GFCI Ground Fault
and AFCI Arc Fault Circuit Breakers
By Dave Rongey Summary: Electric circuit protection with GFCI provide the extra measure of safety for your family. GFCI's are installed serving required house
wiring circuits protecting areas where electrical appliances
or products may come into contact with water, such as the kitchen, bathroom, laundry, hot tub areas and more.
GFCI's are an Effective Means of Preventing Severe Electrical Shock
Circuit breakers serving your house wiring circuits are intended for switching and protection of your home's wiring from high temperatures caused by excess current higher than the rating of the wire.
While thermal-magnetic circuit breakers are the key element for overload and short-circuit protection of your electrical system, there are potentially dangerous conditions that do not involve over current.
The following circuit breakers should be utilized to provide further protection.
Residential Electrical Circuit Breakers
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI)
GFCI's are an effective means of preventing
severe electrical shock. GFCI's are installed serving required house
wiring circuits to protect areas of the home where electrical appliances
or products may come into contact with water, such as the kitchen, bathroom
or laundry. They are designed to protect against severe electrical shock
or electrocution from ground faults. Ground faults occur when the electrical
current in an appliance strays outside its normal path, and the human
body becomes part of the path through which the electrical current may
AFCI Circuit Breaker Sensitivity
David, from Anchorage, Alaska asks:
I have a Siemens AFCI breaker that has recently begun tripping. It started slowly, tripping occasionally. Now, it won't even reset. The first time it tripped, I reset it and checked it successfully by pushing the button. It held for several days and tripped again spontaneously. Also oddly, we had one night where our ceiling fan light turned on spontaneously in the middle of the night. It's a different circuit and I don't know if it's related, but I thought I'd mention it. Nothing else has been changed or added. The house is 6 years old. I'm curious if it could be the breaker going bad, or something else. Any ideas on what or how to check this out?
From what you have described it sounds like the AFCI circuit breaker may be sharing the neutral wire of the AFCI circuit with another circuit, which is also known as a multi wire circuit. This practice is fine with non-AFCI circuits, but AFCI circuit breakers do not function well with multi wire circuits. The other possibility is that there is another problem with the wiring of either of these circuits. On way to test this would be to identify the area that the circuit serves and begin disconnecting certain devices or wire paths then see if the problem goes away. When AFCI circuit breakers were new there were a few problems, however these original problems have been resolved but the nature of the arc fault protection might causing the AFCI circuit breaker to be indicating that there really is a problem that may need to be identified and corrected.
Questions about Ground Fault and Arc Fault Circuit Breakers
Caroline in Tennessee asks: Can I install a 2-pole combination AFCI breaker on two circuits
I recently had most of my breakers replaced with dual function AFCI-GFCI breakers. The electrician did not replace a couple breakers that share a neutral. My question is, can I install a 2-pole combination AFCI breaker on those 2 circuits to get the arc fault protection? And then install a GFCI receptacle for the one outlet that exists on those circuits? The other devices on the circuits sharing the neutral are a microwave(with a simplex receptacle) and overhead lights in several rooms. I am also concerned that the microwave is not on a dedicated circuit. Is that OK? Would it need a GFCI receptacle as well?
Dave’s Reply: AFCI Breakers Cannot have a Shared Neutral Wire
Unfortunately, each AFCI circuit must have a dedicated neutral wire or the AFCI breaker will trip off. This is why the electrician did not install the other two AFCI breakers.
Generally, a microwave oven has it’s own dedicated circuit, depending on the size of the microwave oven and the power requirements. Depending on your local area and the NEC adopted codes, most all electrical outlets located in the kitchen require GFCI protection.
Gary in New York asks: AFCI Protection for Bedroom Outlets and Lighting
I had an addition done on my house a while ago, but the builder never filed for the electrical work. To make a long story short I received a violation from the building department that AFCI protection has not been provided for all bedroom outlets and lighting. Surfing the web it sounds like an easy fix by just changing the circuit breakers. I have had 2 electricians tell me they have to put a loop in the outlets. Not sure what that is really. Does that sound accurate?
Dave’s Reply: AFCI Circuit Wiring
Swapping out the standard circuit breaker with an ACFI Circuit Breaker is the starting point, however sometimes the wiring has to be changed or configured so the AFCI breaker does not trip when it is turned on, but only when an arc fault is detected.
Learn more about How to Wire Circuit Breakers and Panels Perfect for Homeowners, Students and Electricians Includes: Home Electrical Circuit Breakers 120 Volt Circuits 240 Volt Circuits Multi-Wired Circuits Wiring Methods for Installing Electrical Circuit Wiring Electrical Codes for Home Electrical Wiring ....and much more. Be Sure to Get Your Copy!
Installing Electric Circuits
Electrical Project Skill Level:
Intermediate to Advanced - Best performed by a Licensed Electrical Contractor.
Electrical Tools Required:
Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools and a Voltage Tester.
Depends on personal level experience, ability to work with tools, install electrical circuit wiring, and the available access to the project area. Electrical Safety:
Identify the panel circuit, turn it OFF and Tag it with a Note before working with the wiring. Working in an electric panel is dangerous due to arc flash hazards and the possibility of electric shock.
Electrical Wiring Parts and Materials:
Electrical parts and materials for circuit wiring projects should be approved for the specific project and compliant with local and national electrical codes.
Electrical Codes and Inspections:
Installing additional electrical circuit wiring should be done according to local and national electrical codes with a permit and be inspected.
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