Can Arc Flash Happen in Residential Settings?
Arc flash is an explosion of heat and light that results from electrical current travelling through the air from one conductor to another. It creates an arc between the two, giving the phenomenon its name. It typically produces an intense flash of light, followed by severe heat that can create temperatures up to 19,000 degrees celsius.
In industrial and larger commercial settings, it’s commonplace to wear dedicated PPE with arc flash protection, such as arc flash boiler suits which protect against burns, shrapnel, hazardous vapours, and intense light and sound. However, many electricians don’t wear PPE in ‘safer’ residential settings. Is arc flash PPE really needed when working in a domestic space? Can arc flash happen in the home?
The Risk of Arc Flash in the Home
The truth is that arc flash can occur anywhere that an arc fault is present. And that includes the home. How likely a residential arc flash is, of course, is a different story.
Generally speaking, arc flash is incredibly unlikely to occur at standard household voltages, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) states that there is very little risk of arc flash in residential electrical systems under 240 Volts.
However, it’s also important to remember that, over in the US, the National Fire Protection’s 2009 edition of its Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace stated that arc flash analysis for transformers under 125 kVA was unnecessary, before removing the statement in the 2021 edition having discovered that transformers smaller than 125 kVA are still capable of sustaining an arc. It’s worth thinking about.
Arc faults can occur in the home for a number of reasons, including:
- Damage to wiring when mounting decor to walls
- Damage to plugs by furniture or pets
- Overheated electrical wiring under carpets
- Loose connections
- Improper installation or work by a previous electrician
- Use of damaged equipment
- Collection of dust and debris on electrical conductors
- Poor electrical maintenance
These risks are unlikely to cause arc flash. But it can - and does - happen. Fortunately, due to the lower voltage in the home, a residential arc flash event is unlikely to be the spectacle it is in industrial settings. While an industrial arc flash can cause a huge explosion, a residential arc flash may produce just a very brief flash of light.
However, it could still be more than enough to cause injury, which is why it’s always vital to ensure that you’re wearing suitable workwear and PPE, whatever the setting.