What the heck is an AFCI?

During an inspection I am often asked the question, what is an AFCI ? How is it different than a GFCI? In my last post I explained about GFCI devices. Simply stated a GFCI device is designed to protect people from life threatening shock hazards. An AFCI, arc fault interrupter, device is designed to keep your house from catching on fire. One of these is less likely to be seen at an outlet on the wall. They are generally found in the main electrical panel, as they are supposed to protect all of the wires inside the wall as well as the cords to lighting fixtures or appliances. The wall mounted fixtures do exist however and are used for retrofitting purposes. These devices whether in the panel or on the wall cannot be tested anywhere but at their test buttons. There is not a checking device that is manufactured that is approved to test these.

These devices were first required in 1999 for all sleeping areas in the home. In 2008 this was expanded to all living areas through the home with the exception of the laundry room, bathroom, and kitchen. In 2014 this was expanded to include the kitchen and laundry room. The kitchen and laundry room now require dual GFCI/ AFCI breakers however. All breakers or outlets that have a test button should be tested once a month, if they don't trip and reset when the button is pushed, you should call a licensed electrician.

Below there is a photo of what a typical arc fault breaker looks like. On this particular brand the test button is the small square blue button.