Nuisance Trips on New-Fangled Circuit Breakers

I've got three arc fault breakers that trip out once in a while for no good reason. Vacuum does it for sure. Mystery trip on two of them the other day, maybe associated with a blip from high winds. Maybe.

I understand that for new construction, you're gonna get a panel full of these beauties as well as combos with gfi as well.

I was going to try replacing the three, since apparently they're an evolving technology and these are circa 2003. Each one is 50 bucks! The old style is 5 bucks.

So, you're not home, there's a little utility blip, and your mission critical stuff drops off. Fabulous.

I wonder if I should be hoarding the old style.

In my opinion the arc-fault breakers exist because a company was looking to expand their bottom line. Created this questionable device and SOLD** it to the NEC committee.

This is sometimes stated as "a solution looking for a problem".

And if you complain to the company who made the breaker they will point to the installer. And vice versa.

I know an electrician the simply will not put on on this freezer.

** in this case the works SOLD suggest $$ going to the seller. I suspect it was the reverse.

You could complain the the NEC. They have reversed things before, however I doubt it will happen here.

just my ¢


As an electrician. Before replacing the breakers. I would check what devices are connected to those breakers and see if you could simulate the trip. Vacuum, fan, ballast lighting usually trip them. Arc breakers are usually use in bedroom plugs so in theory you should not see then randomly trip unless you have the above devices in that circuit.
I do understand we think of them as a money making scheme but they are there to prevent fire as well. I have them in my home and have no issue unless there is a surge or we plug something related to the things I mentioned above.
Saying all that. I did replace a few for clients for faulty or too sensitive as well.
You shouldn't plug critical systems in them. Not a HE hub without a ups for sure.


While I no doubt in theory they may prevent fires. I question the documented success of such a device. Its my OPINION that arc fault breakers are a technically marginal device that HASN'T actually prevented a fire.

I would compare it to the mfg of metal suites for people to save them in case they were hit by lightning.

Everything today has a risk associated with it. Medications, crossing the street etc. We get to chose those but the NEC is FORCING a marginal technology on us in the name of "..... it could possibly maybe prevent a fire...." In the meantime while on vacation the food in my freezer is rotting away, all in the name of "could possibly".

Again my opinion.

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Or, you could just stay home.

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I was having the same problem with a couple arc-fault breakers in my house built ~2005. The vacuum tripped them pretty reliably, but it woundn't trip the arc-fault breakers in other bedrooms.

When I replaced them with new arc-fault breakers, the problem went away. While they are annoyingly pricey, it seems they can kind-of flake out over the years.


UPS is typically for graceful shutdowns. So, the wind is blowing, you're hundreds of miles away, a utility blip occurs, and a bunch of circuits don't work. That would suck if the power is really still on.

I've read that the new code requires them for mostly everything now.

Shivering in the dark. That'd be the ultimate. I'd be safe from electric arcs though.


This is the same argument about smoke detector and false alarms as well.
I agree some of the stuffs in the NEC need improvement and like you said. You can always contact them and voice your opinion and hope they will investigate deeper but when it comes to life saving devices. Lawyers and engineers will stay away with a ten feet pole on that dotted line.

UPS also provide power filtering. I've found my WIFI routers die much less quickly when on a UPS for example.

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If you can't run a vacuum cleaner on your bedroom outlet then the system is broken. Or a fan, or air conditioner, or lighting. Those are completely ordinary loads; a breaker that supports only toy loads (chargers, clocks, and bedside lights, I guess?) is not satisfactory.


Definitely not to our satisfactory. I mention them so we can isolate if they are the cause of the issue and why or is the breaker faulty.

Doing some reading, it looks like some of these things can have their firmware upgraded. Most can't. Geez, upgrading the firmware on a residential circuit breaker.

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All that points out is something is broken. The issue could be the vacuum.

In our previous home I replaced our aging panelboard and installed arc fault breakers on the circuits serving the outlets in the house. I had one circuit that would immediately trip when it was powered/reset. I hadn’t had any issues with any outlets working previously. In digging into it I found a wire in one of the outlet boxes had been ever so slightly squeezed between the duplex mounting tab and the box. This nearly cut through the insulation. It wasn’t enough to be a full short circuit, but it was enough for the arc fault device to sense it. Once I fixed that, I never had any more issues.

I’m glad I put them in and will do so the next time I install a new panelboard. I hate to think of what might have happened if I hadn’t installed the arc-fault breakers.

BTW, I like the plug-on-neutral panelboards. Much easier to work with, especially when installing a lot of arc-fault or gfci breakers.

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Okay, can't possibly argue your arc-fault breaker didn't identify a real problem! Good.

Still bothers me that they are legally forcing us to buy breakers costing 10x as much, which many people find give false trips a lot, and which require (so far as I can tell) a box upgrade in most old installations (old installations I'm familiar with tend strongly towards having "double" breakers in many of the slots, and if arc-faults are available in doubles I haven't found them; you need that less in a modern 200-amp installation, they come with bigger boxes).

This feels like the wrong cost vs. safety tradeoff. Tens of thousands sounds high -- but it's not clear an arc-fault breaker would stop them all, and also in a country of 350 million people, thousands is actually a very low rate. Taking a low rate down to an even lower rate is one of the most expensive things to do, and there are often more beneficial ways to use the resources.


If companies who make these breakers had to pay for lost food in a freezer if their breaker trips falsely things would be different. Or perhaps a recall like the automotive industry. I have no illusion this will ever happen.

I agree with dd-b. My little investigation suggests the technology $$ would be better spend on:

  • Gas Generators (CO sensors with auto shutdown)
  • Room heaters
  • Kitchen appliances
  • Stoves where the range hood would have fire extinguishing capability.

I am of the belief that the above technical solutions would not bring in the $$ that arc fault will bring AND they are more likely to be sued for non performance if a fire occurs in an installation with their technology.

BTW I am not a conspiracy theorist. I believe many "mandated" requirements have been unbelievely beneficial.

  • Original seat belt requirement
  • Auto emissions. Anybody who lives in or travels to LA can attest to the benefits of their CARB requirement.
  • etc

I just don't think this product is in the category of "so helpful its worth the effort / cost"

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Not really sure where you get this number from.

I do get the perspective of companies creating something that increases revenue and working to make that a required item in code. I am sure that there are company executives who push for codes changes for this reason.

There are hundred of volunteers on these committees. I have talked with some who are on those code committees. There are a lot of committee members who do not have a vested interest in how this or that technology increases any company’s bottom line. They truly care about how any particular issue up for discussion increases safety of people and property, and try to balance that against the negative impact on living our lives and conducting business. Are some code requirements a royal pain in the :horse: ? Yup. Does that in and of itself make it a bad requirement? Nope.

What some of you are questioning is their comparison of the implementation cost of a code change vs the cost of the loss of property and lives if the code change is not made. That is a difficult challenge for anyone to take on. Insurance actuaries have numbers for this, but how do you answer the question “How much is a life worth?”

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The number 40,000 was given in a 1998 Consumer Product Safety Commission study, and seems to be widely repeated. (Do note that it's often repeated as if it were the number of arc-fault preventable fires, whereas so far as I can tell it's merely the total number of fires; this kind of sloppiness turns up everywhere I try to learn anything real about arc-fault breakers, which contributes to my skepticism).

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Its a tough call I admit. I also believe the mindset of folks on basically and electrical safety committee will lean toward safety. However there is always the risk of going overboard (which itself is an opinion).

A general example of what worries me with regard to regulations:
I'm told in Australia it is illegal for a homeowner to change a switch or receptacle. I have to believe this was pushed very hard by the electricians union. I could imagine they came up with the same argument as we hear for the arc-fault devices.

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