House fires in Oakland County can often be attributed to faulty wiring. Whether it is an incorrectly wired appliance, poor outlet setup, or another cause, electricity is the source of over 51,000 fires a year. Home electrical fires were also the cause of over 500 deaths, 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage in 2020. Circuit breakers are commonly thought to help prevent home fires. But are they effective?
Simply put, a circuit breaker is an automated electrical switch that protects an electrical circuit from overload or short circuiting. The basic function of a circuit breaker is to interrupt the flow of current when a fault is detected. Modern homes are built with circuit breakers as opposed to fuses, for safety reasons.
Circuit breakers today are engineered to help keep you and your property safe from electrical hazards that were previously undetectable. A circuit breaker shuts off power when it detects an issue on a circuit that may lead to an electrical fire or shock. To help you better understand how circuit breakers protect your property, here’s a look at different types of circuit breakers.
Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs) protect against arc faults, a dangerous electrical problem caused by damaged, overheated or stressed electrical wiring or devices. Arc faults can occur, for example, when a nail or screw damages a wire behind a wall, or when outlets or circuits are overburdened. Such arcs can lead to high temperatures and sparking, possibly igniting the flammable items nearby. To prevent fires in Oakland County homes, AFCIs are commonly used.
AFCIs monitor the circuit and stop the current flow when a potentially dangerous condition is detected.
AFCI installation is required by the 2017 National Electrical Code (NEC) for circuits in all areas of new homes, excluding bathrooms, garages, and outside areas. AFCIs can be installed as a circuit breaker in a breaker panel or as a wall outlet.
There are several types of AFCIs, such as combination breaker AFCI, branch/feeder AFCI breaker, and dual AFCI, and GFCI breakers. Consult an electrician for the best type of AFCI protection in your home. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, AFCIs could prevent up to 50% of house fires.
GFCIs are designed to protect people from the dangers of electrical shock caused by ground faults. A ground fault is an accidental electrical path between a source of electrical current and a grounded surface. GFCIs sense ground faults and shuts off the circuit when, for example, a person comes in contact with a faulty appliance, together with a grounded surface.
These circuit breakers are necessary on circuits where water sources may be present – bathrooms, garages, outside areas, and in spa areas within the home. Like AFCIs, GFCIs can be installed as a circuit breaker in a panelboard or as an outlet. They can greatly prevent serious electrical shock to people.
Even the most modern and safely wired homes are susceptible to electrical fires. These can occur even with the right circuit breakers in place. House fires lead to multiple injuries, deaths and property damage every year in Oakland County.