How to Install an ARC Fault Circuit Breaker


According to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) and NFIRS (National Fire Incidence Reporting System), there were approximately 73,500 residential fires caused by electrical faults in the United States every year between 1994 and 1998. According to the NASFM (National Association of State Fire Marshals,) 82 percent of those fires were traced back to an arcing condition and not a short circuit or circuit overload. Because of this startling discovery, the NEC (National Electric Code) made arc fault circuit protection mandatory on all bedroom branch circuits in new homes. Since then the areas in residences where AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interruption) protection is required has been expanded to include family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, bedrooms, sun rooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, and all other similar rooms or areas. Considering the threat that arc faults present to human life and property, installing AFCI breakers is an economically feasible project for handy people.

Things You'll Need

  • AFCI circuit breakers
  • Electrician's screwdrivers
  • Diagonal pliers/wire cutters
  • Wire strippers
  • Remove the outer cover and inner trim panels on the service panel/circuit breaker panel. Flip the CBs (Circuit Breakers) to be replaced to the "off" position.

  • Disconnect the hot wire from the CB. Disconnect the associated neutral wire (the white wire) from the panel's neutral bar and pull it free of the other panel wiring, being careful to not allow the bare end to come into contact with the hot Buss Bars or any of the other CBs.

  • Remove the old CB from the panel and install the AFCI breaker. Depending on the style of panel that you have, the breakers may simply snap in place or be bolted/screwed down to the Buss Bars. If the breaker is screwed in place, use caution when removing and installing them so you don't short the Buss Bars out together or short them out against the back of the panel. The safest route to take here is to shut off the main service disconnect and then remove the breaker and install the AFCI breaker while a helper holds a flashlight for you.

  • Install an AFCI breaker. This is much like installing a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) CB in that there is a pigtail attached to the AFCI unit that you need to attach to the panel's neutral bar. Attach both the branch circuit hot conductor and neutral conductors to the appropriate screws on the AFCI breaker.

  • Turn the breaker on and test it by actuating the test button. Once you are certain that everything is working as it should, close up the panel.

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  • Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/ Images
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