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Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI’s)

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI’s)

What are AFCI’s and are they required in all homes? AFCI’s are smart gadgets that are designed to detect arcing electrical connections in your home’s wiring. When arcing is detected, these devices should trip off and prevent a fire in your home.

First let’s talk about how to recognize them. AFCI’s are special circuit breakers and found in your home’s breaker panel(s). There are different types but all look pretty similar. They look like normal circuit breakers but they have a “test” button on them. If you push the test button, the breaker should trip to the off position. GFCI breakers have “test” buttons also and some breakers are dual function that provide AFCI & GFCI protection in one breaker. To know for sure, you must read the fine print on the breaker.

Are they required in all homes? That depends on who you ask. First of all they were not invented until the late 1990’s and did not start to show up in the National Electric Code (NEC) until 1999. They were only required in a few areas in those days. The NEC updates every three years and with almost every update more AFCI’s were required. So, new homes require more of them than older homes which may well have been built with none.

Then there is the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) or code authority. There are lots of national model codes and the NEC is just one. In most areas, the city you live in is the AHJ and they decide which version of a particular code to adopt as its standard and they can amend them if they want to. Remember, the codes update every three years but the AHJ’s do not always adopt the new codes. Some AHJ’s have been known to go two or three code cycles before adopting new codes.

Other government agencies can muddy the water regarding AFCI’s and other code requirements. The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) is an example. I reference TREC because this website is all about Texas home inspectors. If your house is not in TEXAS, what follows may not be true.

Texas home inspectors are required by TREC to use the “Standards or Practice” that they have promulgated. These can be found in the Texas Administrative codes by clicking here; https://texreg.sos.state.tx.us/public/readtac$ext.ViewTAC?tac_view=5&ti=22&pt=23&ch=535&sch=R&rl=Y .

Your Texas Home Inspector is required to mark specific items that don’t meet these standards as “deficient”. The TREC definition of a deficiency is In the reasonable judgment of the inspector, a condition that: (A) adversely and materially affects the performance of a system, or component; or (B) constitutes a hazard to life, limb, or property as specified by these standards of practice.  Per TREC standards, your inspector MUST mark the absence of AFCI protection in the following locations as deficient; kitchens, family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, bedrooms, sunrooms, recreation rooms, closets and hallways, NO MATTER WHEN THE HOUSE WAS BUILT.

AFCI protection in the early days only applied to certain receptacle outlets. Currently, it applies to all outlets which include the lights as well. Virtually every device that uses electricity is considered by the NEC as an outlet.

Be sure to choose one of the Best Texas Home Inspectors to inspect the home you plan to buy!


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