visit Mainstream Electric online.

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