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Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs)

are very similar to ground fault circuit

interrupters in that they are intended
to protect people against a particular
electrical hazard. Ground Fault Circuit
Interrupters are intended to protect
people against electric shock. Arc-Fault
Circuit Interrupters are intended to
protect people from fire.
An arc-fault is a plasma flame that can
develop temperatures in excess of
6,000 °C or 10,832 °F.
An arc-fault occurs when an intermittent connection
between two conductors or a conductor and ground
permits current to “jump” between two conductive

There are two types of arc-faults, parallel and series.

Parallel arc-faults occur
when the insulation of a
lamp cord or extension
cord becomes damaged
and permits the two
conductors to short
The current in a parallel arc-fault is limited
by the resistance of the conductors. This
generally produces a current much greater
than the rating of the circuit protective
device such as a fuse or circuit breaker. A
continuous arc-fault will generally cause the
circuit breaker to trip or the fuse to open.
An intermittent arc-fault, however, can
continue long enough to create a serious
heat source and cause a fire.
Series Arc-Faults are generally caused by loose
connections. Loose screws on a terminal connection or
an improperly made wire nut connection are prime
examples of this condition.
They are called series arc-faults because the
circuit contains some type of current limiting
load connected in series with the arc.
Although the amount of electrical energy
that is converted into heat is less than a
parallel arc-fault, the series arc-fault can be
more dangerous. Since the current is limited
by the load it generally remains below the
trip rating of a circuit breaker or fuse. This
permits the arc to continue over a long
period of time.
Destroyed or
equipment is the
general result of a
series arc-fault.
Arc-fault protection is provided
by an arc-fault circuit breaker.
These circuit breakers contain
a micro-processor that detects
the presents of an arc fault and
opens the circuit.
There are conditions where arcing in an
electrical circuit is normal such as:
Turning a light switch on or off
Switching of a motor relay
Plugging in an appliance that is already
turned on
Changing a light bulb with the power
turned on
Arcs caused by motors that contains a
commutator and brushes
Arcs that are
normally produced
by turning lights on
or off generally
cause a current
spike similar to the
one shown.
A typical arc-fault
produces a waveform
similar to the one shown.
The microprocessor of
the AFCI circuit breaker
contains a nonvolitle
memory (retains its
information when power
is turned off). The
continually monitors the
current for a similar
current pattern.
The AFCI circuit breaker
contains a white pigtail and
two connection screws
instead of one. The neutral
conductor of the circuit is
connected to the silver screw,
and the ungrounded or hot
conductor is connected to the
brass colored screw.
Both the hot and neutral
circuit conductors must
be connected to the AFCI
circuit breaker. The
grounding conductor of
the circuit is connected to
the neutral bus bar. The
white pigtail located on
the AFCI circuit breaker
completes the circuit to
the neutral bus bar.