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How do arc fault circuit breakers work?

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Quick Answer

Arc fault circuit breakers work by interrupting abnormal electrical arcing patterns to prevent electrical fires from occurring. Arc fault circuit breakers sense the flow of electricity through a circuit, and if the flow of electricity changes from safe to dangerous, the circuit breaker cuts the power to protect the homeowners.

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Full Answer

An arc fault is an unintended arc that occurs when electricity follows a path it is not supposed to follow. The unplanned path the electricity takes causes super-heating at the arc point that can reach temperatures of up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This heating results in burning particles that can ignite insulation and wood framing.

An arc fault circuit breaker is meant to detect this unintended arcing and stop the flow of electricity, allowing the arc point to cool down and avoiding the possibility of fire. It is important to note that arc fault circuit breakers do not stop all arcing. Motor drive vacuum cleaners and furnace motors create types of arcing that are normal for a circuit.

Arc fault circuit breakers are modern systems being installed in bedrooms and in new homes. It is important to understand that an arc fault circuit breaker and a ground fault circuit interrupter are two different systems. A ground fault circuit interrupter is meant to prevent people from being electrocuted while using appliances, and the similarity in function can be a source of confusion.

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