Arc fault or arc flash are terms electricians use when loose or corroded wires spark as they make an intermittent connection. Any time you hear buzzing or hissing when you try to flick on a malfunctioning light switch, or you plug an appliance into a defective outlet, you’re actually listening to an arc fault. Arc faults create heat that can melt the insulation around the wires, thereby raising the risk of electrical fires. Fortunately, arc flash protection devices are available that can help manage those risks.
What’s the Difference Between an Arc Fault and a Short Circuit?
Arc faults are frequently confused with short circuits, but actually, they are precursors to short circuits. Short circuits occur outside a wiring system when an electrical current makes accidental contact with a wiring pathway. The sudden loss of resistance leads to an amplification of amperage. If this newly energized electrical flow exceeds the amperage capacity of the circuit breaker installed in the wiring system, it will trip the circuit breaker, which will stop the current flow in most instances.
Ground faults are a type of short circuit that occurs when current makes accidental contact with a grounding pathway. Sometimes, you will hear a ground fault referred to as a “short-to-ground.” Once again, the loss of impedance results in an amplified flow of current that should trip the circuit breaker. Often, however, the circuit breaker will not trip, and workers can sustain violent shocks. This is the reason why the National Electrical Code now requires the installation of ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) in outdoor electrical outlets and in outlets that are close to plumbing pipes.
What Are Arc-Fault Protection Devices?
Arc-fault circuit interruption (AFCI) is a technology that can be introduced into circuit breakers and outlets. ACFI is specifically designed to protect against the dangers of fire.
The National Electrical Code first mandated the use of AFCI circuit protections in 1999. As of 2014, all new residential construction is required to use ACFI protections. While existing electrical installations do not have to be retrofitted with ACFI protections, if you hire an electrician, you can expect that he or she will update your circuits since ACFI protections are mandatory for all remodeling projects.