The National Electric Code (NEC), like all other building codes, is a living document, continuously changing on a scheduled three-year cycle. The NEC evolves based on real world experiences in electrical failures, introduction of new technologies, public perception or fear of publicized accidents, changes in other building codes, and societal changes or expectation of home safety. Since the introduction of ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) technology, the NEC has, and continues, to expand the locations and types of equipment required to be protected.
GFCI protection was initially developed in the 1950s and 60s in response to the annual number of reported electrocutions in American homes. Initially, ground-fault circuit interrupters were installed on swimming pool lights beginning in 1968, and later expanded to outdoor receptacles in 1971. These first attempts at electrical protection were focused on locations exposed to water. Since then, various code cycles have substantially expanded GFCI protection both inside and outside the home. Today, all 125-volt, single phase, 15 and 20-ampere electrical branch circuits located in bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, crawl spaces, unfinished basements, garages, outdoors, boat houses, and any location with 6-feet of a sink, bathtub, or shower stall require ground-fault circuit interrupter protection. Additionally, specific types of equipment and electrical circuits need ground-fault protection. The most notable examples are kitchen dishwashing equipment, boat hoists, pool lighting and pumping equipment, hot tubs and spas equipment, jetted bathtubs, and more recently, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and direct-current photovoltaic (PV) solar systems.
National Electric Code 2020 Changes to GFCI Protection
Although the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) already published the 2020 NEC, as of this writing, nearly all jurisdictions in the Kansas City region have adopted and currently operate under the 2017 NEC as the code standard for electrical work. Generally, code making organizations, such as the NFPA, develop and publish codes every three years. Therefore, Authority Having Jurisdictions (AHJs) must make decisions as to adopt, modify, skip, or delay adopting a new code cycle every three years. There are a variety of reasons an AHJ may choose not to adopt a new version of the code. Code revisions may contain mandates for the use of new technology not readily available in the market or yet proven to be reliable, such was the case with the introduction of AFCIs in 1999. New codes may pose a significant economic impact to the community if the mandate was enforced, the introduction for required residential fire sprinklers or the mandatory testing of building air-tightness are all recent examples. Finally, a new code provision may affect other systems’ operation throughout a home, such as the new GFCI requirements.
The 2020 NEC code cycle, further expanded ground fault circuit protection with the creation of section 210.8(F) which requires all outdoor receptacles supplied by a single-phase electrical branch circuit rated 150-volts to ground or less, and 50 amperes or less to have GFCI protection. The addition of GFCI protection for outdoor heating and cooling equipment was supported by the code panel based on a fatal electrocution of a young boy who touched the outside case of an air-conditioner that had become energized. This sweeping change now means 240-volt circuits supplying electricity to heating and cooling equipment must be protected (240 volts line to line is 120 volts line to ground). Since the introduction of this new code, real world field experience discovered growing evidence that current GFCI technology creates significant nuisance tripping in heating and cooling equipment, effectively rendering equipment inoperable. Nuisance tripping is particularly frequent with comfort cooling systems equipped with variable speed compressors, or electrically commutated motors, and inverter technology. An industry wide research project has been launched by Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) to address the new NEC code requirement and compatibility with high-efficient comfort cooling systems. Additionally, at least 11 U.S. states have amended out or removed this new provision. The benefit of providing electric shock protection has been found not to outweigh the risk associated with people losing air-conditioning during the extreme heat waves. This is particularly true for older persons, infants and anyone with medical conditions or need power for medical devices. More on this as industry updates are available, but remember, the Kansas City region still operates on the 2017 NEC, therefore, as of now, we are not yet affected by this change.
Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter Receptacles Special Requirements
Depending on the GFCI receptacle location some special circumstances must be considered. Section 406.9(A) of the NEC requires weather-resistive (WR) GFCI receptacles be installed in outdoor locations that are considered wet or damp. A damp location is generally protected from direct saturation of water and subject to only moderate quantities of moisture such as outlets under a canopy, or roofed porch. This requirement covers all 15 and 20-amp 125 and 250-volt outdoor receptacles. The importance of this requirement lies in durability of the receptacle. A WR GFCI receptacle is constructed with metal components less likely to corrode and more resistant to water damage, as well as enhanced plastics and nylon offering better resistance against ultra-violet (UV) degradation. These measures offer a more durable device ensuring longer service life and safer operation, particularly where water is involved.
Since 2008, the NEC, specifically section 406.12, specifies all 125-volt, 15 and 20-amp receptacles installed in various locations throughout a home must be rated tamper-resistant receptacles (TRR). This electrical code change was implemented as a response to the more than 2,400 severe shock and burn incidents involving children each year. The intent of this requirement is to protect children from electric shock or electrocution in the event they placed a metal object inside a receptacle slot. The receptacles are equipped with an internal spring-loaded shutter mechanism that will not allow objects to be accidentally inserted into a single receptacle slot, such as a hairpin, fork, key, paper clip, nail, screw, or other small objects. The mechanism requires all three plug prongs be inserted simultaneously to open the receptacle slots.
When selecting a ground-fault circuit interrupter receptacle, the location of installation matters. Best practices dictate, outdoor GFCIs should be rated both weather resistant and tamper resistant, while indoor GFCI receptacles should be tamper resistant.
Home Performance Group GFCI Installation in Kansas City
Interested in installing ground-fault protection? Consider hiring an electrical professional with expert knowledge to properly inspect, test, replace, and install ground-fault protection in your home. A small upfront investment in prudent contractor selection can protect your home, and family.
At Home Performance Group, we continue to invest in technical electrical training so we can provide cutting edge protection to homeowners. We have performed numerous electrical projects for our clients.
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Article by Larry L. Motley Jr., 13 December 2021
Larry is a graduate of both Wentworth Military Academy and Missouri Western State University earning a double bachelor’s degree in Economics and Finance. Additionally, he maintains six professional tradesman licenses in two states and advanced credentialing in green technology, project and program management, and process improvement. Larry is a three-time combat veteran having served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Inherent Resolve. He continues to serve through a value-based building science company focused on providing clients the best design, highest quality installation, and most honest repair services in the community.
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