Devices that can stop electrical fires almost removed from building code

Updated: Aug. 23, 2018 at 8:47 AM EDT
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AFCI (Source:The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI))
AFCI (Source:The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI))

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Proponents of a building code requirement are resting a little easier after a contested meeting.

On Tuesday, The South Carolina Building Codes Council voted against a move that would have no longer required builders to install AFCIs or Arc Fault Circuit Connectors. It is a device that proponents say prevents fire in some homes.

Under current building code, the AFCI had been required for almost twenty years in new homes in your breaker boxes.

The vote was to have them removed, but the final decision came in the form of amending the code to have AFCIs in every room except kitchens and laundry areas.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) says AFCIs replace standard circuit breakers in your home's electrical service panel. AFCIs detect arcing conditions that could be hazardous and shut down the electricity before a fire can start.

The foundation says an arcing fault happens when electrical current jumps between wires. Problems can be caused by damaged or cracked appliance chords or wiring that has been pierced or pinched. Arcing faults are extremely hot and can cause those fires.

Advocates like Kyle Minick, executive director of the South Carolina State Firefighters Association, said they continue to push for fire safety technologies.

"We've seen 90 civilians die in 73 residential fires last year in the state of South Carolina. Ten percent of those were electrical in nature. Now that's not saying that the breaker would or would not have prevented that fire. We just know that ten percent of those fires were ruled to be electrical. So anything that we can do to protect our citizens and the safety of our firefighters in the codes and in following a model fire code, we are advocates for from the state firefighters association standpoint," Minick said.

After Tuesday's vote, AFCIs will no longer be required in the kitchen and laundry room area, but Minick says there are already some electrical protections existing in those rooms.

"The good thing is those kitchens and laundries have GFI protections and it will protect that one outlet. It may not protect the entire branch main like the arc fault breaker would have, but it's protecting that one outlet so today was a good day, it's a safe day and we feel good about the compromise that was made," Minick said.

Cost, according to the "Home builders association of South Carolina" is a reason they are against the devices. They say it'll add a minimum of $1,000 to each newly constructed home.

Functionality is another argument against the devices. That same organization says there were only 19 fires caused by electrical arcing over a 12-year period. Others argue that the technology needs to be improved.

"There's a problem with the functionality of it. It has gotten better, I've noticed that over the last four or five years that it has gotten better. But it's not to where we need it to put it in our homes yet," Terrell Aultman, owner of Aultman Electric said. Aultman adds that sometimes an AFCI can create false alarms using specific appliances. He says this can create a nuisance for homeowners.

The electrical fire prevention devices are currently required in nearly every state in the country. This includes all new 1 and 2 family homes.

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