Ep003-AFCI-GFCI with Trevor Tremblay - Transcript
Trevor Tremblay: I've had the experience of attending a fire scene. So it was Christmas Eve. I showed up, I looked in the basement window. The tree was down in the corner. A pile of all the homeowner's goods and goodies were piled up in a pile of slop in the corner, gifts were floating by. After examining the fire scene, an AFCI would have definitely saved this house from going up in flames.
Josie Erzetic: Over the past year, ESA inspectors have identified more than 1400 defects related to the requirement for arc fault protection of receptacles. Arc faults are a leading cause of electrical fires in homes. In this episode, we'll talk about arc fault and ground fault circuit interrupters, otherwise known as AFCI and GFCI protection. When do you install these? Which one should you install? And we'll tackle the number one concern about these products, which is nuisance tripping.
Grounded in Ontario is a podcast for you, the province's licensed electrical contractors, master and certified electricians. Safety tips, tech, and best practices. Now let's get grounded.
Hello and welcome to another episode of Grounded in Ontario. I'm Josie Erzetic and I work for the ESA. And with me is Trevor Tremblay, a technical advisor at ESA. Today we're talking about arc fault and ground fault circuit interrupters. Trevor, always a pleasure to have you on the show. Thanks for being here.
Trevor: Glad to be here. Always a pleasure.
Josie: So this topic is by far the number one request that we hear from our contractors, either as feedback to the podcast, because people would like to listen to some details around all of this, or as questions we're receiving either through our technical advisors or through our inspectors. So I'm really excited to present some information to our contractors today around AFCIs and GFCIs.
Trevor: This is a very hot topic for our electrical contractors. AFCI defects are a number one defect written every month consistently for quite some time. So I'm pretty sure most electrical contractors will be listening to this podcast very closely.
Josie: Right. So before we get into AFCIs and GFCIs, let's just take a step back and go back to basics. Can tell us a bit about what is the hazard behind all of this? What is an arc fault?
Trevor: An arc fault is just a sparking, an arcing in the electrical circuit, which may create heat and will create the potential for fire. So you can see why we'd probably want to eliminate that.
Josie: Absolutely. So to remedy the dangers of arc fault, we have AFCIs and GFCIs. So first off, can you tell us the differences between the two?
Trevor: They are both designed with the people's safety in mind. So we really want to protect, you know, the occupants of your home. Essentially I'll start off with AFCIs. So they detect arcing faults. So when they detect these faults, abnormal conditions, they will open the circuit, eliminating the load, which will get rid of the arc. These devices can be programmed so they can identify the difference between a good arc under normal conditions and an arc under abnormal conditions and open up a circuit. That will protect your wiring behind the walls, plugged into your receptacles. That sort of thing. You'll make sure that any damaged wires or shorts or loose connections will be, the arcing will be cleared when they open, the circuit is opened.
For ground fault circuit interrupters, essentially it monitors the current going out and coming back. So whatever goes out on the hot, comes back on the neutral. And if there is any difference in that between four to six milliamps, it will trip. Cause if there's 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, that potentially could be going through someone's body. So the reason they picked four to six milliamps is because that is what they deemed safe for a person to actually be in contact with without really giving them any harm.
Josie: Okay. And my understanding about AFCIs and GFCIs is that these were not always included as part of the electrical code. So these products have evolved over time. Can you tell us a bit about that evolution and a bit about how they came to be included in the code?
Trevor: Certainly. In 2012, they first brought in arc fault circuit interrupters just in the bedrooms and sleeping facilities in dwelling units. They started off small. They didn't want to include it everywhere because you know, it is an extra cost for new homes. So they started in the bedrooms, cause if the fire did start in the bedroom and you were sleeping, the chance of a fatality would be far greater than if the fire started somewhere else. They'd give you a chance to get out.
And through analysis of the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal's data, we concluded that AFCI protection would reduce residential electrical distribution fires by 71%. In 2015, we did expand the AFCI requirements for almost all living spaces of the dwelling unit with some exceptions due to the fact that not all fires started in the bedroom, 81% of fires were in living spaces.
So we concluded that we should mandate it because essentially, like we said, there's a lot of fires in these areas and they can be reduced by 71% by using an AFCI. I do think they work. I've had the experience of attending a fire scene. So it was Christmas Eve. I showed up, I looked in the basement window. The tree was down in the corner, a pile of all the homeowners goods and goodies were piled up in a pile of slop in the corner, gifts were floating by. After examining the fire scene, an AFCI would have definitely saved this house from going up in flames.
Josie: Yeah. That's a really powerful story. That number of 71%, being able to reduce fires in living areas by 71%, that's very powerful evidence to demonstrate how essential AFCIs and GFCIs are. Can you tell me about how AFCIs have changed since they were introduced in 2012?
Trevor: Essentially when the initial AFCI breaker technology came out, it was pretty much just protecting the, kind of like the branch circuit in a parallel sort of between conductors. Now it's actually evolved where it can detect parallel and series arcing faults. So it'll detect if there's a loose, broken wire, just on one wire, as opposed to arcing between another conductor. So they've actually gotten a lot better, a lot smarter. Like I said earlier, they can tell the difference between a good arc and a bad arc. They are programmable and they're getting so much better. And through time it should be a perfected technology.
Josie: And has the OESC changed at all in terms of what its requirements are? So would we now require some different types of devices, maybe even some combination type of devices that perhaps weren't required when these products were initially introduced?
Trevor: In 2015, actually the code does require the newer AFCI breakers to be, or overcurrent device, to be a combination style AFCI which in turn means they're doing both parallel and series arcing faults. These newer devices are essentially a lot better than the older, branch feeder protection.
Josie: So what happens if there are devices that were installed prior to the 2015 date? So they weren't the combination type of devices. Do LECs need to change those out or are those still allowed?
Trevor: They would still be allowed. The code is typically not retroactive.
Josie: Okay. Now let's switch gears a little bit and move to GFCIs. So when are those required by the code?
Trevor: So receptacles having configurations of five, 15 or 20 are, they have to be anywhere near 1.5 meters near a sink, have to be GFCI protected. They're in the general section of receptacles. So that applies to all receptacles, not just residential dwellings or things like that. So in your commercial spaces now, any receptacle 1.5 meters from the sink have to be GFCI protected. Any receptacles in residential occupancies located outdoors and within 2.5 meters of the grade have to be GFCI protected. There's a requirement for receptacles for maintenance equipment on a roof. So you have to GFCI that, and has to be a minimum 20 amp receptacle. And if you have existing two-prong receptacles, so back in the day, when there was no bond wires, they used to have just a two-pronged receptacle with no bond pin. You can't buy them anymore. So as soon as you replace them with a three-prong receptacle, you have to GFCI protect it or actually install bond wire. And all those will be a Class A type.
Josie: Okay. So that's a lot of detail that you've just given us there. So I just want to remind people, they don't have to panic if they're in their trucks or their cars or something, listening to us. This is all on our website at esasafe.com/podcast. So any of these details and the particular sections and rules of the code that refer to them are all there on the website. All right. So we've talked about the AFCIs generally and the GFCIs now. So what areas in the home are actually exempted from AFCI protection?
Trevor: Since 2015, it did expand to any circuits with receptacles, with some exceptions. So some of the exceptions are the receptacle that's required to be one meter from your bathroom sink, that does not have to be AFCI protected as long as those are the only receptacles on the circuit. You can have some lighting on there as well, but you can't have any other general purpose receptacle on there. Fridges in kitchens are also exempt. Kitchen counter receptacles, the required receptacles for fixed islands and peninsulas in kitchens are also exempt. And one leftover rule from the early days when it was just in bedrooms, a dedicated sump pump if installed in a single receptacle. And that pretty much sums up the exemption. So everything else in the dwelling or on the dwelling should be AFCI protected.
Josie: Okay. So now I have to ask this question. We get asked this question a lot, and I know I've heard it at licence holder meetings. What about fridges in basements? Because people will have their beer fridge or an extra fridge in the basement. Is that also exempted?
Trevor: We get this question way too often. If it's not in the kitchen, it has to be AFCI protected. So that means you can't say it's a kitchen just because you have a sink and a bar fridge, you have to have all the circuit requirements for a kitchen. So you have to have your fridge circuit. You have to have your drains or built-in range, gas range. You have to have your food prep areas, your kitchen counter receptacles to call it a kitchen. So we get that asked a lot. But if it is in a kitchen, we will let you run more than one dedicated circuit to a fridge freezer combo, the side-by-sides, bar fridges. If you want to call it a fridge and it's in a kitchen, essentially, if it's an appliance that gets cold to keep things cold, we'll let you use the kitchen rules in a kitchen for fridges. But if it's outside the kitchen, you have to put it on an AFCI.
Josie: Right. So someone's little wine fridge in the kitchen, that's exempted?
Trevor: Yes. As long as it's on the dedicated kitchen circuit or circuits, but if they want to run that little wine fridge on a general purpose circuit, we won't make them run a dedicated one, but it would have to be AFCI protected.
Josie: Okay. Good to know. But meanwhile, the beer fridge in the basement, AFCI. Got it. Now what about other rules that can be different depending again on a living space. So detached versus attached garages. They're also a question we often get.
Trevor: Yeah. There's a little confusion about the detached and attached garages. Since the garage is attached to the dwelling unit, it's deemed part of the dwelling unit. So the AFCI requirements for the receptacles in the attached garage would be required. If it's detached, it wouldn't be part of the dwelling unit. So AFCI would not be required.
Josie: Okay. That's also a really important clarification. So we've basically gone through inside the home. So let's go outside the home and talk about what are the AFCI and GFCI protection requirements there. And I do want to put a plug in for our first episode on pools and hot tubs. So if people want a lot of details, they can go to that episode. But meanwhile, maybe you can just cover it briefly now, Trevor. What kind of protection requirements are on the outside of the home?
Trevor: So if the receptacle is located off of the dwelling unit, say in the backyard, say landscape lighting, or even for the pool...For the pool information, please go to our other podcast because all the information is there...It does not have to be arc faulted, but it has to be ground fault circuit interrupted. Because in residential occupancies, all receptacles located outdoors within 2.5 meters of finished grate have to be GFCI protected. But since it's not part of the dwelling, it doesn't have to be arc fault protected.
You may even run into a pool shed, installing a receptacle on your house for the pool or for landscape lighting. In that case, it would not have to be AFCI protected, but it would be GFCI protected because it's not part of the dwelling. It's only attached kind of on the outside of the dwelling, it doesn't run in a dwelling or anything like that. So the AFCI requirements would not be required.
Josie: Okay. Now we've run through all possible, I think, new installations that an LEC might be called in to install. Let's talk a bit about renovations. People are still doing a lot of renovations right now, as we're still within the pandemic period, people are still spending a lot of time at home. Kitchen renovations in particular, what are the requirements there if you're looking to renovate in an older home, which likely does not have AFCI/GFCI protection, and you're looking to put in a new kitchen?
Trevor: A lot of people now, safety is very important. They learn a lot of things at work and the safety at work, and they bring it home and they wonder why their receptacles on their kitchen counter never had ground fault circuit interrupters installed. So they actually choose to install them. So one thing they can do is they can either, depending on the age of their panel, they can either change the breakers to a ground fault circuit interrupter breaker, or if it's an older style, which the ground fault circuit interrupter breaker may not be available, they can actually 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. That'd be one option. And then they can put a GFCI receptacle there. If it was already the newer style 20 amp t slots, it should be on a GFCI already. So that would be easy just to put in a receptacle.
Josie: And we get a lot of questions at ESA around renovations, including whether people should be replacing a whole service panel, adding to the service panel. Maybe you can just talk to us a little bit, Trevor, about what kind of questions we get. And maybe because we don't have the time right now to go into a lot of details, where people can go to find more information on this.
Trevor: We will have the bulletin listed at esasafe.com/podcast with all this information. So that'd be great for everyone listening. Essentially, we hear so many questions of, if I change my panel, do I have to install arc faults? If I extend existing circuits, do I need them? If I have to change the location of the panel, do I have to now put arc faults? So all these questions are answered on one of our bulletins that will be listed and a lot more questions that commonly are asked will be listed there as well. So it's a nice one-stop shop.
Josie: Yeah, that's great. That's good information for our LECs. So let's move a bit now to troubleshooting, in particular nuisance tripping. So we've talked a lot about how the whole purpose of these devices is that if they're detecting an arc fault, they will shut the power off. But we also hear about instances where power is being shut off and there is no issue. So it's a nuisance tripping. Can you tell us a bit about that? Is nuisance tripping really a nuisance?
Trevor: For the most part, it's not. A lot of times we ran into this when ground fault circuit interrupters first came out with outdoor receptacles. When people used to plug in their block heaters, they used to trip all the time and everyone got mad and replaced the receptacles three times then put in the old one. It was actually tripping for a reason. Unfortunately, with the AFCIs, there is from time to time, nuisance tripping, due to changes in technology. And it's hard for them to program every normal arc in there, but they are learning and adapting. We do have a bulletin that lets people remove court caps for permanently installed equipment, just to eliminate the requirement for AFCI. ‘Cause it's only a receptacle requirement. In Ontario, we would like to partner with the contractors and we do have a reporting tool on our website.
We want to make sure if they are getting nuisance tripping that they report it. There is a link on our website, which will be posted up all the information below our podcast, on our ESAsafe.com. They go there and they report what model of breakers tripping and what piece of equipment is making it trip. And then the manufacturer will contact the contractor and try and remedy the situation. Once you have proof that they're working on the situation, we can entertain a deviation and allow them to put in a regular breaker just so that they don't have to keep going back and forth every time the microwave trips the AFCI. It becomes costly for the contractors and we want to work with them.
Josie: And reporting all of these problems is really important. So Trevor, can you just tell us why that is?
Trevor: Essentially we really need the data to make changes going forward. We don't want the contractors to be going back and forth doing unnecessary service calls on nuisance tripping because a product is tripping an AFCI breaker. So we need the contractors to record this data so we have that information that we can either expand AFCIs or make the manufacturers, you know, make a better product. And we don't want to expand AFCIs and then create more nuisance tripping. So we really have to have that data to make sure that moving forward, we're doing the right thing. So we do need their help. We just don't want them to change the breaker and move on. We just want to know what's going on and Electro Fed and the manufacturers are also working with us.
Josie: Right. Okay. So you mentioned Electro Fed. Electro Fed is an organization of manufacturers, basically. And I think it's a really important point that you're making, because as we talked about earlier, this technology is evolving. So it's very important that contractors do report problems with these products and do report nuisance tripping because it can be rectified. Then all of this gets better and it makes sure that these products are being installed and they make things safer for everybody in Ontario.
Trevor: Yes. And the requirements for AFCI are probably only going to increase in the future. If we look at our neighbors to the south, they've already incorporated AFCI protection almost everywhere, like hotels. So we want to really know the data before we move forward with any of these changes, because it could be costly for our contractors.
Josie: Okay. Good to know. Now, have you, in terms of this type of reporting, can you relate any instances where changes were made to products as a result of reporting problems?
Trevor: I know that we've seen some where they've actually attended the site. They've done a whole bunch of tests and actually they've come out with new generations and program different arcs into the devices. So it is moving forward quite quickly. We do have good experiences actually with the reporting and how fast the manufacturers actually do get back to the person reporting it. We actually had one of our technical advisors put actual arc fault breakers in his existing panel. And one of his circuits were tripping. So he contacted them and within 24 hours he had the manufacturer already calling him saying, how can we help?
They're actually responding very quickly because they also want to partner with us and make sure everything is moving forward. Because they know the safety of these things are actually providing. Some of the manufacturers actually have devices that are Bluetooth. They can actually monitor the circuit and actually will tell them exactly what's making it trip. So the technology is actually pretty mind blowing when you think about how far we've come.
Josie: Yeah, no kidding. That's amazing. What about on the contractors side of things? Are there any wiring methods that an LEC could use to avoid tripping?
Trevor: A lot of times we see some of the common areas is when they over-tighten the connectors on your nonmetallic sheath cable. Some people like using impact guns and stuff like that, or screw guns, just gotta make sure you don't over-tighten it cause that can actually give you some nuisance tripping. The stab locks in the back from time to time, when you push your wires into the back of the receptacle to make the connection, sometimes they do fail. That'll create a little bit of arking.
We've seen some LED drivers and there's been some weird instances where I've actually seen someone keyed the mic of a ham radio three doors down and tripped every arc fault in the building. And it was good for a while cause the guy was actually away for a few weeks. Then when they came back, they go, he was away and so they tried it and it actually, as soon as he keyed the mic, every arc fault in the person's house tripped. That was early on, they fixed that problem. But there's some growing pains and we're trying to make sure moving forward, we get all the information we need.
Josie: Yeah. It sounds like that's happening, which is really, really great. Now what about maintenance? So we've talked about installation and it sounds like installations have been fairly recent because this product is fairly recent. So what should LECs be advising homeowners for a few years down the road in terms of maintaining the product?
Trevor: All electrical equipment requires maintenance. AFCI breakers and GFCI receptacles and breakers are in the same boat. They have to be operated from time to time and tested. They should recommend to the customers that they do this down the road on regular intervals. And you maybe even provide that service, kind of like a service agreement with the homeowner and just say, you know, every so often we'll come in and do all this stuff, check receptacles, that sort of thing, and make sure all the breakers are being operated and they're still not seized or anything like that. So there's something that regular maintenance has to be encouraged. It's something that's been put on the back burner. No one really thinks about it until it's too late.
Josie: Yeah. You've said that on some of our earlier podcasts that, you know, people will look at paint colors in their home and want to update decor, et cetera. But the electrical system is, you know, unseen and often ignored. So this is really that same theme that there should be regular maintenance done.
Trevor: It is kind of funny that you said that because I look at all the pictures of my kids growing up and every time there's a different picture, the wall color is different and the couch is different. I'm like, geez, not once did I ever go downstairs to look at my panel.
Josie: Yeah. And this is yeah, exactly. So that's saying something. So it's something that everybody should be very mindful of. We've talked previously about a new electrical code coming out in May of next year. So can you tell us if there are any changes in the new code that relate specifically to AFCIs or GFCIs?
Trevor: The AFCI requirements will be remaining the same. So just receptacles in your dwelling units with the exemptions we went over earlier. GFCI receptacles located outdoors will now be in the general receptacle section. So that means no matter where this receptacle is, a commercial building, industrial, if it's located outdoors within 2.5 meters of finished grade, it has to be ground fault circuit protected. So that's actually a pretty big change because before it was just residential occupancies, which include dwellings.
Josie: Okay. Good. Good to know. All right. So just before we end, we're going to shift gears here a little bit and address a question from our listeners that we received following the last podcast. And this one is related to receptacles also. So the listener would like to know if receptacles can be installed in walk-in closets?
Trevor: We do get this question asked quite often. The code does permit receptacles to be installed in closets. They just don't have to have one in the closet. So the rules say, you don't need it every 1.8 meters long wall space. So it's not really considered usable wall space, but you can put them in walk-in closets because now they're huge. And you can put them in a little closet if you want. I've seen entertainment systems all set up in a closet with no clothes. So people are using them for different things now.
Josie: That's good to know. People are trying to make use of all usable space as well. So that's a good space saving idea potentially.
Trevor: And it's better than a cord running through your closet door to power all this equipment up.
Josie: That's true. Okay. Thanks Trevor, for that response. And also for talking to us today about AFCIs and GFCIs, and I look forward to talking to you again.
Trevor: I look forward to it too. It's actually a lot of fun doing this.
Josie: If you have any questions on this topic or any other electrical safety topic we want to hear from you, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We plan to answer some frequently asked questions in future episodes. Make sure you subscribe to this podcast so that you'll get notified whenever we have new episodes. So until next time, be safe, work safe and stay grounded.