What is a GFCI Receptacle, the funny little plug with the buttons??

GFCI receptacles, the funny plug with the buttons on it

 

So what exactly is that strange receptacle in my kitchen with the buttons on it and why do I need it? That’s a questions that comes up on a fairly regular basis and with this I hope to answer some of these questions.

gfci-receptacle
A GFCI receptacle, or ground fault circuit interrupter is a receptacle designed to help prevent people from getting injured due to electrical current that could possibly travel through your body from faulty electrical equipment. Did you know that less than 0.1 amps of current traveling through your body could be fatal? A GFCI is designed to stop this dangerous situation in less than a tenth of a second. They are designed to sense as low as 4 milliamps of current keeping the user safe from harm.
Electricity leaving a receptacle flows from the “hot” side of the receptacle to the device being used then back through the “neutral” side of the receptacle. The amount of current between the two sides should remain balanced at all times. If current gets out of balance it is because it is going somewhere else, maybe YOU!! The GFCI is designed to sense this imbalance and shut the power off protecting the user.
GFCI protection is required in kitchens, bathrooms, near sinks, outdoors, garages, and basements. Anywhere there is a chance of water being near electricity there should be ground fault protection. There is 2 ways of providing this protection in your home or business and that is through a ground fault receptacle or breaker. Either device can protect a single point or a whole circuit. Receptacles other than GFCI’s should be labeled if they are GFCI protected so the end user will know. These device should be tested monthly by pushing the test button to ensure they trip. They can also be tested using a receptacle tester that has a GFCI test button on it.
If you have any questions about your GFCI’s in your home or business or have a faulty one that needs to be replaced don’t hesitate to call a professional licensed electrician near you. HB Electric Solutions can be reached at 253-256-7861, or by email at info@hbelectricsolutions.com

What is an AFCI, or Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter and why do I need them?

What is an AFCI, or Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter and why do we need them?

afci receptacle afci breaker

 

About 15 years ago we began to see a change to the electrical code beginning to require AFCI protection on branch circuits within a home.  So what exactly are they and why do I need them?  Hopefully in this post I can help explain the answers to these questions and provide some clarity into why we need to install them when working on your home.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters come in several different types that can be installed in your home.  There are circuit breakers that have built in AFCI protection that can be installed directly into your panel, and there are receptacles that have AFCI protection that can be installed anywhere within a circuit, but preferably at the head of the circuit.  Is there any advantage in using one over the other?  Circuit breakers with some exceptions will only work on a 2 wire circuit.  So if you have a home that was wired using 3 wire home runs they won’t work.  This is where the receptacles come in as they can be installed in the circuit within the home outside of where the neutral conductor is shared as in a 3 wire circuit.  There are also combination AFCI/GFCI receptacles that can be installed where both protections are required.

So the big question is, what do they do?  Like the name of them says, they protect against arc fault conditions such as an arcing appliance or a loose connection that is creating an arc.  They are designed to protect the branch circuit from this arcing which could potentially create a fire if this arcing is near a combustible source.  One thing to realize though is that an AFCI does not protect against an overcurrent situation.  This is what your breakers are for, they will detect an overloaded condition or a short circuit condition and open the circuit.  Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters detect smaller erratic current conditions that are caused by arcing.

One question I’ve been asked is what is the difference between a GFCI and an AFCI?  To explain it in simple terms, a GFCI, or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is to sense a ground fault and protect people from getting a dangerous electrical shock.  An AFCI is there to protect the branch circuit and the equipment attached to the branch circuit from an arcing condition which could lead to a fire.

Within the latest code update AFCI protection is required in homes on all branch circuits supplying outlets or devices installed in kitchens, family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, bedrooms, sunrooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, laundry areas, or similar rooms or areas. This is pretty much everywhere in a home with the exception of garages, outdoors, and bathrooms.  This could possibly change with the 2017 code update.  Any time a circuit is added in one of these areas or an existing circuit is extended, arc fault circuit interrupter protection is required.  So, let’s say you would like to add a few can lights in your living room, these need to be arc fault protected.

If you would like to speak to a professional about arc fault protection or need assistance installing some in your home, please contact us at HB Electric Solutions and we will do our best to come up with a solution that works for you.

Should I change my Federal Pacific electrical panel in Tacoma?

Should I change my Federal Pacific Electrical Panel in Tacoma?

fpe panel

If you own a home that was built between the early 1950’s and the late 1980’s, there is a good chance that you have a fire waiting to happen in the form of a Federal Pacific electrical panel. These were a very common brand of panel during these years. At the time they seemed like a good economical piece to install as the center of the electrical system, however in the early 1980’s there were questions raised as to their safety specifications. These questions were focused on their ability to trip at their rated settings. In many cases it was found that they did not trip under overloaded conditions creating a great fire hazard. In 1983, the Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded a 2 year investigation into the panels and breakers in question and found that although there were issues with them, they had to stop the investigation and possible recall notice due to budget constraints. Federal Pacific was bought out and soon went out of business after this report was concluded.

fpepanel1

There are several apparent flaws with Federal Pacific electrical panels. First off would be their age. They were made in a time where less stringent codes were in place compared to today. These panels would not come close to today’s standards for safety. Another is the design of the panel. These panels have less space in them which makes for crowding of the wires inside and having to bend the wires beyond their specified bending radius to connect them to their terminals. Another big issue with them would be how the breaker connects to the bus of the panel. Their claim to fame was the Stab-Loc system where there was a spade on the front tip of the breaker that stabbed into a notch cut out on the bus. Today’s breakers have a small spring loaded clamp that clips onto a tab on the bus providing a positive connection. FPE Stab-Loc design was not a very reliable connection creating a loose connections which in turn will cause heat either damaging the buss or breaker, or potentially welding the breaker to the buss. I have seen these connections so loose that the breaker simply falls out when the panel cover is removed. Lastly would be the problems with these breakers not tripping under fault conditions. This is the most concerning issue here as there is a tremendous amount of current generated during a short circuit. This results in heat that can be very damaging to the panel, wire, and devices connected to the circuit, not to mention whatever is causing the short. This is an issue to be very concerned about as it would be able to do the most harm in a short amount of time.

fpebreaker

In closing, if you have a Federal Pacific electrical panel in your home or business take heed and call us or another qualified electrical contractor to come out and take a good look at it.
Call HB Electric Solutions today at 253-256-7861