Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

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ray.james
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Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by ray.james » Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:00 pm

Home is from 1971. It has 120A circuit board with 12 breakers. Some outlets/receptacles are original. Some areas have updated switches/receptacles. No AFCI/GFCI. I originally thought of updating the circuits in bathroom and kitchen with GFCI and then went down the rabbit of learning about AFCI, NEC and CA regulations. The original idea was to change some of the beige/almond outlets to new, some old loose receptacle to Tamper resistant ones.

I concluded I can just have a new breaker panel with 20 breakers, AFCI breakers, AFCI/GFCI for kitchen, GFCI outlets in bathrooms will be much cheaper than changing every receptacle/outlet to AFCI/GFCI. This will allow electric car charging/solar installation in future.

Is AFCI on breaker a better idea than end point /outlet/receptacle?
Anyone went this route and found missing things/to do items.
Electrician for breaker box replacement and the rest by me (amateur with youtube/books) - should be fine?
(OR) Just don't touch anything. Let them be till end of life?
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by indexfundfan » Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:24 pm

Like the GFCI outlets, you can also chain AFCI outlets. I find this more cost effective than adding AFCI breakers. But you do need to know where the start of the chain is, something which may be hard to determine.
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by HomeStretch » Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:35 pm

If you install a new panel, consider adding a whole house surge protector at the same time.

Ask the electrician to label every circuit at the panel. Your town’s electrical inspector will probably require that anyway.

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by RetiredArtist » Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:42 pm

I want to add, if you have an older Federal Pacific electric panel, the breakers may fail to trip:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyl ... story.html

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by Quercus Palustris » Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:45 pm

I've read an advantage to AFCI breakers is protection against faults in wiring in the wall before the first receptacle (or lamp, etc).

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by suemarkp » Fri Jan 10, 2020 3:46 pm

There are complicated rules in the code for AFCIs and there are multiple types of AFCIs. Current code (2020) requires Combination Type AFCIs. The older branch circuit type is no longer allowed but could be used if you also have receptacle type AFCI's and you know where the first outlet is on each circuit. There may also be some wire length limits or wiring method limits. The breaker and receptacle type together need to be listed as a combination device and I don't think there are any available listed combinations yet. Therefore, the easiest thing to do is install a combination type AFCI in your power panel. Note that combination type does not mean GFCI/AFCI -- that is something else. I avoid GFCI breakers as long runs of cabling contribute to nuisance tripping, and you have to go all the way to the panel to reset it.

There are a whole host of expensive changes in the 2020 NEC (all 120V 15/20A circuits will need to be AFCI, not just some set of rooms; GFCIs are being added to 30A 240V dryer outlets and some other 240V outlets; Outside "fireman" main disconnect is required; A whole house surge arrester is also required). I am changing my panel now so I can do it under the 2017 code before the 2020 is adopted here in WA in July.

I would either replace the panel, or add a subpanel next to your current main panel and put all your AFCIs in that new panel. Older panels don't have as much working space and are generally short neutral terminals. AFCI breakers have a neutral pigtail, and all those pigtails take a lot of panel space (the circuit hot and neutral both go to the AFCI breaker instead of the neutral going to the neutral bar). There is a new type of breaker called a "plug on neutral". These eliminate the neutral pigtail and the breaker clips onto the neutral bar to make that connection instead. But you need a plug on neutral panelboard to use those. Some of the non-plug on breakers won't fit in a plug on neutral panel (typically the older AFCIs and GFCI breakers, but this is panelboard and breaker dependent). So I am putting in a non plug on neutral panel for the larger breakers and any 2 pole GFCI's that are needed. A plug on neutral subpanel will feed every 15 and 20 amp single pole circuit in the house except the furnace (which is generally not required in the 2017 code).

Adding the subpanel is easier since you don't need to involve the utility to remove power from your older main panel. A panel change can be a DIY job, but you need to have some electrical experience and know what you're doing. Knowing whether you need 3 wires or 4 and whether the neutral is bonded or floating are critical things to understand. Watching you tube videos is not how to learn a panel change... I studied the NEC for 2 years before I did my first service change, but it was a more advanced one with two 200A panels to make a 400A service.
Mark | Kent, WA

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by daheld » Fri Jan 10, 2020 4:17 pm

Something else to consider here that I've not seen mentioned: does the home have aluminum wiring? Based on the year built, it could. We live in a home built in 1968 with AL wiring on the first floor. When we moved in, I had Alumiconns put on and had the breakers for AL circuits switched over to AFCI.

Aluminum wiring won't really impact your decision to switch to AFCI breakers, but you will want to consider your options to "remedy" the aluminum wiring.

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by Gatorbh » Fri Jan 10, 2020 4:49 pm

I second the concern about Federal Pacific. We bought a home with one of these and could not get a homeowners policy. Replaced with a GE panel with some added capacity. No worries since.

You may want to touch base or at least internet search your insurance company and breaker box guidelines if they have any.

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by ray.james » Fri Jan 10, 2020 10:54 pm

Gatorbh wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 4:49 pm
I second the concern about Federal Pacific. We bought a home with one of these and could not get a homeowners policy. Replaced with a GE panel with some added capacity. No worries since.

You may want to touch base or at least internet search your insurance company and breaker box guidelines if they have any.
RetiredArtist wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:42 pm
I want to add, if you have an older Federal Pacific electric panel, the breakers may fail to trip:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyl ... story.html
Thank you, I am aware of this and mine is by Murray Electric. So does not seem to have these issues.
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AFCI, am a fan

Post by Bogle7 » Fri Jan 10, 2020 11:20 pm

Quercus Palustris wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:45 pm
an advantage to AFCI breakers is protection against faults in wiring in the wall before the first receptacle...
True.
We renovated our 6 year old kitchen and the electrician had a new AFCI breaker that kept popping.
Two hours later he found the wire the original installers had nicked with a staple.

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by ray.james » Fri Jan 10, 2020 11:29 pm

suemarkp wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 3:46 pm
There are complicated rules in the code for AFCIs and there are multiple types of AFCIs. Current code (2020) requires Combination Type AFCIs. The older branch circuit type is no longer allowed but could be used if you also have receptacle type AFCI's and you know where the first outlet is on each circuit. There may also be some wire length limits or wiring method limits. The breaker and receptacle type together need to be listed as a combination device and I don't think there are any available listed combinations yet. Therefore, the easiest thing to do is install a combination type AFCI in your power panel. Note that combination type does not mean GFCI/AFCI -- that is something else. I avoid GFCI breakers as long runs of cabling contribute to nuisance tripping, and you have to go all the way to the panel to reset it.

There are a whole host of expensive changes in the 2020 NEC (all 120V 15/20A circuits will need to be AFCI, not just some set of rooms; GFCIs are being added to 30A 240V dryer outlets and some other 240V outlets; Outside "fireman" main disconnect is required; A whole house surge arrester is also required). I am changing my panel now so I can do it under the 2017 code before the 2020 is adopted here in WA in July.

I would either replace the panel, or add a subpanel next to your current main panel and put all your AFCIs in that new panel. Older panels don't have as much working space and are generally short neutral terminals. AFCI breakers have a neutral pigtail, and all those pigtails take a lot of panel space (the circuit hot and neutral both go to the AFCI breaker instead of the neutral going to the neutral bar). There is a new type of breaker called a "plug on neutral". These eliminate the neutral pigtail and the breaker clips onto the neutral bar to make that connection instead. But you need a plug on neutral panelboard to use those. Some of the non-plug on breakers won't fit in a plug on neutral panel (typically the older AFCIs and GFCI breakers, but this is panelboard and breaker dependent). So I am putting in a non plug on neutral panel for the larger breakers and any 2 pole GFCI's that are needed. A plug on neutral subpanel will feed every 15 and 20 amp single pole circuit in the house except the furnace (which is generally not required in the 2017 code).

Adding the subpanel is easier since you don't need to involve the utility to remove power from your older main panel. A panel change can be a DIY job, but you need to have some electrical experience and know what you're doing. Knowing whether you need 3 wires or 4 and whether the neutral is bonded or floating are critical things to understand. Watching you tube videos is not how to learn a panel change... I studied the NEC for 2 years before I did my first service change, but it was a more advanced one with two 200A panels to make a 400A service.
Hey Markp,
Thanks for for great points.
AFCI protection - is this parallel /serial AFCI protection. I have seen new ones called CAFCI circuit breakers

We are in California. We just adopted 2017 NEC on 1/1/2020. Usually there is a 3 year delay :]

I am going to check up on the neutral panel/breakers. I will use an electrician for the panel but will probably do receptacles myself. Main goal is led/motion based outlets, modern switches and white outlets/switch plates.

Questions:
2 pole GFCI - where will you need these outside dryer?
How many circuits/GFCI are you planning for kitchen?
2 pole for range + non GFCI one for refrigerator + GFCI breaker/outlet for dishwasher + atleast 2/3 - 20A circuits - Are you providing GFCI at outlet /breaker?
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by fortfun » Fri Jan 10, 2020 11:36 pm

If you plan to do the work yourself, consider pulling a permit with your state, county, or city. I did that with my basement and the state inspectors were incredibly helpful. Of course, my state could be exceptional. I was able to call them whenever I had questions and they came to inspect three times. I had one failure and they came back to re-inspect. Of course, I'm not sure if you can even pull a permit on existing wiring but it seems if you are putting in a new panel, you should be able to. My permit was pretty minimal in cost. Of course, the permit required me to add CO detectors in each room, so that was an additional cost but worth it for the family's safety. Did all the work myself including the panel. Slept better at night knowing everything was up to code and approved.

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by boomer_techie » Sat Jan 11, 2020 12:57 am

suemarkp wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 3:46 pm
AFCI breakers have a neutral pigtail, and all those pigtails take a lot of panel space (the circuit hot and neutral both go to the AFCI breaker instead of the neutral going to the neutral bar).
AFCI's and GFCI's will only work when the circuit's neutral comes back to the same breaker as the hot. A lot of older wiring may co-mingle the neutral routing. For example, a breaker feeds hot to a light switch. The switch feeds the switched hot to a light. The light fixture picks up a neutral from some nearby receptacle. It can be "impossible" to add these new breakers to those circuits.

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by jakepeters » Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:11 am

suemarkp wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 3:46 pm
There are complicated rules in the code for AFCIs and there are multiple types of AFCIs. Current code (2020) requires Combination Type AFCIs. The older branch circuit type is no longer allowed but could be used if you also have receptacle type AFCI's and you know where the first outlet is on each circuit. There may also be some wire length limits or wiring method limits. The breaker and receptacle type together need to be listed as a combination device and I don't think there are any available listed combinations yet. Therefore, the easiest thing to do is install a combination type AFCI in your power panel. Note that combination type does not mean GFCI/AFCI -- that is something else. I avoid GFCI breakers as long runs of cabling contribute to nuisance tripping, and you have to go all the way to the panel to reset it.

There are a whole host of expensive changes in the 2020 NEC (all 120V 15/20A circuits will need to be AFCI, not just some set of rooms; GFCIs are being added to 30A 240V dryer outlets and some other 240V outlets; Outside "fireman" main disconnect is required; A whole house surge arrester is also required). I am changing my panel now so I can do it under the 2017 code before the 2020 is adopted here in WA in July.

I would either replace the panel, or add a subpanel next to your current main panel and put all your AFCIs in that new panel. Older panels don't have as much working space and are generally short neutral terminals. AFCI breakers have a neutral pigtail, and all those pigtails take a lot of panel space (the circuit hot and neutral both go to the AFCI breaker instead of the neutral going to the neutral bar). There is a new type of breaker called a "plug on neutral". These eliminate the neutral pigtail and the breaker clips onto the neutral bar to make that connection instead. But you need a plug on neutral panelboard to use those. Some of the non-plug on breakers won't fit in a plug on neutral panel (typically the older AFCIs and GFCI breakers, but this is panelboard and breaker dependent). So I am putting in a non plug on neutral panel for the larger breakers and any 2 pole GFCI's that are needed. A plug on neutral subpanel will feed every 15 and 20 amp single pole circuit in the house except the furnace (which is generally not required in the 2017 code).

Adding the subpanel is easier since you don't need to involve the utility to remove power from your older main panel. A panel change can be a DIY job, but you need to have some electrical experience and know what you're doing. Knowing whether you need 3 wires or 4 and whether the neutral is bonded or floating are critical things to understand. Watching you tube videos is not how to learn a panel change... I studied the NEC for 2 years before I did my first service change, but it was a more advanced one with two 200A panels to make a 400A service.
Good points.

I had an electrician do my 100A to 200A upgrade, but not any circuit changes.

I ran new circuits and used AFCI beakers.

Older circuits that I added to also require AFCI breakers, but I didn't know that most (all?) AFCI beakers require dedicated neutral paths.

What this means is that if there is anywhere where >1 circuit has their neutrals connected (not uncommon in a junction or light switch box), that circuit WILL NOT work with the AFCI breaker.

Whenever you pull any current from that multi-circuit-neutral setup, the AFCI beaker will trip.

That is a pain, because you may not know where that situation exists so that you can split out the neutrals everywhere for every "legacy" circuit that you're upgrading to AFCI.

Don't ask how I know...

I saw that there may be one company offering AFCI breakers that don't have this limitation, but don't recall who and did not research them. Plus, I didn't know about this issue when the panel was upgraded.

Just something to consider.

JP

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by suemarkp » Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:40 pm

Yes, a combination AFCI is one that detects series and parallel arcs.

In the 2020 code, you will need 2 pole GFCI circuits in all locations that normally require GFCI's now. One location is kitchen counters, but electric range circuits aren't on the counter so they escape that rule. However, receptacles within 6' of a sink need to be GFCI, so if the range outlet is within 6' of a sink then it needs to be GFCI. Other places that need GFCI's are laundry rooms (hence the clothes dryer), garages, and unfinished basements. Have a workshop with a grade level concrete floor? Then all 240V receptacles are going to need to be GFCI. That's one main reason for me doing it now before 2020 -- my workshop has 5 240V circuits for tools, compressors, and space heaters. The 2 pole GFCI breakers are generally over $100 each except for perhaps the 50A ones for hot tubs because they are more common and typically discounted.

For GFCI's, only receptacle outlets are covered, not all outlets like AFCI. A light fixture is an outlet, but not a receptacle outlet. A hard wired feed to a water heater is an outlet, but not a receptacle outlet.

All of my GFCIs are point of use receptacle types. One GFCI receptacle can protect a string of receptacles if you wire the downstream receptacle to the LOAD side of the GFCI. My kitchen will have 4 AFCIs -- 3 for the counter outlets and 1 for the lights. The refrigerator, disposal, and dishwasher are all on the counter circuits, so I don't need separate ones for those. I could have used combo AFCI-GFCI breakers for the kitchen counter circuits, but the GFCIs are already there so I just used the AFCI breaker. I prefer GFCI function to be point of use and not breaker type when possible.

The 2017 areas for AFCIs is just about everywhere except for storage rooms, garages, and outside outlets. So you are going to need a lot of AFCIs. This is a tremendous cost. In 2020, it is all 15 and 20 amp 120V circuits in a dwelling so that is even more AFCI breakers (it will include the furnace circuit which I don't like). I just received an order for circuit breakers for this upgrade and it was over $1,000. A normal single pole circuit breaker is about $6. The AFCI's are $40 to $50. The new plug on neutral ones were $37 compared to the older pigtail ones which were about $45 each. My order had 21 AFCI's in it. The rest was normal 2 pole breakers and a surge arrester that plugs in like a circuit breaker. I would make sure to have a surge arrester in the panel ,as that will protect the electronics in the AFCI's. Cheap insurance since AFCIs are so expensive.

My house was built in the 60's where shared neutral circuits were commonly done. This requires a 2 pole AFCI and those are about $150. I am not doing the one shared neutral circuit I have left. Two of the other ones I doubled up into a single pole circuit so will put an AFCI on those.

I'm sure I'm going to have the "shanghai'd neutral" problem where one circuit takes the neutral from another. This will cause both AFCI's to trip when that device is powered on. When the inspector shows up, the panel will have its 20+ AFCI's in it. When/if things start to trip, I'll put in a non-AFCI breaker and eventually track down where the neutral was stolen. This will be a problem in my house since it is so old and been touched by too many people who did not know what they were doing. I have found buried junction boxes in the wall. If a neutral was stolen there, it will be much more difficult to find and fix than in a normal switch or receptacle box.

The reason AFCI's trip when using a neutral from another circuit is they have the same mechanism as a GFCI -- it looks for a mismatch in current between hot and neutral. A 30ma mismatch causes it to trip. A GFCI does the same, but the threshold is 6ma instead of 30ma. I'm not sure if this is part of the AFCI requirement or not. If it is, AFCI's that don't have this feature won't be allowed.

I have had good luck with my GFCI's and AFCIs (at a previous house) not nuisance tripping. Many times, nuisance trips are due to faulty equipment. But the cheaper AFCI's can nuisance trip on some older equipment, especially electric motors with brushes (which arc a lot....). SquareD QO and Cutler Hammer CH are the better ones. I've not been a fan of Murray equipment nor GE.

One final issue with AFCI's. Over the last 20 years or so, panels marked as 20-40 or 30-40 or similar have been marketed. These use "twin" or "Tandem" breakers that put 2 circuit breakers in one slot. The 20-20 panel has 20 slots and all slots are rated for tandems so it actually supports 40 circuits. I have a 30-40 panel which has 20 slots that are regular and 10 that take tandems. That panel is full (40 circuits). I have not see a tandem AFCI breaker yet, and I doubt you will. So if you have a 20-40 panel full of breakers that suddenly need to become AFCI breakers, you will we way short of breaker slots. This will require a new panel. That is the reason for the plug on neutral panel I bought -- that 30-40 panel will be full of AFCI's and I couldn't fit them in that panel.
Mark | Kent, WA

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by indexfundfan » Sat Jan 11, 2020 10:58 pm

suemarkp wrote:
Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:40 pm
I have a 30-40 panel which has 20 slots that are regular and 10 that take tandems. That panel is full (40 circuits). I have not see a tandem AFCI breaker yet, and I doubt you will. So if you have a 20-40 panel full of breakers that suddenly need to become AFCI breakers, you will we way short of breaker slots. This will require a new panel. That is the reason for the plug on neutral panel I bought -- that 30-40 panel will be full of AFCI's and I couldn't fit them in that panel.
Would AFCI receptacles be a solution for this (provided you know where the start of the chain is)?

I see that the Leviton 20A AFCI outlets are just $20 a piece at Amazon, a lot less than AFIC breakers.
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by suemarkp » Sun Jan 12, 2020 11:38 am

I dont think so, but would need to read the code book. If the wiring from the breaker box to the first receptacle was armored type cable or conduit instead of romex then probably. If the cable length to the first outlet is less than 6 feet then maybe. Is the Leviton afci receptacle a "combination" type afci?

You could possibly have a bunch of afci receptacles close to the breaker box wired in with metal clad cable and then connect the rest of all a circuit to that afci. But some circuits are not allowed to have outlets in other areas (kitchen counter, laundry, and bathroom receptacles).
Mark | Kent, WA

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by indexfundfan » Sun Jan 12, 2020 2:39 pm

suemarkp wrote:
Sun Jan 12, 2020 11:38 am
I dont think so, but would need to read the code book. If the wiring from the breaker box to the first receptacle was armored type cable or conduit instead of romex then probably. If the cable length to the first outlet is less than 6 feet then maybe. Is the Leviton afci receptacle a "combination" type afci?

You could possibly have a bunch of afci receptacles close to the breaker box wired in with metal clad cable and then connect the rest of all a circuit to that afci. But some circuits are not allowed to have outlets in other areas (kitchen counter, laundry, and bathroom receptacles).
Here's the link to the Leviton product:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AG ... UTF8&psc=1

It protects both series arc and parallel arc.
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by Boglegrappler » Sun Jan 12, 2020 3:01 pm

We have about seven or eight AFCI breakers in a house that is pretty new. In the past seven years, we've had about five instances where all of the afci breakers are tripped, apparently from electrical surges or pulses during storms, or electrical company work on the outside street power.

It's very annoying and makes me wonder about the real need/usefulness vs. the cost and annoyance of having these things written into the code.

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by suemarkp » Sun Jan 12, 2020 5:50 pm

The outlet type of AFCI still has a lot or hurdles to overcome to be effectively usable. The code seems very similar between 2017 and 2020. Here is what it says which I shortened because the NFPA code viewer doesn't let you cut and paste...:

NEC 210.12.
(A) Use arc fault protection in the list of rooms where you need them using any of the solutions below (in 2020 it is all rooms in a dwelling):
(1) Use a combination type AFCI circuit breaker.
(2) Use a branch/feeder type arc fault breaker and a listed AFCI receptacle <seems dumb when you could just use the (1) solution instead>
(3) A listed supplemental arc protection breaker installed and a listed AFCI receptacle along with some wire length restrictions <seems dumb again if you need an AFCI breaker, just use the combo type>
(4) Use a listed AFCI receptacle as the first outlet in the circuit using a regular circuit breaker in the panel with the following restrictions:
(a) branch circuit needs to be continuous between breaker and first receptacle (e.g. no splicing in a light box or switch box).
(b) max length of circuit between breaker and first outlet is 50' if #14 wire or 70' if #12.
(c) first outlet needs to be marked as such, and probably with a circuit identifying number.
(d) the combination of the receptacle outlet AFCI and the circuit breaker shall be identified as meeting the requirements of a system combination type AFCI and be listed as such <this will be the stumbling block -- what breaker has Leviton listed these receptacles with to get listed as a system combination AFCI>
(5) Use metal conduit or metal cable wiring methods, including metal device/junction boxes, between the breaker panel and first outlet and you can use a branch circuit AFCI receptacle.
(6) Use PVC conduit or MC cable buried in 2" of concrete and you can use a branch circuit AFCI receptacle.

(D) Branch circuit extensions or modifications (this would apply if you are adding on to an existing circuit, and maybe a panel change depending on your local authorities). Do (1) or (2):
(1) Use a combination type AFCI circuit breaker
(2) Use a listed outlet branch circuit type AFCI at the first receptacle in the circuit (no wire length restrictions here).

I looked at the Leviton website and saw no info for what breakers they have listed their outlet type AFCIs with. The pdf said the listing standard was coming in 2014, but they have not updated this document since as far as I can see and they may not be intending to list any combinations as that would be expensive as there are many circuit breaker manufacturers.

You could buy these for piece of mind, but at this point the receptacle type is not going to get you AFCI code compliance in 99% of the houses out there.

Many electricians dislike the AFCI. They are not convinced they really work (seem to be pretty good on nail strikes though) and they cause nuisance trip call backs. Prices may come down over time, but it is all the space they take that causes issues with older panels. And some of the bad older ones like Zinsco and Federal Pacific probably won't have an AFCI breaker ever made for them.
Mark | Kent, WA

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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by ray.james » Mon Jan 13, 2020 12:41 pm

Thanks Mark.

I did my first round this weekend. Outlets, Plugs for Hall and GFCI outlet for one bathroom. I borrowed hair straightener from wife to test it. So far no issues. Next week will be bedrooms and kitchen. I got a sample AFCI outlet to test if it will trip to test on these circuits before going for the breaker. I am cataloging what I need for the breaker box.

Boglegrapper,
Regarding effectiveness of AFCI breakers:

1) Note that arc faults usually happen in older houses more than new homes - moisture , loose circuits, wear and tear. So the real benefit of these is yet to be seen in future.
2) statistics on home fire from electrical origin:
https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News ... lFires.pdf

very good to know the key equipment that can cause fire and what usually causes injury/fatality( time of day, location of origin).

3) Statistics on all fires in homes
https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News ... shomes.pdf

50% is cooking and Heating related are at 15%. Third comes electrical at 10%. So the above (2) data has to be considered with in this 10%. However in terms of death and injury, cooking is equal to electrical due to the nature of electrical fires.

4) As I said, I do not know how good they are and we will know only in future. But I live in earthquake county and the house is from 1970s. If the past earth quakes data are any indication, post earthquake fires are more dangerous than earthquake itself.
Last edited by ray.james on Mon Jan 13, 2020 11:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.
When in doubt, http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=79939

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lthenderson
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by lthenderson » Mon Jan 13, 2020 1:06 pm

ray.james wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:00 pm
Electrician for breaker box replacement and the rest by me (amateur with youtube/books) - should be fine?
Check your local codes but in my area, replacing the breaker box was considered working with existing wiring so no permit was needed and I did it myself. I had to call the electrical company to cut the lock on their meter on the outside of the house and pull the fuse but this was free of charge. I then unattached my old breaker box with wiring intact and attached the new one in place. I then spend several hours swapping over the wiring one at a time onto new breakers. When I was done, the electrical company swung back to put in the fuse and put a new lock on their meter box, also free of charge.

Boglegrappler
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by Boglegrappler » Mon Jan 13, 2020 2:14 pm

Thanks for the links to the fire data reports. Interesting data to contemplate.

The only fire that I've come close to having was caused by an overheated pop tart in a toaster. The warnings on the pop tart box should say that overheating them will cause a fire, instead of may cause one. Never turn your back on one of those things.

ironman
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by ironman » Mon Jan 13, 2020 3:14 pm

Your starting point is the local building department code enforcement agency. The electrical system code requirements vary on a state and municipal level. Once that info is in hand, you should determine if you need a permit and if you, as a homeowner, can pull the permit. Be aware, pulling a permit may activate your duty to upgrade your system beyond your intended scope (grounding, GFCI for laundry equipment and range, etc.).

Next, inspect your panelboard and determine if breakers that comply with local codes are available. If you decide replacement is necessary, I recommend you look into the Square D QO cabinet with Quik-Grip entries and plug-on neutral bars. This system is designed specifically for retrofitting existing installations. https://www.se.com/us/en/work/products/ ... qwik-grip/

There is quite a lot of technical consideration in NEC Art 210.12 to consider when choosing an AFCI protection strategy. Merely replacing the receptacles with an AFCI device does not meet the 2020 NEC unless your home is piped with conduit or wired with MC/AC. Some state codes relax these requirements.

Carl53
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by Carl53 » Mon Jan 13, 2020 4:36 pm

I find the concept of you need to meet the latest Code, a bit of over-reach. Some advocate making changes today to avoid complying with new expected Code changes. What about the next year when somebody decides every non-compliant structure needs retrofitted? There are homes out there with knob and tube wiring that are quite functional. If some real study were made that concluded that you had a 1% (or whatever %) likelihood of a fire this year then it might be worth proceeding. Even the Federal Pacific issue is mostly innuendo (what is the real risk - is it more than .1%?) that has spread to consequences imposed by some insurance and financial companies. In deed the study cited above states as many as thirteen deaths a year may be incurred. I suspect multitudes more choke on food each year, but we accept that risk. If the risk is doubled, let the consumer decide whether a higher insurance rate (and personal risk) is warranted versus rewiring. We typically make risk judgements everyday in our investments, the safety worthiness of our modes of transportation, how many calories we consume and what vices we indulge in, etc. That said if updating the breaker box is worthwhile to you personally, do it. I added a whole house surge protector this year, primarily because it was low cost (provided and installed by my utility) versus a modest chance of something bad happening and a radon mitigation system to assuage spouse (a test showed level's occasionally above the arbitrary acceptable level set by government). The first added value, while the second is questionable given the uncertainty of risk and fluctuating data, but added value in comforting spouse and possibly future buyers. I should add that in my county radon mitigation is a rarity and not expected to be an issue.

I am not questioning anyone's personal decisions, just those decisions that are made for us.

ironman
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by ironman » Mon Jan 13, 2020 4:58 pm

Carl53 wrote:
Mon Jan 13, 2020 4:36 pm
There are homes out there with knob and tube wiring that are quite functional.
Slightly off topic but I agree, knob and tube is not inherently bad and is permitted by the NEC to be maintained and extended. The fact remains that if/when a homeowner wants to sell their property, very few buyers will accept the system and insurance companies may(?) not offer insurance policies unless it is updated. I would view knob and tube wiring as major detractor for a seller; not so much if a home lacked AFCI's. I suspect very few buyers care about AFCI technology. In 50 years we will have good data to analyze their effectiveness...

suemarkp
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Location: Kent, WA

Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by suemarkp » Mon Jan 13, 2020 10:56 pm

I agree. I'm only adding AFCI's because I have to (required to make panel related changes when changing a panel, such as current grounding requirements and AFCIs).
Mark | Kent, WA

MadHungarian
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by MadHungarian » Tue Jan 14, 2020 2:12 am

boomer_techie wrote:
Sat Jan 11, 2020 12:57 am
AFCI's and GFCI's will only work when the circuit's neutral comes back to the same breaker as the hot. A lot of older wiring may co-mingle the neutral routing. For example, a breaker feeds hot to a light switch. The switch feeds the switched hot to a light. The light fixture picks up a neutral from some nearby receptacle. It can be "impossible" to add these new breakers to those circuits.
That's the case with my house, for example. It's not that old really, built in 2000, just before AFCI, but they used shared neutrals on all the 120V circuits, so i can't retrofit AFCI breakers. Caused me a bunch of grief when i later installed a generator transfer-switch box, because even though i should've pulled a permit, i didn't dare pull the permit at the time due to fear i might get a nasty inspector who'd demand all the wiring in the house be yanked out and redone to bring things up to (AFCI) code. Which wasn't going to happen! I've thought about going back for a permit since, but unfortunately my local jurisdiction uses permit pulling as a trigger for the dreaded re-appraisal & large tax increase. Ends up being a VERY expensive permit. I wish that local VHCOL jurisdictions wouldn't put ordinary citizens in these impossible situations where the citizen can't afford to comply.

suemarkp
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Location: Kent, WA

Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by suemarkp » Tue Jan 14, 2020 9:34 am

You can probably retrofit AFCIs, but it will be quite costly. You just need the 2 pole independent trip ones and they cost more than two single pole AFCI breakers. Most vendors make them, but you will probably have to order them.
Mark | Kent, WA

brianH
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Re: Updating breaker box from 1970's - AFCI

Post by brianH » Tue Jan 14, 2020 4:49 pm

I guess the one good side to new NEC requiring arc-fault almost everywhere is that the cost of the breakers should come down. GFCI receptacles are now less than $15, and more reliable and slightly smaller than they used to be.

My Homeline panel is a 20 space 40 circuit, and I use tandems extensively, so AFCI breakers are not in my future anytime soon. I sleep just fine, because I've gone around and replaced almost every receptacle and switch (no more backstabbing) and inspected wiring, proper grounding, and boxes as I went. Avoiding high-draw items like space heaters is another biggie.

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