About Outlet Branch Circuit AFCI Devices

Outlet Branch Circuit (OBC) AFCI Devices are an alternative solution to AFCI Breakers. These devices are designed to help prevent electrical fires that can be caused by potentially dangerous arc-faults in an electrical circuit. An arc-fault is an unintentional arcing condition that occurs in an electrical circuit. Arcing can create high intensity heat, which may over time ignite surrounding material such as wood framing or insulation. Arcing may be caused by damaged wires behind a wall or damaged cords that are plugged into an outlet.


OBC AFCI Devices address the dangers associated with both types of potentially hazardous arcing – parallel and series. They offer the benefit of localized TEST and RESET, with these buttons located on the face of the device itself. This is very convenient, making the device easily accessible to reset. In addition, indicator lights in the device face that communicate a miswired or end-of-life condition also serve to provide an immediate status of protection. Because this status indicator is at the point of use, corrective action is more likely to take place quickly should protection be compromised.

What does an OBC AFCI Device do?

OBC AFCI Devices contain electronic components within the device that constantly monitor a circuit for the presence of “normal” and “dangerous” arcing conditions.  Based upon an established threshold of arc energy, the OBC AFCI can be triggered to quickly react and cut power to a circuit if “dangerous” arcing is detected.  Below are examples of “normal” arcing, which is typically safe, and “dangerous” arcing:

  •  Low Energy/Operational Arcs – Typically Safe
    •  Naturally occur when contact or switch opens/closes
    •  When a motor with brushes runs
    •  Generated by household appliances such as refrigerators, air conditioners, tools, or fans
  •  High Energy/Hazardous Arcs – Potentially Dangerous
    •  When insulation on a wire has been damaged
    •  Loose connections that expose wire
    •  Loose connections where wires separate causing an arc to jump from one place to another

When installed as the first outlet on a branch circuit, OBC AFCI Devices provide series arc protection for the entire branch circuit. They also provide parallel arc protection for the branch circuit starting at the OBC AFCI outlet. OBC AFCI Devices may be used on any wiring system regardless of the panel and are ideal for older homes, which often have electrical panels that are not compatible with AFCI breakers. OBC AFCI Devices allow for easy retrofits and upgrades, as they are compact enough to fit into existing device boxes

Where would I use an OBC AFCI DEVICE?

The 2014 National Electrical Code® mandates AFCI protection in:

• Kitchens• Family rooms• Dining rooms
• Living rooms• Parlors• Libraries
• Dens• Bedrooms• Sunrooms
• Closets• Hallways• Laundry areas
• Recreation Rooms

Dormitory units (This requirement may be accomplished by using OBC AFCI Devices for modifications/extensions, as replacement receptacles or in new construction)

OBC AFCI Devices and the National Electrical Code Requirements

The Code differs depending on the type of installation. The graphics below illustrate and explain the Code for new construction, modifications or extensions, and replacement receptacles.

What type of installation are you doing?


New Branch Circuit – NEC 210.12(A)

Covers new branch circuits originating from the panel. AFCI protection for all 15A and 20A, 120V branch circuits outlets in designated locations.



Modifications or extension to an existing branch circuit – NEC 210.12(B)

AFCI protection needs to be added when modifying or extending existing branch circuits in locations designated in 210.12(A). Not required if extension of circuit is less than 6ft. and does not include outlets or devices.



Changing out an existing receptacle – NEC 406.4(D)

Covers replacement of any receptacles in those locations designated in 210.12 that are not currently AFCI protected.



OBC AFCI devices and GFCI devices look very similar but provide very different protection. It is important to understand the difference as outlined in the table below.

Provide the protection from electrical fires that
could result from arc-faults.
Protect users from shocks and electrocution
Detects potentially hazardous arc- faults
and quickly cuts off power
Cuts off power if a ground fault is detected.


It is also important to be clear on where AFCI and GFCI protection is required in a residence.

Family RoomDen
Dining RoomOffice
Living RoomHallways
SunroomRec Rooms
LibraryLaundry Rooms
KitchenSimilar Areas
Kitchen*AFCI technology is also required in college dormitories
Pool Area 
Laundry Rooms 


OBC AFCI Devices are available in the following models:

15Amp and 20 AmpBenefitApplications
Standard OBC AFCI1Provides protection for branch circuit wiring and anything that is plugged into that outlet. Utilizing an AFCI outlet offers the benefit of localized TEST and REST. No need to go to the breaker box. Tamper-Resistant models block access to the contacts unless a two-prong plug is inserted.Can be used in most areas of the home as the first outlet in the branch circuit.
Combination OBC AFCI/Switch13Provides AFCI protection and the convenience of a single pole switch to the control lights.To be used for new circuits or modifications to existing circuits where a switch will be the first outlet in the branch circuit.
Blank Face (or Dead Front) OBC AFCI12Can be used for outlet branch circuits where AFCI protection is desired but is located in a location where an outlet is not desired. This could include installing in a location to make AFCI protection “readily accessible” per code requirements or on circuits that are feeding lighting loads.May be used on circuits feeding lighting load and smoke detector where an outlet is not used.

For more on wiring devices like receptacles, switches, occupancy sensors and others visit www.nemawiringdevices.org.

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