Under 2 hours
An arc-fault circuit-interrupter, or AFCI breaker, prevents 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 AFCI breakers in nearly all new construction. In 2017, the requirement was updated to require AFCI protection in virtually every room in a home. They 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 how to replace a standard circuit breaker by installing an AFCI breaker.
Safety: When working within the breaker panel, always shut off the main circuit breaker. Remember that the wires leading into the breaker panel are always energized, even with the main breaker turned off. When working on the breaker panel, wear rubber-soled shoes, use tools with rubber-insulated handles and never stand on a damp floor.
Turn Off the Main Circuit Breaker
- Locate the breaker or breakers you plan to replace with AFCI breakers.
- Turn off the main circuit breaker which will cut power to your entire house.
Tip: If you think a circuit breaker is faulty, you can do a test using a voltage tester before starting this project.
Remove the Panel Cover
- Unscrew and remove the panel cover.
- Use your circuit tester to be sure the power is off in the panel.
Remove Old Circuit Breaker
- Pull the circuit breaker you want to replace out of its slot.
- Remove the black wire from the breaker.
Wire and Connect the AFCI Breaker
- Follow the black wire you just disconnected up to where the cable enters the box.
- 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.
- Turn the AFCI breaker handle to the off position.
- Loosen the two breaker terminal screws.
- Connect the white circuit wire (not the coiled white wire) to the breaker terminal labeled “Panel Neutral” or “white.”
- Connect the black circuit wire to the breaker terminal labeled “Load Power” or “black.”
- Now, connect the AFCI breaker’s coiled white wire to the neutral bus bar in the same position as the white neutral wire you removed in Step 4.
Install the AFCI Breaker and Turn Power Back On
- Snap the new breaker into the breaker panel and double-check that all connections are tight.
- Remember to screw the breaker panel cover back into place.
- Turn on the main breaker followed by the AFCI breaker.
- 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.
Learning how to install an AFCI breaker is a fairly straightforward process that can be done safely with the right tools and materials. Ready to find the supplies you need in your local store? Use The Home Depot app to locate products and check inventory. We'll take you to the exact aisle and bay.