Local News

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

Posted December 9, 2008 6:36 p.m. EST
Updated December 9, 2008 9:57 p.m. EST

— 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.