Arc Fault Breakers

What do you think? Should we be “recommending” Arc fault breakers in older home bedrooms, like we do for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters in wet areas? Just putting it out here for opinions.


The straight answer is yes.Older place,I may not give it a hard sell other than to warn them any remodeling will need to include AFCI protection.
Just my opinion,but as an inspecror you already know that part.

If the home was built in 2002 or after, AFCI’s are required.

I do not recommend AFCI’s in older homes.

I agree with Dave, the technology has been a little too problematic since introduction and on a more practical level AFCI breakers are not available for many older panel types. It will be interesting to see what happens with the 2008 NEC as I know they are discussing adopting whole house AFCI coverage, and that the manufacturers are developing AFCI mai disconnects to meet this likely provision. At that point the bugs should have been ironed out of the systems and main breakers may be available for retro-fitment to older panel types.

I have no doubt that in 5-10 years time we we be recommending AFCI up-grades in the same way that we now do for GFCI protection.



NOT in NY State.
And many other areas as well.

Not in Wisconsin either.

If the home is old enough to warrant a recommendation of this nature it is more likely the recommendation should be for an evaluation by a licensed Electrician. Before anyone wets themselves over the words “further evaluation” there are times when it is more than warranted. The people that are involved in electrical wiring and in articles about NFPA-73, it has been noted that approximately 50% of the homes in the U.S. are over 50 years old and there are more real concerns with the old wiring (in particular they mentioned those with old rubber insulation). If “we” as home inspectors start making recommendations beyond the scope of a home inspection and the end results are less than sterling, we can then expect to be held accountable for those recommendations. For those who are not familiar with NFPA-73, it is guidelines or standards used to “inspect existing dwellings” which is what we do 99% of the time. A manual or even the NEC is useful for us but frankly if the home is older than your car the standards have changed. A lot of the homes we go out to inspect look as if the NEC was not used and if the homeowner has had his fat fingers in the system, chances are very good we will see problems. This is the approach the NFPA73 uses. It comes at the problems from slightly different angle and identifies the typical discrepancies we see every day and is not like the NEC in identifying “how” to install electrical wiring and components properly.

If you want to buy one they are about $28 (10 pages long and mostly credits and fluff pages). The other 4-6 pages are excellent for home inspectors and electricians alike. I suspect if you try to install AFCIs in an old home with old degraded wiring you will most likely create new problems for the homeowner. Possibly nuisance tripping due to loose connections throughout the system, but then I do not know that for sure. That is why it is best to leave electrical analysis to the experts in the various disciplines and stick to Home inspecting.

Neither do I. . .

An AFCI “main” sounds like a nightmare to me. How would you ever track down a nuisanse trip if it only happens once or twice a week?

Ok …does this mean I am wrong about AFCI being required when remodeling?
or does that only apply to GFCI.

Good point Gerry!

For older properties I provide these links and advise clients to consult a qualified electrician.

It is noted as a safety enhancement upgrade.

Once the other causative wiring anomalies were straightened out nuisance trips are rarely reported.

I believe I can be held liable for failing to supply information that has the potential to save property destruction or loss of life.

Who pays for the replacement upgrade of an older system is the least of my concerns and the investment is mute IMHO.

I know many of you guys are deathly afraid of liability and getting sued, but come on. I feel the above statement is a bit over the top.
Where do you stop?

Do you suggest safety caps in ALL receptacles?
Do you suggest removing all gas applainces.
Do you suggest a fire extinguisher at every doorway?
Do you call out the fact that a three story house has no fire escape?
What about sprinklers? Some areas are beginning to require sprinklers in residential settings. Do you say “Sprinklers are now required in some areas. This is a suggested safety upgrade” ???

All of these things clearly have “the potential to save property destruction or loss of life.”

For the record, I do feel AFCIs have much more benefit in older homes with aged wiring systems. I feel in new homes they are not needed.

When the code was brought here in canada in 2002 I think, I went to a code update coarse and they were saying the intent of the AFCI was to prevent fires from things like lamp cords that are being pinched by furniture and such.

I would say they would be handy in any home. Although they are not required in older homes.

It’s not about fear of being sued it’s about providing information, education and prevention.

Electrician shows up looks at older, cramped, outdated equipment thats had more work done in and to it than Michael Jackson and says yep time for an upgrade to a new properly located panel that meets current standards. Current standards require AFCI killing a flock of birds with one stone.

My understanding in New York is that the state code bureau advised us that a change in the code was on the way, to read that AFCI breakers are to be installed on all circuits serving all bedrooms. This has been in my specifications for two years, at least, since it is potentially a life safety issue. I don’t remember receiving a bulletin that the change in the state code was actually adopted. New York makes “emergency changes” to its code, which is an adaption of the IRC, with many changes for New York only, in between normal code update cycles.

(I should have said that this requirement was to apply when any alteration or renovation work is done. Existing houses would not need to be retrofitted if no other work is done.)

Anyone using this?

I haven’t tried that one but I believe that the AFCI manufacturers recommend testing their product with the test button only.

Now, I’ve push tested GFCI outlet “test” buttons and they trip, but fail to trip with my outlet tester… indicating something is askew. I think if a plugged in source wont trip it,… its bad.