A device that has been preventing electrical fires for more than a decade overseas is now available for New Zealand homes.
Protecting our homes and our families from fire is something we do without question. Installing smoke alarms and having fire extinguishers on hand can bring peace of mind, but what if you could avoid the potential for electrical fire in the first place?
If a smoke alarm is the ambulance at the bottom of the burning cliff, the Arc Fault Detection Device (AFDD) from Schneider Electric is the fence at the top and it’s now available in New Zealand.
“The AFDD will prevent fire,” says Schneider Electric’s Simon Grose. “An electrical fault won’t get to the point where it can catch fire. It’ll stop it long before that.”
While homeowners routinely have circuit breakers and residual current devices as part of their switchboards, these only protect against short circuits, overloads and fatal electric shocks, they don’t prevent all electrical fires. With the growing number of appliances plugged in around our homes and left on all the time – such as phone chargers, gaming consoles and computers – the threat of fire caused by dangerous electrical arcs in wiring is a very real one. Up until now these sorts of fires have been impossible to detect until too late, but they are the sorts of fires AFDDs are designed specifically to prevent.
An AFDD installed in your switchboard monitors the electrical arcs that occur as part of daily electricity usage on the circuits throughout your home. It looks for abnormal or dangerous arcs, and will trip to isolate any faulty branch circuit before it can cause a fire. The technology behind it is so good that AFDDs have been compulsory for more than a decade in homes in the USA and Canada.
Dangerous arcs can occur in damaged cables, poor connections or simply old wiring. Insulation that is damaged or old can let current leak out, generating heat and carbonizing the material around it, which in turn becomes more conductive and generates a bigger arc.
Our everyday living also increases the likelihood of dangerous arcs – squashing a cable underneath furniture, piling multi-boxes behind a desk or television or pushing a bed up against a plug in the wall can all create potentially dangerous situations that simply aren’t visible to us. Because all of this is happening within a cable, inside a socket or behind a wall it has been virtually impossible to detect until the cable and socket eventually catch fire.
“With an arc, you would never notice it happening,” says Simon Grose. “It can start off so small and in an inconspicuous place – behind the wall in a bad connection, or on what we call ‘unattended loads’. The cabling behind your tv is an unattended load. It’s on all the time, on standby while we go to work; or in the bedroom it’s an electric blanket, or your alarm clock… these are places where cables can get damaged. Those are the unattended loads that can sit there smouldering and it could take days for the thing to catch fire and you would never know it was happening.”
But an AFDD would. It monitors circuits in real time and picks up information that indicates the occurrence of a dangerous electric arc, then trips to isolate it before the cable or socket can ignite. AFDDs can be installed in existing switchboards by an electrician as a blanket installation across all your circuits, or just on the high risk ones, which are bedrooms and living areas.
For homeowners faced with the prospect of rewiring their house in order to placate insurers, installation of AFDDs will solve the issue of potential electrical fire. The new devices will also benefit landlords, who have no control over the loads plugged into their properties, as AFDDs work to protect tenants and the house itself.
Simon Grose says feedback from home owners so far has been hugely positive. “When you explain to people what an AFDD is and what is does, their chins are on the floor and they say: ‘If I’m building a new house, why wouldn’t I put one of these in? What’s an extra $300 compared with the cost and danger of the house catching fire?”
Arc Fault Detection devices were launched into the New Zealand market earlier this month.
Talk to your electrician about installing PDL by Schneider Electric’s Arc Fault Detection Devices into your home’s switchboard.
Click here for more information.