AFCIs: Protect Against Electrical Fires in Your Home

February 27, 2017

Electricity is an incredible boon to modern life and so reliable that we often take it for granted. The comforts and conveniences afforded by electricity, from lighting, comfort and security, to education, communication, entertainment, and so much more, highlight its far reaching impact.

Even with a great track record of reliability, electricity comes with a level of risk. Electricity can shock, burn, or even electrocute. It also can cause fires. Every year, electricity is the cause of over 50,000 home fires, hundreds of deaths and injuries, and over a billion dollars of damages.

Reliable yes, but foolproof? Not so much, especially in older homes.

It’s a little like the marvel of airplane travel. Many people stress about those hunks of metal getting off the ground, especially with all the variables that complicate the process. Knowing that there are rules for aircraft inspection, maintenance, and upgrades is critical to public confidence, let alone overall safety. While home electrical systems and air travel aren’t exactly the same, the importance of inspection and maintenance as a lifesaving tool is quite similar. As parts deteriorate, risk rises.

Code Raises The Safety Bar

Current building codes address electrical safety much more thoroughly than in years past. A case could be made that a home built today has a safer electrical system than one built just 10 or 15 years ago–and notably safer than one built when the Denver Broncos were still wearing striped sox!

The craftsmen doing the work may have been equally competent back in the day, or possibly even more so, but the playbook and the materials now being used are safer and the oversight more consistent. What all this points to is the importance of inspecting the electrical system in your home to ensure that the existing components are in good condition, and to consider whether you would benefit from modern safety protections.

AFCIs are a good example of an established electrical safety product that was fully embraced in National Electrical Code (NEC) only in recent years. AFCIs provide enhanced protection against electrical fires. Let’s take a closer look:

More Alphabet Soup?

In addition to being yet another set of abbreviations to remember, AFCIs, or arc fault circuit interrupters, can help prevent electrical fires caused by deteriorated or damaged insulation on wiring inside walls and elsewhere in your home, as well as similar conditions in household appliances such as lamps or toaster ovens. These circuit breakers sense dangerous electric arcing conditions in your home wiring and shut off power to the circuit.

As you might imagine, universally replacing all the wiring buried in your home may not be practical, but replacing the accessible circuit breakers in your main panel with the most protective modern upgrade is quite feasible, allowing you to address any underlying wiring issues when needed.

AFCIs first showed up in electrical code in 1999, in regards to circuits for bedrooms. In 2014, the NEC was expanded to address AFCIs more broadly in your home, specifically, those circuits rated 15 amp or higher. In other words, virtually all of them.

Make note, while there is also such thing as an AFCI-style receptacle, or electrical outlet, our conversation will focus on AFCI breakers since they provide more universal protection for all wiring in a given circuit and are the commonly specified product in new projects.

What About Those GFI Things?

“Hold it! I got those fancy outlets all over my house, the ones with the black and red buttons on them. I’m good to go!” Not quite. This fictitious homeowner was referring to GFI outlets, or GFCIs. Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are another electrical safety device that adds a different level of safety to your home electrical system.

GFCIs are a type of electrical receptacle/outlet that was introduced over 40 years ago, and whose presence in electrical code has grown steadily since that time. GFCI outlets protect against electric shock and electrocution, and are currently required in new homes in areas where moisture may be present, such as the kitchen, bathroom, basement, garage, workshop, or outdoors.


AFCIs and GFCIs are closely related safety devices, but they sense and respond to different at-risk conditions. There is a combination AFCI/GFCI breaker that can perform both functions, arc protection and shock protection, and thus potentially eliminate the need for individual GFCI outlets inside the home. However, as with most things, the ability to use this universal product in your home will depend on the specifics of your home wiring system.

So, to summarize, AFCIs and GFCIs complement each other very well, but one is not a substitute for the other. While AFCI breakers provide protection against electrical fires caused by arcing, GFCI outlets protect against electric shock and electrocution.

Updating Older Homes

Building code goes thru periodic updates to enhance safety, and it has only been in recent years that the NEC has specified AFCI devices for most areas in new residences. It is our practice to inform our customers of upgrades available to make their homes safer.

If you own a home built prior to 2014, we recommend that you learn more about your electrical system and whether AFCI breakers, or possibly combination AFCI/GFCI breakers, might be worth considering for your home. Depending on the age and style of your electrical panel, a safety discussion about the panel may also make sense. Most professional electricians would be glad to perform a free assessment so that you can learn more about your current system.

Talk To A Licensed Electrician!

Your home is often the single largest investment that you’ll make during your lifetime, and so investigating ways to make it safer can only help. In the Denver and Boulder, Colorado area, please contact Save Home Heat Company’s master electrician to learn more about improving the electrical safety of your home, or to assist you with a wide variety of other electrical services for your home.