How to Replace an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter Without Calling an Electrician

How to Replace an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter Without Calling an Electrician

Replacing an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) without calling an electrician can be done safely and easily if you follow some basic guidelines. As an electrically savvy homeowner, I have replaced several AFCIs in my home and can share my step-by-step process.

Understanding Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters

Before replacing an AFCI, it's important to understand what they are and how they work.

AFCIs are a special type of circuit breaker that detects dangerous electrical arcing in a circuit and quickly shuts off power to prevent electrical fires. Arcing occurs when electricity jumps across a gap between conductors, which can happen due to damaged wires, loose connections, or overheated cords.

The key difference between AFCIs and standard circuit breakers is that standard breakers only detect overloads and short circuits, while AFCIs can also sense hazardous arcing before it leads to a fire. This makes them an important safety upgrade to electrical systems.

AFCIs monitor the current and voltage patterns on a circuit. When they detect the unique signatures of arcing, they instantly trip and cut power. This difference in how they monitor electricity is what allows them to detect dangerous arcing.

Gathering the Right Replacement AFCI

Before I start any electrical project, the first step is always to gather the correct replacement part and verify it will work properly in my home's electrical system.

For an AFCI, the key specifications I verify are:

I always purchase a new, UL certified AFCI model from a reputable brand. Used or reconditioned AFCIs can be unreliable, so I avoid those to be safe. The minor cost savings aren't worth the risk.

Turning Off Power and Removing the Old AFCI

With the new AFCI in hand, I follow these steps to remove the old one and safely work on the circuit:

With the old AFCI removed, I now have access to safely work on the wiring.

Installing the New AFCI

Installing the new AFCI is the reverse process of removal:

Once installed, I don't turn the breaker on yet. I first conduct safety checks.

Performing Safety Checks

Before restoring power, I always perform a few important safety checks:

Once these checks are complete, I can safely turn the breaker back on.

Testing Operation and Troubleshooting

As the final step, I test the AFCI's operation:

With the AFCI working properly, installation is complete. Taking the time to follow safety precautions means I can change out AFCIs without needing an electrician!