Are Your GFCI Outlets and AFCI Outlets Up to Code?
The Texas Real Estate Commission (TERC) has approved changes to the home inspector standards of practice. These changes went into effect on February 1, 2022 and were designed to strengthen consumer protections for home buyers.
These new standards affected inspections of GFCI and AFCI devices in residential structures. If you're a homeowner who will soon be selling your house in the state of Texas, here's what you need to know about the changes to inspections of GFCI and AFCI devices.
What Is A GFCI Outlet?
Before you can understand the changes to the code, it's important to know what a GFCI outlet is. GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. In some parts of the world, GFCI outlets are called residual current devices (RCDs). A GFCI receptacle is an outlet that's designed to prevent accidental electrocution in high moisture areas.
The GFCI receptacle works by monitoring the energy flowing through a circuit. In the event that the energy flowing out of the circuit becomes more than the energy flowing back into the circuit, the outlet will shut down. GFCI outlets are designed to shut down very quickly when a ground fault is detected in order to prevent electrocution.
What's a ground fault?
A ground fault is a path that electricity takes between a circuit and the ground. A ground fault occurs when electricity "leaks" out of the outlet and escapes to the ground via that path. When a person is that path, this can cause a shock or even death. Ground faults usually occur near water because water is a perfect conduit for electricity.
What does a GFCI outlet look like?
GFCI outlets look like standard outlets with one important difference: they have "test" and "reset" buttons on the face. Some outlets also come with an indicator light to show when the outlet needs some kind of attention.
How dangerous is electrocution?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that as little as 50 to 150 milliamps (mA) of current can be fatal. That's less than the amount of energy it takes to power a 60-watt light bulb.
A Class A GFCI device is designed to detect energy leaks as small as 4 to 6 mA, and will cut power as soon as that threshold is reached. GFCI devices are not just limited to outlets. GFCI devices are found in breaker panels, wall outlets and in certain portable devices, like pressure washers.
How long have GFCI outlets been a requirement?
GFCI devices were first required by building codes in the early 1970's. At that time, GFCI outlets were only required for areas around pools and outdoor outlets. Eventually, these requirements were expanded to bathrooms, kitchens, garages, laundry rooms and other high risk areas.
What Are the New GFCI Requirements?
The new TREC standards specify that required locations for GFCI outlets include bathrooms, garages, outdoor areas, accessory buildings, laundry areas, kitchen countertops, crawlspaces and lights in crawlspaces, indoor damp or wet locations, basements, kitchen receptacles for dishwashers, receptacles within 6 feet of the edge of a sink, shower, or bathtub and electrically heated floors. Receptacles that don't meet this requirement are noted as a deficiency in the TREC inspection, no matter when the home was built.
To test the outlet, the inspector must use a combination of the test button (provided on each GFCI outlet) and a handheld tester. Fails are common, but replacing a GFCI outlet should be easy for any qualified electrician.
What Is an AFCI Outlet? What Is the Difference Between AFCI and GFCI?
AFCI stands for arc fault circuit interruptor. An AFCI outlet may look similar to a GFCI outlet, but its purpose is very different. An arc fault is a situation in which loose wiring causes an electrical current to arc between contact points. Arcing creates heat, and that can break down wiring insulation and ignite materials around the wire. Arc faults can cause electrical fires that burn down homes.
AFCI outlets detect arcs. When an arc is detected, the outlet shuts down. The major difference between AFCI outlets and GFCI outlets is what they're intended to protect. AFCI outlets protect property; GFCI outlets protect people.
What does an AFCI outlet look like?
An AFCI outlet looks like a GFCI outlet, with buttons that say "test" and "reset." However, an AFCI outlet usually has white buttons, while a GFCI outlet may have colorful buttons.
Like GFCI devices, AFCI devices can be found on a breaker box, outlets and portable devices.
How long have AFCI devices been required?
AFCI devices weren't invented until the 1980's and were first required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) in bedrooms starting in 1999. The required rooms have been growing since that time.
What Are the New AFCI Requirements?
Under the new TREC standards, AFCI protection should be found in family rooms, kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms, parlors, dens, bedrooms, libraries, sun rooms recreation rooms, closets, laundry areas and hallways. This is most parts of the house, and should include all living areas. Homes that do not have AFCI protection in these areas will be considered deficient.
AFCI protection is not common and most homes will be in deficiency on this standard. However, AFCI protections is important because arc faults are the leading cause of residential house fires in the United States. More than 40,000 fires start because of faulty electrical wiring, causing 1,400 injuries and 350 deaths. AFCI devices can save lives and property by monitoring for the type of sparks that can cause these fires.
Installing AFCI Devices in Older Homes Can Be Complicated
Installing AFCI devices in older homes can sometimes require re-wiring the home. Without rewiring, AFCI devices may experience "nuisance" tripping, which means that the outlet will trip even if there is no arc fault on the circuit. This may happen because of the way the old wiring was installed and other factors.
Selling Your Home? Get An Electrical Inspection and Upgrade
If you're planning to put your home on the market sometime soon, have your home's electrical system inspected before putting your home up for sale. Getting the electrical inspection in advance can help you identify problems that buyers may require to be fixed before the home purchase goes through. Once you've identified problems with your home's electrical system, you can perform upgrades that will head off problems and help your home sale go smoothly.
During the electrical inspection, your electrician will look for presence of GFCI and AFCI devices in the appropriate parts of the house, and will recommend upgrades as needed. Your electrician may also identify other deficiencies that could make selling your home more difficult.
Why Hire Add-All Electric to Prepare Your Home to Sell
When you work with Add-All Electric, your electrician can perform repairs and upgrades to wiring, your home's electrical panel, and other components of your home's electrical system as needed. We get permits when they're required, and we always perform upgrades safely. This means that you can count on whatever changes we make to be fully compliant with residential codes.
If you hire a substandard electrician, or if you try to DIY the changes, the work may be done incorrectly. This will not pass during a home inspection, and could mean you'll have to spend more money to fix the problem than you saved.
Do You Need AFCI or GFCI Devices Installed In Your Home?
Installation of AFCI and GFCI outlets can save lives and property. This type of electrical upgrade can be performed quickly and efficiently by a licensed and bonded electrician. Add-All Electric can help with electrical home improvements to make your home safe and functional. Contact us today to get started with your project.