How Does An AFCI Work & Protect My Calgary Home?

As a Calgary homeowner, you may have heard that you need to upgrade your electrical service by having AFCIs installed. This could be to solve a specific problem, such as a breaker that keeps tripping or enhancing your electrical safety in general.

Of course, you want to do what’s necessary to protect your home and your family. First, though, you’d like to know a bit more about what you will be getting into.

Has your outlet stopped working and needs replacing? Here is a guide to AFCI protection and what it means for you.

What Is An Arc Fault?

Usually, the electrical current in your home flows through a planned path — your wiring system. However, occasionally the current will arc, sparking from one metal contact point to another, rather than flowing through the planned path. This situation is known as an arc fault.

An arc fault creates an electrical fire hazard if the heat it generates is high enough to damage your wiring’s insulation and ignite nearby drywall, insulation, wood, wallpaper, carpeting (especially synthetic), and other materials. From there, it can potentially spread to the rest of the house.

What Causes Arc Faults?

There are many possible causes of arc faults, usually stemming from wiring that is old, overloaded, or damaged by incorrect handling. Here are the most common causes:

  • Overloaded wires or outlets
  • Corroded or deteriorating wiring
  • Damaged wire insulation
  • Accidental wire puncture caused by nails, screws, or staples
  • Loose electrical connections that expose or separate wires
  • Cords damaged by bending, ageing, or animal pests
  • Stress due to heat, humidity, or voltage
  • Badly maintained, dirty, or worn circuit breakers
  • Static electricity

What Is An AFCI? How Does It Work?

An arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) is a safety device that protects against house fires caused by electrical arcing. AFCIs monitor your home’s flow of electricity constantly. When they detect an irregularity, they react by “tripping,” immediately shutting down the power. The reason AFCIs are superior to standard breakers is that their trip time is much faster.

Types Of AFCI

AFCI Receptacles (outlets) provide localized protection against arcing. They monitor the electrical flow in only one outlet.

AFCI Circuit Breakers protect against arcing anywhere in the entire circuit. They offer a higher level of safety than AFCI receptacles and are the best option for new construction. However, upgrading your outlets with AFCI receptacles might be the best option for a retrofit since AFCI breakers are often incompatible with older electrical panels. AFCIs receptacles are also easier to reset since they are more accessible.

Where Are AFCIs Required In Canada?

The Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) of 2015 specifies that AFCI receptacles must be installed for 125Vac, 15A, and 20A circuits supplying these areas of Canadian homes:

  • Bedrooms
  • Living rooms
  • Kitchenettes or dining areas
  • Hallways
  • Laundry rooms
  • Unfinished basements
  • Attached garages and carports

The CEC also requires AFCI installation for the following household appliances:

  • Dishwasher
  • Garbage disposal
  • Washing machine
  • Clothes dryer
  • Central vacuum cleaner
  • Built-in microwave
  • Gas range (but not electric) 

IMPORTANT: You can have AFCIs installed in other parts of your home as well. The areas listed above are the minimum requirement.

What’s The Difference Between AFCIs And GFCIs?

AFCIs and GFCIs are both protective devices for your electrical system. However, they have different functions. While AFCIs safeguard against fires resulting from arc faults, GFCIs protect against severe electric shock or fatal electrocution caused by water coming into contact with the system.

GFCIs detect leaking electricity when the amount of electrical current returning on a circuit is less than the current flowing in. In such a case, they will shut off the power near-instantly.

The Canadian Electrical Code mandates GFCI installation in “wet” areas of your home, specifically anywhere within 1.5 metres of a sink, shower stall, or bathtub — or outdoors within 2.5 metres of the finished grade.

Examples include:

  • Kitchens
  • Bathrooms and powder rooms
  • Laundry rooms
  • Wet bars
  • Patios with an electrical power supply, e.g., for lighting or an outdoor kitchen

Does My Home Have AFCIs Installed?

When you are not the original owner of your home, you may be wondering whether you already have AFCIs. It’s simple to check for AFCI receptacles — they will have a button for testing the arc fault circuit interruption function right on their face. For AFCI breakers, just take a look at your electrical panel. If several of the breakers are labelled AFCI and have test buttons, then you’ve got your answer.

How To Test AFCIs

Test AFCIs once a month to make sure that they are working to protect you as they should. Here’s how.

Make sure that the electricity is on during the test.

  1. Leave at least one device, such as electric light, on.
  2. Open your electrical panel.
  3. Make sure that the breaker is set to ON.
  4. Press the test button.
  5. If the breaker trips, that shows your AFCI is working. Reset the device by turning to OFF and then back to ON.
  6. If the breaker fails to trip, that indicates a malfunction. Have it replaced by a qualified electrician.

Sun Electrical Helps Keep Your Calgary Home Safe

Do you need AFCI installation, inspection, or replacement? Contact Sun’s team of expert electricians. We’ll protect your Calgary home against electrical hazards.