Much like the debates that arose with the introduction of the ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in the early '70s, the arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) has followed a similar fiery path in recent years. Some engineers and industry consultants have challenged the merits of the technology. Installers have balked at the high unit price per device. Technicians have fretted over test methods and the merits of new test equipment to ensure these devices operate in the real world as designed. On the other side of the fence, supporters of the technology rally around the benefits of improved life safety and point out that all new technologies suffer growing pains. But it appears the debate on this hot topic may soon die down — if not disappear altogether.
If the recent actions of Code-Making Panel (CMP) No. 2 hold true to what's shown in the NFPA 70 Report on Proposals A2007, then AFCI requirements will move beyond the bedroom and apply to the dwelling as a whole. And like it or not, all 120V, single-phase, 15A and 20A branch circuits installed in dwelling units shall be protected by a listed AFCI, combination-type device, essentially closing the case.
Although CMP No. 2 will be meeting November 28 through December 9 to consider the public comments previously submitted on this issue, my gut feel tells me this new requirement will be part of the 2008 NEC. I highly doubt this proposal will get derailed between now and the NFPA Annual Meeting date of early June of next year. I may end up with egg on my face for saying so, but I doubt it. This change seems to be a lock from my perspective.
In fact, I think this change is just the beginning of a more widespread adoption of this technology. Just as the requirements for installation of GFCIs continues to expand in the commercial and industrial sectors, so too will those associated with AFCIs. And just as the technology has continued to improve on the GFCI front, improvements will be made on the AFCI front. The major manufacturers of these devices will drive this change as they strive to differentiate their products from their competitors. Widespread adoption of these devices will also help drive down the cost of individual units.
But what we all hope to see from these changes in the not-too-distant future is a reduction in the high number of deaths and injuries each year associated with fixed wiring systems. This is the ultimate goal of the NEC, isn't it?
For a more comprehensive review of this topic, turn to our cover story on page 34 and read what a few industry experts have to say on this proposed change. Then, drop me a note and share your thoughts on AFCIs. I'd love to hear them.