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Episode 3: Arc Fault and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

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Episode 3: Arc Fault and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

The Importance of Arc Fault and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

Trevor Tremblay, Technical Advisor at Electrical Safety Authority, explains how installing AFCI and GFCI protection in a home keeps everyone safer.

Over the past year alone, Electrical Safety Authority inspectors have identified more than 1400 defects related to arc fault protection of receptacles. Trevor Tremblay, Technical Advisor at ESA, found arc fault circuit interrupters, also known as AFCIs, help to reduce residential electrical distribution fires by 71%.

“I’ve had the experience of attending a fire scene. It was Christmas Eve and I looked in the basement window and the tree was down in the corner, gifts were floating by,” Tremblay recalled. “After examining the fire scene, an AFCI would have definitely saved this house from going up in flames.”

That’s why it’s vital for Licensed Electrical Contractors (LECs) to know when, where and how to install AFCI’s and ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI’s). In this episode, Josie Erzetic talks with Trevor about how this important technology can protect a home from hazards.

Where do you need to install an AFCI or GFCI protection?

The first thing a LEC should note is the difference between an arc fault circuit interrupter and a ground fault circuit interrupter. While they both are important to protect home occupants, they do so in different ways.

AFCI devices detect arcing faults and can ensure any damaged wires or loose connections will be cleared when the circuit is opened.“They can identify the difference between a good arc under normal conditions and an arc under abnormal conditions and open up a circuit,” Tremblay explained. “That’ll protect your wiring behind the walls and plugged into your receptacles.”

AFCI’s are commonly found within the home, in almost all living spaces. But, there are some receptacles in the home that are exempted from AFCI protection:

  • Fridges in kitchens
  • Kitchen counter receptacles
  • Receptacles one meter from the kitchen sink
  • Fixed islands and peninsula receptacles
  • A dedicated sump pump if installed in a single receptacle

It’s important to note that fridges in other living spaces, like a basement, are not exempted. If the fridge is in any other room, it will need AFCI protection.

GFCI’s, on the other hand, monitor the current coming and going. If it detects a change in the current between four to six milliamps, then you may have a potentially hazardous situation on your hands.

“If there is a difference in what’s going out and what’s coming back, that means it’s going somewhere else where you don’t want it to,” Trembay said. “It potentially could be going through someone’s body.”

GFCI protectors are located both in and outside of the home. Tremblay explained some of the most common locations where GFCI protection is needed is the following:

  • Receptacles 1.5 meters near a sink
  • Receptacles located outdoors located within 2.5 meters from the grate
  • Receptacles for maintenance equipment on the roof
  • Three-prong receptacles
  • Pool sheds

LEC’s also need to consider AFCI and GFCI protections in renovations. For homeowners renovating older dwellings, Trevor offered it may be necessary to install these safety devices as receptacles are being updated or replaced.

“One thing homeowners can do, depending on the age of their panel, they can either change the breakers to a GFCI breaker. Or if it’s an older style, they can add a separate receptacle next to it, add an additional box, and have your split receptacles, one on one circuit and one on the other,” he said.

For more information on the code surrounding AFCI and GFCI’s, licensed electrical contractors can go to esasafe.com/podcast.

Tackling nuisance tripping

One troubleshooting issue that comes hand in hand with AFCI protection is nuisance tripping, when the device shuts off the power without any evidence of an arc fault. Nuisance tripping is a result of changes in technology and the difficulty of programming the devices. 

Tremblay said it is important that LEC’s report any incident of nuisance tripping. It can help to prevent further problems in the future. “We really need the data to make changes going forward. We don’t want contractors to be going back and forth and doing unnecessary service calls on nuisance tripping because of a product.” 

The Electrical Safety Authority works with manufacturers to try to change products that are reported. By collaborating with the manufacturers, the technology continues to improve.

“We actually had one of our technical advisers put arc fault breakers in his existing panel and one of his circuits was tripping so he contacted the manufacturer,” he said. “Within 24 hours, he had the manufacturer calling him saying ‘How can we help?’ They are responding very quickly because they know the safety these things are providing.”

Listen to the full episode to hear Tremblay’s additional tips on avoiding tripping and his recommendations for maintenance on the devices.


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Help out the industry by reporting equipment that seems to be causing the issue. ESA is working with Electro Federation Canada (EFC) to alert the manufacturers when their equipment is involved.


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