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The three receptacle circuits in my house are 2-wire NM, but have 3-prong receptacles. My electrician recommended and installed GFCI breakers to provide "grounding" to these circuits. I now realize that arc-fault protection on these circuits would be a good-idea for safety. The wiring for the branch circuits was not being "modified, replaced, or extended" (NEC 210.12(B)), so I don't think AFCI is technically required by code, but I am surprised the electrician didn't recommend it in addition to GFCI protection.

I can call the electrician to come back and fix, but I'd like to know what my options are in advance. I think the options are:

  1. Replace GFCI breakers with CAFCI breakers and add GFCI receptacles to the first-outlet on each circuit. (Cost: 3x$50 + 3x$20 = $210 plus labor)
  2. Keep GFCI breakers and add AFCI receptacles to the first-outlet on each circuit (allowed by 210.12(B)(2) and 406.4(D)(2)). (Cost: 3x$30 = $90).
  3. Replace GFCI breakers with Dual Function AFCI/GFCI breakers. May not be available for my GE panel. GE makes them, but I don't see them available for purchase anywhere.

Option 2 sounds nice, but I haven't heard of this before and the NEC appears to be ambiguous on this specific situation. AFCISafety.org also appears to be ambiguous:

An AFCI can be used in conjunction with GFCI protection to provide both arcing fault protection as well as 5mA ground fault (people) protection. A common way to provide both types of protection is to use an AFCI circuit breaker and a GFCI receptacle.

Am I missing anything?

  • Update: One of the GFCI breakers failed, so when purchasing a replacement, I discovered dual function AFCI/GFCI breakers (Option 3) for sale at the store (actually less expensive than the comparable GFCI-only breaker), so I put one of those in. – littleturtle Nov 8 '16 at 14:37
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First off. The only way to provide proper "grounding", is to install a grounding conductor from the panel to each outlet. Providing AFCI and GFCI protection to the circuits is helpful, but these devices will not provide "grounding".

If you switch from 2-prong receptacles to 3-prong on these circuits, you should not connect anything to the grounding screw of the receptacles. You should also (technically) install labels at each outlet that read "GFCI protection" and "No Equipment Ground". Though, these labels aren't common in residential situations.


  1. Replace GFCI breakers with CAFCI breakers and add GFCI receptacles to the first-outlet on each circuit.

This is probably going to be your best bet. In this scenario, the CAFCI breaker provides protection to the entire circuit. The GFCI protection being at the first outlet, means that while the wiring from the panel to this location is not protected, the rest of the circuit is protected.

  1. Keep GFCI breakers and add AFCI receptacles to the first-outlet on each circuit.

This isn't a terrible option, although the AFCI device will not be protecting the wiring between the panel and the device. Also note that an AFCI device only detects line to ground arcs (parallel arcs), while a CAFCI device detects both line to ground and line to line arcs (parallel and series arcs).

  1. Replace GFCI breakers with Dual Function AFCI/GFCI breakers.

If you could actually find these (and could afford them), this would probably be your best course of action. Unfortunately, these devices probably don't exists (yet) from most manufacturers.

  • Eaton, GE, Square-D, and Siemens all list dual-function AFCI/GFCI breakers on their websites -- I have seen the Siemens and Eaton units available for sale online, as well. – ThreePhaseEel Jan 26 '15 at 23:33
  • @ThreePhaseEel, yes, I linked to the GE "DFCI" in my question, but can't find it for sale online. – littleturtle Jan 27 '15 at 2:55
  • @littleturtle -- try contacting GE directly, they may be able to point you at someone who carries it. Also, your local electrical supply house may be able to special-order it in from GE directly... – ThreePhaseEel Jan 27 '15 at 4:28
  • Update: One of the GFCI breakers failed, so when purchasing a replacement, I discovered dual function AFCI/GFCI breakers (Option 3) for sale at the store (actually less expensive than the comparable GFCI-only breaker), so I put one of those in. – littleturtle Nov 8 '16 at 14:40
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I'd recommend option 1 or 3 -- AFCI receptacles are much more limited in their functionality than CAFCI breakers are, due to the receptacle being further downstream in the circuit. Also, not all installations conform to the requirements for installing AFCI receptaclesEDIT: the Code I quoted is for new installs only, 210.12(B)(2) permits receptacle AFCIs in retrofit work. Still, I would lean towards the CAFCI-breaker approach, AFCI receptacles can't protect the whole circuit.

(2014 NEC, 210.12(A)(4) through (A)(6)):

(4) A listed outlet branch-circuit type arc-fault circuit interrupter installed at the first outlet on the branch circuit in combination with a listed branch-circuit overcurrent protective device where all of the following conditions are met:

a. The branch-circuit wiring shall be continuous from the branch-circuit overcurrent device to the outlet branch-circuit arc-fault circuit interrupter.

b. The maximum length of the branch-circuit wiring from the branch-circuit overcurrent device to the first outlet shall not exceed 15.2 m (50 ft) for a 14 AWG conductor or 21.3 m (70 ft) for a 12 AWG conductor.

c. The first outlet box in the branch circuit shall be marked to indicate that it is the first outlet of the circuit.

d. The combination of the branch-circuit overcurrent device and outlet branch- circuit AFCI shall be identified as meeting the requirements for a system combination-type AFCI and shall be listed as such.

(5) If RMC, IMC, EMT, Type MC, or steel-armored Type AC cables meeting the requirements of 250.118, metal wireways, metal auxiliary gutters, and metal outlet and junction boxes are installed for the portion of the branch circuit between the branch-circuit overcurrent device and the first outlet, it shall be permitted to install a listed outlet branch-circuit type AFCI at the first outlet to provide protection for the remaining portion of the branch circuit.

(6) Where a listed metal or nonmetallic conduit or tubing or Type MC cable is encased in not less than 50 mm (2 in.) of concrete for the portion of the branch circuit between the branch-circuit overcurrent device and the first outlet, it shall be permitted to install a listed outlet branch-circuit type AFCI at the first outlet to provide protection for the remaining portion of the branch circuit.

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    Thanks, that is helpful. Your point about requirements does not apply to existing branch circuit wiring, which is allowed to have AFCI protection at the first receptacle regardless of cable/conduit type, as described in 210.12(B)(2). – littleturtle Jan 25 '15 at 22:50
  • Good catch -- didn't see that. – ThreePhaseEel Jan 25 '15 at 23:39

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