Arc faults & ground faults are not the same!
You may already be familiar with a ground fault, that’s when electricity travels outside its intended path looking for the shortest route to the ground. If you are grounded (touching the ground or something resting on the ground, like a ladder) and you touch something that is energized your body becomes that shortest route to ground. You can also become part of the path to ground by touching water and electricity. Either way, you could be hurt or worse yet, die.
On the other hand, an arc fault is caused by damaged, overheated or electrical wiring / devices placed under too high a demand. They can also occur with older frayed / cracked wires or if a nail damages a wire in a wall. As homes are being transformed by the demands of new electrical devices, many existing homes are not equipped to handle this resulting in a greater risk of arc faults and arc-induced fires, a cause of a large percentage of home electrical fires and deaths.
You can increase protection from ground faults and arc faults by using Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI). They do not perform the same function however…
- GFI receptacle (pictured left above) protects people against severe or fatal electric shocks
- AFCI (pictured right above) is a device that replaces the standard circuit breaker in your home’s electrical panel protects against fires caused by arcing faults.
Changes in the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) made AFCI’s required on bedroom circuits in new home construction, and now the 2015 Canadian Electrical Code requires all branch circuits with 125 volt receptacles rated 20 amps or less to be protected (with exceptions). However, many existing homes lag behind in keeping up to date as there is no requirement to install them in older homes…but it makes sense to do so. The 2008 edition of the US National Electrical Code (NEC) had expanded requirements for AFCI installation to additional areas of the home, including dining rooms and family rooms.
AFCI’s should only be installed or replaced by a licensed, qualified electrician. They should be tested after installation and once each month to make sure they are working properly. Follow the device manufacturer’s testing instructions. If the device does not trip when tested, it should be replaced.