HOW DO ELECTRICAL FIRES START? A poor electrical connection can happen at plugs and other connections throughout the house. Properly installed wiring uses non-flammable material around connections due to the tendency of connections to heat up. Appliance, lamp and extension cords can become damaged creating a bad connection anywhere along the cord. The poor connection can create a lot of heat in a small area (at the connection) without tripping the circuit breaker. If there is something flammable near the heated up connection, it can start a fire. That is why it is always a good idea to keep flammable items away from plugs, etc. The scorched receptacle pictured was caused by a bad connection, however the non-flammable materials prevented a fire. See EXTENSION CORDS IN YOUR HOME for more information.
WHAT IS AN AFCI? The arc fault circuit interrupter was developed to reduce the risk of electrical wiring related household fires. The AFCI is a special kind of circuit breaker that is installed in the electrical panel. It usually has a yellow test button. It is designed to sense the typical arcing (sparking) at a poor connection and will turn off the electrical power to that circuit. AFCI circuit breakers are available for most post 1990 electrical panels. AFCI breakers are larger than regular breakers, which limits the number that can be installed in a typical panel. If you have one that keeps tripping, unplug everything from that circuit before attempting to reset it. The latest development is AFCI receptacles, which could be installed in the place of most receptacles.Pictured below are 2 AFCI circuit breakers next to a regular double circuit breaker in an electrical panel.
SHOULD I HAVE AFCI PROTECTION INSTALLED? AFCI circuits have been required in residential bedroom circuits since about 2010. Bedrooms were originally targeted due to the vulnerability while sleeping. The final development and implementation of AFCI's took longer than original anticipated and the cost was relatively high. With the costs coming down, it is becoming an attractive upgrade, especially if you have an older home, however you may also have to upgrade the electrical panel. Other than cost and size limitations, I don't see any reason why every circuit in a house shouldn't have arc fault protection. Be sure to have a qualified electrician install AFCIs; do not attempt this work yourself. The installation involves working within electrical panel boxes that are usually electrically live, even with the main circuit breakers turned off.