An Introduction to Arc Faults and How to Prevent Them

Electrical wires and cables can fail in different ways. Arc faults, for instance, can send them to the graveyard. If a wire or cable experiences an arc fault, it may no longer be safe to use. In some cases, wires or cables can continue to transmit electricity, but an arc fault is both a fire and safety hazard. What are arc faults, and how to prevent them?

What Is an Arc Fault?

An arc fault is an unintended discharge of electricity between two or more conductors. It involves an “arc” of electricity between the respective conductors. When left unchecked, arc faults will generate heat that can melt through the insulation or even ignite nearby materials.

Many arc faults occur at wall outlets or extension cords. Normally, electricity will travel from the wall outlet or extension cord to the connected cable. During an arc fault, though, electricity will jump. Rather than flowing directly to the cable’s prongs, electricity will jump or “arc” or a nearby conductor.

How Arc Faults Differ From Short Circuits

While they are both types of electrical failure, arc fails and short circuits aren’t the same. Arc faults involve a discharge of electricity between multiple conductors. Short circuits, on the other hand, involve electricity straying from its normal path in a circuit due to a lack of resistance.

How to Prevent Arc Faults

You can prevent arc faults by regularly inspecting electrical wires and cables for damage. Avoid using any wires or cables that are damaged. Maybe the prongs are bent, or perhaps the jacket is torn. Regardless, using a damaged wire or cable can lead to an arc fault.

You should use caution when drilling or cutting into walls. If there are wires behind the wall, you could end up damaging the wires. The damaged wires may then cause an arc fault with the devices to which they are connected.

There are devices available to protect against arc faults. Known as arc fault breakers, they are designed to interrupt the flow of electricity in a given circuit in the event of an arc fault. Arc fault breakers work like traditional circuit breakers by stopping electricity from flowing in a circuit.

Traditional circuit breakers may or may not stop arc faults. Many of them will fail to identify arc faults. Arc fault breakers offer a solution. They are designed specifically for arc faults. If you’re worried about arc faults with a circuit, you can install an arc fault breaker on the circuit.

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