Are AFCI Breakers Required in Bedrooms? Protect Your Home and Family

are AFCI breakers required in bedrooms

Many clients ask are AFCI breakers required in bedrooms. Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) breakers have risen since they were first introduced in the NEC’s electrical code in 1999. AFCI was first required in bedrooms inside new construction homes and has since expanded to most rooms inside a house.

Homes built before 1999 do not require AFCI circuit breakers in bedrooms, but they are a safety improvement.

Some will find it interesting that an AFCI device was once only required in bedrooms. However, NEC now requires AFCI protection in almost every room in a new home, including all bedrooms.

The National Electrical Code (NEC) first required AFCI protection in bedrooms in 1999. Industry professionals think that AFCI protection was implemented to prevent house fires caused by electrical arcs in lamps, alarm clocks, and other electrical devices plugged into bedroom receptacles near flammable materials such as curtains and bedding, which could cause a fire while sleeping.

Are AFCI Breakers Required in Bedrooms?

Since the NEC implemented AFCI requirements in 1999, their use has been expanded throughout most of the electrical systems in houses. To explain the NEC’s logic in implementing these safety measures, let’s examine arc fault circuits further.

AFCI circuits are an interesting piece of technology. They have and continue to prevent many house fires from ever happening – essentially saving many lives in the process. Understanding their function will help to protect our home and family.

What is an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter?

An Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) is an electrical safety device that can be found in modern new construction homes. It protects against electrical fires that can start from electrical faults such as dangerous arcs and short circuits.

The AFCI continually monitors the electrical circuits it is installed on, and if it detects any signs of an electrical arc, it will cut out the power to that circuit. It is thus preventing the arc from happening.

AFCI outlets are an alternative to the AFCI circuit breakers in modern electrical panels. These outlets have “Test” and “Reset buttons, making it easier to test whether they are functioning as intended. AFCIs can be seen as circuit breakers that have a more specific task. See our article on testing AFCI circuits at How to Test AFCI/GFCI Circuits.

AFCIs were first introduced back in the late 90s and, ever since then, have been considered a must-have according to the residential code.

And there is a good reason for this, as more than 30,000 electrical fires are caused by arc faults yearly. (1)

1. What Is an Arc Fault?

For example, an arc fault can happen if we have two exposed wires close to each other.

In this scenario, the electricity can jump between the two wires using the air as a conductor. This electricity jumping between two conductors (the two wires) is an arc fault.

There are two types of arc faults:

  • Parallel arc fault – This is an arc that happens between different wires.
  • Series arc fault – This is an arc happening along the same wire.

2. Why They’re Dangerous?

An arc fault is dangerous for several reasons:

  • GFCI outlets and electrical circuit breakers may not register it and, respectively, not trip.
  • An arc fault produces high temperatures and can lead to electrical fires. (The temperatures an arc fault can reach can be up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit.)

3. What Causes Arc Faults?

Different things can cause arc faults. However, generally speaking, they happen because of conductors that have been compromised in some way:

  • Loose wire connection points.
  • Damaged appliance cords.
  • Damaged electrical wiring.
  • Worn out or frayed cable insulation.
  • Bad installation of electrical cables.

Electrical Safety & AFCI Requirements

Appropriate arc fault protection needs to be installed in all dwelling rooms.

When the NEC first introduced AFCIs, they were required in all 15 and 20-amp bedroom receptacles.

Since then, the areas and rooms required have constantly been expanding with every code revision. Nowadays, AFCI protection is required in almost every room.

1. But Why It All Started with the Bedrooms in Particular?

We spend a lot of time in the bedroom, much of which is done while sleeping. We all know that people spend one-third of their lives sleeping, so it can be argued that we probably spend one-third of our day in the bedroom.

Many electrical fires start from bad or malfunctioning receptacles or old electrical appliances. Since most people will spend a lot of time in their bedrooms, they will use many different gadgets, appliances, and equipment in their bedrooms.

Thus, it is probably no surprise that many electrical fires start in the bedrooms.

Let’s take a look at the data gathered by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) (2):

  • 17% of house fires involving electrical distribution or lighting equipment start from the bedrooms. This includes electrical fires that started because of lamps, light bulbs, cords, plugs, and more.
  • 12% of house fires due to electrical failure or malfunction start in bedrooms.
  • The highest risk for an electrical fire to start is during the winter months.

Looking at the bigger picture, it is no surprise that one of the rooms experts focused on first was our bedrooms.

2. Some Additional Details

First, let’s consider the time of the year during the winter.

Many people use different space heaters to keep their bedrooms warm and cozy. If not handled properly, these can pose a latent fire risk.

Second, we might generally have many different electrical appliances in our bedrooms. We may frequently move them around or have their extension cords plugged into an outlet branch circuit behind a bed, desk, or wardrobe. This may wear down the cord as they rub against the wire or subject it to bending. All this may cause the cable to get frayed with time.

Third, another reason for arc faults can be, for example, a nail that goes through the wire in the walls.

3. Older AFCI Outlets

It is interesting to note that older AFCI outlets could not provide the best protection against arc faults.

Because they were relatively new technology back then, they could not detect series arc faults. They were also known to ghost trip frequently. Which means they tripped without an apparent reason for that.

Later, that was improved as the newer combination AFCIs were introduced, which offered protection against both electrical arcing types. It is important to remember that a combination AFCI does not refer to GFCI protection but only to arcing types.

Where does the NEC Code Require AFCIs?

According to the National Electrical Code (NEC), all dwelling room outlets installed on 15 to 20-amperage electrical circuits must have arc fault protection.

  • Kitchens
  • Living rooms
  • Bedrooms
  • Basements
  • Dining rooms
  • Closets
  • Hallways
  • Laundry areas
  • Recreation rooms
  • Sunrooms

Where are Arc-Fault breakers not required are:

  • Bathrooms*
  • Garages*
  • Outside areas*

*However, these areas still need to be protected against ground faults.

Why Bedroom Arc Fault Breaker Keeps Tripping

If your AFCI wall outlet (or breaker) trips frequently, this may signify a potential problem and needs to be inspected by a licensed electrician as soon as possible. Such signs should never be overlooked or ignored, as this may expose you or your home to risk.

An AFCI outlet may frequently trip due to the:

  • An arc fault
  • Short circuits
  • An electrical overload
  • Due to damage to the AFCI
  • Bad installation of the AFCI

What Causes an Arc Fault Breaker to Trip?

Arc fault breakers are sensitive devices designed to detect arcing electrical current. Arcing occurs when electricity jumps from one conductor or wire to another. In some cases, this arcing is caused by faulty wiring or insulation in the branch circuits that carry electricity from the main electrical panel into your home.

Other times, however, the cause of the arcing may not be so obvious. For example, if you have a lamp plugged into a power strip and then plug another device into the same strip, which causes the current in the circuit to fluctuate suddenly, this could be enough for an arc fault breaker to trip.

Testing for Arcs

If your arc fault breaker has nuisance tripping (frequent tripping), it’s best to call in a qualified electrician who can test for any arcs in your home’s wiring system.

The test is simple: press the Test button on the front of the breaker to see if the breaker is sensing and tripping properly. More complex testing involves using a multi-meter and shutting off power at certain times while testing different sections of your home’s wiring system.

Once they’ve identified any arcs present in the system, they’ll be able to suggest repairs or replacements depending on the problem’s severity.

Preventing Future Trips

Aside from making sure that all of your wires are properly insulated and securing loose connections (and replacing any worn out cords), there are several other ways you can prevent future trips from happening.

  • Avoid plugging multiple items into a single power strip, as this can cause sudden fluctuations in current, which may lead to an arc fault breaker tripping again.
  • Consider purchasing surge protectors for all of your electronics which will help protect them from surges of electricity due to storms or other power disruptions in your area.
  • After troubleshooting, some electricians may advise swapping out a tripping AFCI device with a standard circuit breaker. While this option is viable, you’ll lose the arc fault protection on the entire circuit.

Are AFCI and GFCI Protection the Same?

An AFCI outlet branch circuit does not offer protection against the same things as a GFCI outlet.

While an AFCI offers protection against arc faults (or electrical fires), a GFCI receptacle protects against ground faults (or electrical shocks).

The NEC has specific requirements for what type of electrical protection needs to be installed in different rooms and areas.

Some rooms and areas may require GFCI protection but no AFCI, and vice versa.

And in some instances, both an AFCI and a GFCI protection can be required for the same receptacle.

This can be done in a couple of different ways:

If you’d like to know more about how arc fault circuits work, check out our article How Arc Fault Breakers (AFCI) Work?

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter FAQs

Where are AFCI breakers not required?

According to the National Electrical Code (NEC), AFCI breakers are not required in bathrooms, garages, and outdoor areas.

What breaker is required for bedrooms?

According to the National Electrical Code (NEC) all bedrooms require arc-fault circuit interrupter protection in new homes built after 1999. Pre-1999 homes do not require AFCI breakers in bedrooms, but adding AFCI breakers can improve safety.

Do bedrooms require GFCI breakers?

The National Electric Code (NEC) does not require Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) in bedrooms.

Are AFCI breakers required in older homes?

If your home was built before 1999, AFCI breakers were not required. Electrical codes only apply to new homes and homes undergoing extensive renovations.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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