How To Install an AFCI Breaker

Installing an ARC Fault Circuit Breaker
 
Arc-fault circuit-interrupter (AFCI) breakers are an easy-to-install safety feature that can help protect your home from electrical fire. Electrical shorts and ground faults cause arcs, which produce sudden, high temperatures that can catch wood, insulation and other combustible materials in the vicinity of the wires on fire. Arcs generally occur due to worn or damaged electrical cords and wiring. AFCIs prevent fires by sensing when an electrical arc is about to occur and instantly disconnecting the damaged circuit before the arc builds enough heat to catch fire.
 
Standard circuit breakers don’t always trip in these instances because standard breakers are designed to respond to a sustained amount of heat, not a quick surge.
 
The 2008 National Electrical Code (NEC) requires an AFCI breaker in new construction for any circuit that has an outlet or fixture in a family room, dining room, living room, parlor, library, den, bedroom, sunroom, recreation room, closet, hallway or other living area. AFCI breakers will not interfere with the operation of ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets, so it’s safe to install AFCIs on circuits that include GFCI outlets.
 
This project guide will show you step-by-step how to replace a standard circuit breaker with an AFCI breaker. Before beginning your project, always consult the manufacturer’s instructions that come with your breaker.
 
Always check with local building authorities before working on a household electrical project to ensure your project meets local electrical code standards. In addition, you may need to obtain a permit and have your work inspected by a licensed professional.
 

Preparation


•  Determine which circuits you’ll protect with AFCI breakers. Consider replacing all breakers that protect
   circuits that feed outlets or fixtures in the living areas listed in the introduction.
•  Check your breaker panel for the brand. You’ll need to buy manufacturer-approved breakers for your
   specific panel. Read our Circuit Breaker Buying Guide for more information about replacement breakers.
•  Have a flashlight handy so you aren’t working in the dark. 
 

Safety


•  If you’re uncomfortable working with electricity, have a licensed electrician install the new AFCI breaker
   for you.
•  When working within the breaker panel, always shut off the main circuit breaker. Keep in mind that the
   wires leading into the breaker panel are always energized, even with the main breaker turned off, and
   represent a safety hazard.
•  When working on the breaker panel, wear rubber-soled shoes, use tools with rubber-insulated handles
   and never stand on a damp floor.
 

Savings


•  You can save money by installing AFCI breakers yourself.
 

WHAT YOU NEED FOR THIS JOB:

TOOLS:

MATERIALS:


Step 1: Turn off the Main Circuit Breaker

Step 1: Turn off the Main Circuit Breaker

1. Locate the breaker or breakers you plan to replace with AFCI breakers.

 

2. Turn off the main circuit breaker, which will cut power to your entire house.

  

Step 2: Remove the Panel Cover

Step 2: Remove the Panel Cover

1. Unscrew the panel cover.

 

2. Carefully remove it from the panel.

 

3. Use your circuit tester to be sure the power is off in the panel.

  

Step 3: Remove the Old Circuit Breaker

Step 3: Remove the Old Circuit Breaker

1. Pull the circuit breaker you want to replace out of its slot.

 

2. Remove the black wire from the breaker.

  

Step 4: Disconnect the White Wire

Step 4: Disconnect the White Wire

1. Follow the black wire you just disconnected up to where the cable enters the box.

 

2. Follow the white wire from the same cable, which means it is part of the same
    circuit, back to the neutral bus bar, and disconnect it.

  

Step 5: Connect the AFCI Breaker

Step 5: Connect the AFCI Breaker

1. Turn the AFCI breaker handle to the off position.

 

2. Loosen the two breaker terminal screws.

 

3. Connect the white circuit wire (not the coiled white wire) to the breaker terminal
    labeled “Panel Neutral” or “white.”

 

4. Connect the black circuit wire to the breaker terminal labeled “Load Power” or
    “black.”  

  

Step 6: Connect the Coiled White Wire

Step 6: Connect the Coiled White Wire Connect the arc fault breaker’s coiled white wire to the neutral bus bar in the same position as the white neutral wire you removed in step four.
  

Step 7: Install the AFCI Breaker

Step 7: Install the AFCI Breaker

1. Snap the new breaker into the breaker panel.

 

2. Make sure all connections are tight.

  

Step 8: Put the Panel Cover On

Step 8: Put the Panel Cover On Screw the breaker panel cover back into place.
  

Step 9: Turn on and Test the AFCI Breaker

Step 9: Turn on and Test the AFCI Breaker

1. Turn on the main breaker.

 

2. Turn on the AFCI breaker.

 

3. Test the arc fault breaker by pressing the test button on the front or per your
    breaker manufacturer’s instructions. If the breaker is wired correctly, the
    breaker will trip open.