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N.C. code panel agrees to examine home breaker rule

Posted December 9, 2008

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— The North Carolina Building Code Council voted Tuesday to begin easing a special-circuit breaker requirement in new homes.

The arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) is a circuit breaker that can detect an irregular electrical current. Firefighters say AFCIs could help prevent fires and save lives. Over the past year, there were 36 electrical fires in Raleigh.

“We think they will significantly reduce those fires in the city of Raleigh,” Division Chief Rusty Styons said.

Currently, AFCIs are only required in the bedrooms of new homes. Beginning Jan. 1, AFCIs would be required in nearly every room.

The Building Code Council initially voted in favor of the new requirement, but that has since changed.

“The General Assembly voted for them to take a look at this again. So clearly, members of the General Assembly had some concern that maybe this was overreaching,” said Tim Minton, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County.

Some homebuilders say expanded AFCI use is unneeded because codes already prevent electrical fires.

“There was a good deal of confusion around the original adoption process, (with) parties unhappy on both sides of the issue,” developer Dan Tingen said.

Firefighters from Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem attended Tuesday's hearing by the Building Code Council.

“From our perspective, it's a no-brainier,” Styons said.

But some homebuilders are not sold, saying AFCIs cost about $35 more than regular circuit breakers. They estimate $19 million a year would be spent on AFCIs.

“We're seeing a high rate of foreclosures. We're seeing houses aren't selling as quickly as they have in the past," Minton said. "What we don't want to do is add any additional burden to new construction.”

Existing homes can be retrofitted with AFCIs. A homeowner would need to hire a professional electrician to find out if the home’s wiring is compatible.

A council committee is studying the issue and a public hearing is planned for March. 

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  • james27613 Dec 10, 2008

    More info on how a homeowner found why his afci was tripping.

    (there was an arc fault in his home wiring!)

    http://electronicdesign.com/Articles/Index.cfm?AD=1&ArticleID=16244

  • james27613 Dec 10, 2008

    Electrical arc fires generate high intensity heat and expels
    burning particles that can ignite other combustible material in the vicinity of the arc fire.

    while not a short circuit (conventional breaker will NOT trip)
    the arc causes carbonization of the wires and material in the walls of the home. eventually the wall will burst into flames.

    the article reads

    "Some homebuilders say expanded AFCI use is unneeded because codes already prevent electrical fires."

    Code will not prevent an arc fire PERIOD.

    The builders just want to save money, ask them if they
    have afci in their homes, wait, we already know the answer.

    go here to learn what afci can and can't do.

    http://www.us.schneider-electric.com/us/products/circuit_breakers.nsf/unid/2F9171796800DEFF85256C860056F6FA/$file/arcdtecthomepage.htm

  • chivegas Dec 10, 2008

    "For $35 per home, it is a low cost item to mitigate the risk of electrical fires."

    What WRAL fails to mention in this article is that AFCI circuits trip falsely more often than not (think 1000 to 1). It's not a major issue in your bedroom, but when you're talking about a refrigerator or HVAC (devices with a heavy load from normal use), it's a major, major problem.

    That is the reason that respectable electricians and home builders are against them, not due to cost.

    AFCI is great for your bedroom, but a poor choice for anywhere else. Think about how often GFCI outlets trip, AFCI is similar.

  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Dec 10, 2008

    "But some homebuilders are not sold, saying AFCIs cost about $35 more than regular circuit breakers."

    All this effort for a $35 add-on during new construction??? Just do it. It is a waste of taxpayers' money to further discuss this topic.

    For $35 per home, it is a low cost item to mitigate the risk of electrical fires.