Are Arc-Fault Breakers Required on Lighting Circuits?

September 20, 2018

The answer? Well, it depends.

If you’re installing a new circuit or replacing an old one, you need arc-fault protection on all 15- and 20-amp circuits that supply power to outlets in:

  • Dwelling unit family rooms
  • Dining rooms
  • Living rooms
  • Parlors
  • Libraries
  • Dens
  • Bedrooms
  • Sun rooms
  • Recreation rooms
  • Closets

Basically, if the light fixtures (or the switch controlling them) on your 15- or 20-amp circuit are located in any living space or “dwelling area,” you need to add an AFCI breaker.

We’ll explain in more detail below.

Note: The AFCI requirements listed above are a part of the 2014 updates to the 210.12 NEC code. The complete code verbiage can be found here.

Need a professional’s opinion on whether your specific lighting outlet needs AFCI protection?

Heads up: The NEC defines an “outlet” as…

“...a point on the wiring system at which current is taken to supply utilization equipment.”

So why do we point this out? Well, this is where most homeowners get confused. They assume that because their hardwired lighting circuit doesn’t technically use an outlet (aka receptacle) for power, they don’t need to add AFCI protection to the circuit—even if the light fixtures on the circuit are located in one of the spaces/rooms listed in the intro.

But according to NEC’s definition, a hardwired lighting circuit still needs an AFCI breaker because it supplies electrical current to light fixtures and is therefore considered an “outlet.”

But you’ll also want to pay attention to where the light switches on your circuit are located.

For example, a basement lighting circuit powered by a switch located in the dining room would require arc-fault protection (basements aren’t an area required for AFCI protection but a dining room is).

The only time you wouldn’t need to add an AFCI breaker to a 15- or 20-amp circuit is if the light fixtures—and the switches to those fixtures—are located in rooms not mentioned above, such as:

  • Basements
  • Garages
  • Attics
  • etc.

The exception to the rule? Existing circuits

The AFCI requirement for 15- and 20-amp circuits took effect at the beginning of 2014. That means that any circuits that were already installed before January 1, 2014 do not need to be retrofitted with AFCI protection.

Only new and replacement circuits/outlets need AFCI-protection added.

For example, if you’re remodeling your Denver home and need to add in a new 15- or 20-amp lighting circuit in the locations listed above, you need to install an AFCI breaker.

Have more AFCI questions? Ask a Denver electrician

Whether you need an AFCI breaker installed or have more questions about your electrical system, we can help.

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