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afci and gfci

Posted by ecranny (My Page) on
Tue, Nov 23, 10 at 12:49

As I understand it, all receptacles should have AFCI protection. I am assuming that this applies only to recpectacles where it is likely that an extension cord might be used, so am I correct in thinking that lighting circuits and unfinished basement circuits do not require AFCI? Am I also correct in thinking that outlets that require GFCI should also have AFCI (e.g. kitchen counter outlets)? If so, is the only option to use an AFCI breaker and GFCI receptacles, or is there some combination breaker available, and do AFCI recptacles exist?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: afci and gfci

"As I understand it, all receptacles should have AFCI protection."

Not quite right. With certain exceptions, all 15- and 20-amp circuits serving designated living areas now require AFCI protection.

That's circuits, not receptacles.

"I am assuming that this applies only to recpectacles where it is likely that an extension cord might be used, so am I correct in thinking that lighting circuits and unfinished basement circuits do not require AFCI?"

While some of the impetus for adopting AFCI requirements had to do with the recognition that lamp cords and extension cords are prone to faults causing arcing, the requirement is in no way limited to areas where extension cords are likely to be used or, for that matter, to receptacles.

First mentioned in the 1999 Code version as pertaining to bedroom receptacles, AFCI protection of dwelling unit bedroom outlets was ensconced in the 2002 Code. (Keep in mind that the term "outlets" includes not only receptacles, but lighting fixtures, smoke alarms and other points that electricity is used.) The 2008 code extended coverage to habitable living areas such as living rooms, dining rooms, dens and so forth.

As for basements, since an unfinished basement is not a living area and has an unfinished floor where damp conditions are more likely, it is GFCIs, not AFCIs, that are appropriate for receptacles.

"Am I also correct in thinking that outlets that require GFCI should also have AFCI (e.g. kitchen counter outlets)? If so, is the only option to use an AFCI breaker and GFCI receptacles, or is there some combination breaker available, and do AFCI recptacles exist?"

Not correct. Requirements for GFCI and AFCI protection are independent. Some receptacles require neither. Some require both. Some require one but not the other.

A true combination AFCI/GFCI at a reasonable price seems to be on everyone's wishlist these days. I'm all but sure they'll be commonplace sometime in the future. Sigh.

[Don't confuse this with the terminology applied to newer "combination" AFCIs -- meaning that they detect for parallel and serial arcing. While they are "combination" devices in that sense, they will not trip at the same low-current/short interval specifications met by GFCIs. To oversimplify, AFCIs protect buildings against fires; GFCIs protect people against injury or electrocution.]

So do AFCI receptacles exist? Well, there's a good bit of history behind the issue. In about the late 90's, there were a couple of abortive attempts at making AFCI receptacles -- back when the code mentioned only bedroom receptacles. I'm not positive that they've all been pulled from the market, but I suspect they have. I haven't seen them for sale in a long time.

Chief among the problems with AFCI receptacles is that they run headlong into the code requirement for circuit-level (not receptacle-level) arc-fault protection. Thus, if you were to install one in, say, a bedroom, it still wouldn't meet code because the portion of the circuit in the bedroom leading into the receptacle still wouldn't be protected.

There remains some old weasel-wording in the code that would appear to allow AFCI receptacle protection upstream of the area requiring protection. That is, an AFCI receptacle placed right next to the breaker panel that feeds and protects a circuit heading for a bedroom may meet code requirements (provided that a couple of other T's are crossed and I's dotted). But as a practical matter, AFCI receptacles are not the solution you're looking for.


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RE: afci and gfci

Let me see if I can make this information a little more ledigable. Arc fault or AFCI, is a type of breaker installed in your service panel which protects all of the electrical fixtures, receptacles and switches on that circuit. The reason for that, an arc in a fixture perhaps caused by the screws in a receptacle not being tightened enough, causing a possible arc that might cause a fire. An AFCI breaker will sense that are an immediately trip shutting off all power to that circuit. A standard breaker might not read that arc as the breaker does not read that arc as an electrical overload.

It was common to use AFCI breakers in bedrooms assuming that arcs in daytime living areas would be more noticable. Current code now requires that AFCI breakers be installed in all living area circuits.

A GFCI is another animal. It is a type of receptacle that is most often installed where the receptacle is subject to moisture such as kitchens and bathrooms. If a toaster or hair dryer as an example should suddenly cause a spark or overheat, the GFCI will trip shuting off the power to that receptacle.

I think Tom was alluding to a combination AFCI/GFCI breaker which does not now exist, amd likely never will as one senses and arc fault and the other senses a ground fault.


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RE: afci and gfci

Thanks for the reponses. It seems like I will have to install a lot more AFCI breakers than I currently have. The problem now is that the panel (sub-panel) is going to get very crowded. I am using a CH 125amp panel, and the AFCI breakers take up a lot of space (as do GFCI). I really want to have a 'neat' panel, but already it is getting a bit chaotic. Is there any reason I should keep the neutral pigtails long, or is it ok to cut them short so they just reach the neutral bus? How do others achieve a neat wiring layout inside a smaller panel?


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RE: afci and gfci

"I think Tom was alluding to a combination AFCI/GFCI breaker which does not now exist, amd likely never will as one senses and arc fault and the other senses a ground fault."

As for whether there will ever be a combination AFCI/GFCI, Cutler Hammer already has them. Last I looked, they were pretty pricey however.

As AFCI and GFCI requirements expand, they will inevitably begin to overlap more often, IMO. And that's why I expect the use of AFCI/GFCI combos to grow over time.

I dunno. Who has a crystal ball?

p.s. What does ledigable mean? That's a new one for me.


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RE: afci and gfci

There was no version of the NEC that mentioned only bedroom RECEPTACLES requiring AFCI. It's not the cords they are worried about, it's the wiring it the walls as well. This is why there's exceptions for conduit-enclosed sections.

It's rare that you need both an AFCI and GFCI on the same circuit but not impossible. AFCI's aren't needed for kitchens, unfinished baserooms, bathrooms, etc....only where you have the same circuit feeding receptacles required to be GFCI *AND* feeding outlets in the AFCI-required living spaces do you have a problem and the code often enjoins such use. A common example is a receptacle near a bar sink in a rec room. That requires both under the later codes.


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RE: afci and gfci

"There was no version of the NEC that mentioned only bedroom RECEPTACLES requiring AFCI."

I beg to differ. The 1999 NEC Rule:

210-12. Arc-Fault Circuit-Interrupter Protection
(a) Definition. An arc-fault circuit interrupter is a device intended to provide protection from the effects of arc faults by recognizing characteristics unique to arcing and by functioning to de-energize the circuit when an arc fault is detected.
(b) Dwelling Unit Bedrooms. All branch circuits that supply 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacle outlets installed in dwelling unit bedrooms shall be protected by an arc-fault circuit interrupter(s). This requirement shall become effective January 1, 2002.

[Underlining added]

For a discussion of how this rule evolved to cover other outlets in the 2002 Code, see the link below to Mike Holt's forum. In particular, this part of the analysis:

"The intent of the change from the 1999 NEC is that arc fault protection be provided for all branch circuits that supply 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere outlets, not just receptacle outlets. In addition, the AFCI must be listed so that it will protect the ‘entire branch circuit’ by de-energizing the circuit when an arc fault is detected."

Here is a link that might be useful: AFCIs...2002 code revisions


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RE: afci and gfci

ecranny, why are you installing AFCI's in the first place? Are you doing a whole house renovation?


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RE: afci and gfci

petey, not the whole house but complete kitchen/den/dining room and unfinished basement/workshop. I also spliced to some K&T that goes to the bedrooms and in the hall and office. I was not considering replacing the K&T receptacles, but maybe I should put GFCI outlets there. The only reason I touched the K&T was so I could route it to a different panel - maybe this change is enough to require AFCI breakers on those circuits?


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RE: afci and gfci

To add to this knowledge base: I just got off the phone with the Seimens technical support and have verified that they do not have a product that provides both ACFI and GFCI protection. If you need to have them to protect a circuit (like I do in my San Francisco kitchen) you will have use separate devices. I'll have to have the GFCI at the outlet and ACFI at the breaker. The AFCI "Combination" breaker only addresses the various AFCI circumstances and will not trip during a GFCI test (verified by my last, failed, electrical inspection :-( ). There "may" be other products out there, but the technical engineer stated that it is not a simple function to include in a single breaker (he said it would be "impossible", but also qualified that he wasn't a genius) . So, don't be fooled by anyone stating that you can get this functionality in a single breaker without talking to a the manufacturer. You may be cutting holes in finished walls like I may have to now do.
--Joe


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