AUTHOR: Derek Vigstol


Code Revision Highlights to Help (You) Make the Transition to the Latest Edition of the NEC

As of March 1, 2020, Massachusetts was the only state working off of the newest edition of NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC). However, there are 16 states that have started the process of shifting to the 2020 NEC and joining Massachusetts in enforcing the latest requirements for safe electrical installations. This means that over the next few months, those who will be responsible for installing electrical systems will need to learn and understand the changes between their previous edition and the 2020 NEC. Depending on the type of work that they do, this might be a lot or they might do work in an area that was minimally affected by the most recent revisions. What areas of electrical installations were most affected by the 2020 revisions? Let's take a look at a few of the corners of the electrical industry that were the most impacted and the changes installers really need to be aware of and understand. We can start in residential-type occupancies as many of the more significant changes took place in areas that either only apply to dwelling units or have an impact on dwelling units in another way. The following list is a few of the big changes directly related to dwelling units that installers will need to know: The expansion of GFCI—In dwelling units, GFCI protection for personnel has been expanded to include any receptacle rated up to 250 volts in the areas listed in 210.8(A). The list of areas requiring GFCI protection has also been revised to include all areas of a basement, not just the unfinished spaces or areas not intended for use as habitable rooms. Lastly, outdoor outlets up to 50 amperes will need GFCI protection as well on systems that are 150 volts to ground or less, which is most residential systems. This applies to both receptacle outlets and hardwired outlets, with the exceptions of snow melting equipment and outdoor lighting. The emergency disconnect—One- and two-family dwelling units are now required to have a disconnect mounted in a readily accessible, outdoor location so that emergency responders are able to safely disconnect power to the building. This can be the service disconnect but there are other options as well that can be found in 230.85. Surge protection—All services supplying dwelling units are now required to include a surge protective device. New section 230.67 outlines where the SPD must be installed and what type it has to be. This also coincides with Articles 280 and 285 being combined into the new Article 242 for overvoltage protection. This list of course, does not cover all changes that affect residential installations, but is hitting on some of the big ones. But what about everywhere else? There were a lot of major changes that will affect the installation of electrical equipment in non-residential settings. Here are just a few of the major revisions and again, this isn't all of them, nor is this in any particular order: Lighting load values—Table 220.12 has been revised to now only apply to non-dwelling type occupancies and the list of occupancies has also been revised to align better with the occupancy types in ASHRAE energy codes. The values based on VA/unit of area have also been revised to align better with lighting density values determined through case studies performed in the various occupancies. Six disconnect rule for services—Section 230.71 has been revised to require that each service have only a single disconnecting means unless the two to six disconnecting means are in their own separate space, such as a single disconnect enclosure or separate section of switchgear. This is to prevent the situation where the bus in service equipment cannot be de-energized without involving the utility, a condition that led many workers to not place service equipment in an electrically safe work condition even though there was no justification do perform energized work. Also, this is not specific to non-dwellings, but is a situation more commonly found outside of one- and two- family dwelling locations. Reconditioned equipment—The idea that equipment can be new, used, rebuilt, refurbished, or reconditioned came about in the 2017 edition of the NEC. However, many revisions were made to the 2020 edition with respect to the reconditioning of equipment. Section 110.21 was revised to clarify what must be included on the marking for reconditioned equipment and throughout the code, sections were added to specify what specific equipment is allowed to be reconditioned and which equipment is not permitted to be reconditioned. These are just a few of the highlights from the many revisions that occurred during the 2020 NEC revision cycle. Understanding what changed, why it changed, and how this will affect electrical installations going forward will help all of us make the transition to the latest edition of the NEC. The NEC has evolved quickly from edition to edition, prompting some areas to perhaps skip an edition as they move forward in electrical safety. When this happens, it is imperative to be able to communicate how the code went from Point A to Point B. This is all the more reason to encourage our local jurisdictions to stay up to date with the NEC revision process and to not lag too far behind. As our industry evolves, so does the document that guides our day-to-day. Staying up-to-date with the current edition of the NEC helps us install systems in alignment with latest set of requirements aimed at keeping us all safe from the hazards that our use of electricity presents. If you found this blog helpful, subscribe to the NFPA Network Newsletter for monthly, personalized content related to our electrical world, as well as fire and building and life safety information.   As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA's response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage.

Spotlight on Technology and Today's Electrical Industry

It's no secret that technology today is evolving at the speed of the electrons that power it. Gadgets, gismos, and doohickeys are continuously being updated to make our lives more convenient, more efficient, and keep us connected. And as consumers, we are always waiting for the next big breakthrough that becomes the “thing” we can't live without. So, what does this mean for the built environment? As more and more technology works its way into our lives, we grow increasingly enamored with the devices that help streamline our day-to-day. But this presents challenges about how we protect the world from electrical hazards. We are finding new and creative ways to power equipment, connect to the world we live in, and interact with our surroundings. From the Internet of Things (IoT) to Power over Ethernet (PoE), new terms are flooding the vocabulary of building designers and engineers every day. Take PoE for instance. We are using it to power lighting in office buildings and computer labs in colleges, and build automation systems in hotels around the world. As this new use of an old technology expands and becomes the norm, we are met with new and challenging concerns. Questions like, “How will all these additional communications cables add to the fire load of the building?” and “Will large bundles of cable present a fire hazard?” Recently, I spoke to a group of leading experts on PoE technology and picked their collective brains about what the future looks like for electrical installation safety and our response to the ever-changing technological landscape. Check out my video interview above, and let us know in the comments below what you're seeing where you work.                   

Increasing Home Safety with GFCI Protection

The 2020 edition of NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) hit the shelves back in September of 2019 and with its release came a sweeping change to the requirements for ground-fault circuit interrupter protection for personnel in residential type occupancies or dwelling units. Communicating the ins and outs of what this means for dwelling unit electrical systems going forward is a big part of the value that NFPA can bring to the electrical industry. To do this, we were able to enlist the help of our friends at the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) to help spread the word. I had the opportunity to contribute to the January/February edition of the IAEI magazine with an article featuring the highlights and reasoning of the many changes that took place during the 2020 revision process. Some of the highlights included the expansion of GFCI protection in dwelling units, clarification of how measurements are taken, and relocation of specific requirements as needed. These changes are going to increase the safety aspect of homes built under the 2020 NEC. By implementing the technology that we have available today, we can create a safe space in our homes where the risk of electrocution is significantly lower than even just a few years ago. The NEC is an ever-evolving document that will never stop striving to meet its purpose and that is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity.

New Video Interview Highlights Collaboration Around Key 2020 NEC Change: Exterior Emergency Disconnects

It's not often that the National Electrical Code (NEC) gets a requirement aimed at protecting an individual exposed to electrical hazards under the most extreme worst-case scenario. After all, the purpose of the NEC is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity; practical safeguarding meaning that the NEC isn't really intended to protect in the event of something like a natural disaster or other unforeseen emergency situation. Then came the 2020 edition of the NEC and the new section 230.85. It requires an emergency disconnect to be installed in a readily accessible location on the outside of one- and two-family homes. This new requirement is really the product of multiple electrical industry experts coming together to solve a problem. And, it's one of the best examples I've seen in recent years of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem in action. I had the great opportunity to sit down recently with Matt Paiss, the International Association of Fire Fighters principal representative on Code Making Panel 4 and the driver behind this specific change. We were joined by NFPA Board of Directors' member, Kwame Cooper, a retired assistant fire chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Watch our interview below. As you listen, you'll see how this change came to be, how this revision process truly demonstrates the essence of the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, and brings the true meaning of collaboration, to light.   In case you weren't aware, this change was actually recognized during the 2017 revision process - there was a problem with the current standard of practice when it came to emergency responders who were responding to emergencies at dwelling units. Mainly, the issue revolved around how best to kill power to the building to begin dealing appropriately to the emergency, such as a house fire. The options were: Pull the meter Wait for the utility company to come disconnect the power Leave the power on and try to be careful All of these options have their own drawbacks for emergency personnel. For most emergency responders, the thought of pulling the meter on their own was out of the question as most responders lack the qualification to safely perform this task. Plus, even after the meter is out, there are still exposed live parts on the line side of the meter that still present a shock hazard. So, in many parts of the country this option was not an option. This left emergency personnel, such as firefighters, with just two options. Either they could take their chances and start the process with the wiring system still energized, or wait for the utility company to show up. However, electrical utilities do not have the same response time requirements and often can take hours to be on site to disconnect power. If a home is on fire, every second counts and by the time the power company arrives, the home could be a total loss. This left many emergency personnel with the only realistic option of doing their job while still being exposed to electrical hazards. The approach that was originally proposed as a part of the 2017 revision cycle was to require the service disconnecting means to be installed outside of the home or some other way to remotely operate the service disconnect from the outside of the home. This was met with very strong opposition and skepticism as many felt that requiring the service equipment to be outside would not be viable in certain parts of the country, and, a remote operating device might not be operable when needed, for instance, if the control wiring were to be damaged in the fire. This led to the various sides of the discussion being brought back to the table in between cycles to figure out a way to address the concerns. It was also important to find a way that emergency responders could safely disconnect the power from the home and do their job without fear of being shocked. I'm really pleased to say that the final outcome of all of these discussions has left installers and home builders with solid options of how the process can be done. It's also our hope that it'll bring peace of mind to the emergency response community. As this requirement evolves over the next few cycles, it will be interesting to track the data and see the positive impact on the safety of first responders that this revision brings to the table. After all, we depend on this community every day to keep us safe from a whole list of hazards; it's time we return the favor and do our part to protect them.

Dissecting the Essential Electrical System (EES) in Healthcare Facilities

It's no secret that NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) is aimed at saving lives. There are requirements throughout the document that are specifically included to prevent shock and electrical fires. However, once in a while we need requirements to install the electrical system in a way that supports life saving efforts of a different kind. Sometimes, it is the electrical system itself that will end up saving a life and other times it might be key components of the electrical system that support certain life safety functions of a building. One type of occupancy that illustrates this point is a hospital. Healthcare facilities are a great example of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical and other hazards. These facilities are also prime examples of where the convergence of multiple building codes and standards can make it hard to digest and keep straight, especially when it comes to the essential electrical system (EES). The EES is a critical piece to the operation of healthcare facilities and instrumental in providing life safety in these occupancies. However, we need to take a look at all of the moving pieces to better understand how this supports the mission to save lives. First, let's take a look at why we even have a need for the EES in the first place. In order to do this, we need to understand what makes up an EES. For our purposes here, we will focus on a Type 1 EES. But first we should define what an EES is. NFPA 99: Healthcare Facilities Code actually defines an EES as: “A system comprised of alternate sources of power and all connected distribution systems and ancillary equipment, designed to ensure continuity of electrical power to designated areas and functions of a health care facility during disruption of normal power sources, and also to minimize disruption within the internal wiring system.” Specifically, a Type 1 EES is made up of three separate branches that provide power to different functions within the facility: The first branch is the life safety branch and it is intended to deliver power to the systems that are needed for the purpose of life-safety, such as exit signs and egress lighting. The second branch is the critical branch. This branch contains circuits and equipment that are in certain areas and critical to the function of patient care within the facility. Critical circuits can supply items like task lighting, certain receptacles, and fixed equipment in Category 1 (critical) spaces. The third branch is the equipment branch. This branch powers systems that are integral to the building operation. Systems such as climate control HVAC and certain elevators can be found on this branch. Just exactly how this system needs to perform is not exactly a function of the NEC. Remember, the purpose of the NEC is the practical safeguarding of people and property from electrical hazards. Keeping a hospital up and running in an emergency is certainly an important task, however, it belongs to another document, like NFPA 99.  The role of the National Electrical Code is more about how to install the EES, both to meet the performance requirements of NFPA 99 and to be safe in alignment with the purpose of the NEC. As I mentioned, in order to understand the full picture of just how the EES factors into the life saving mission of the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, we need to examine all of the pieces in this equation. To do this justice we will be taking a deeper look at the specifics of this system as they relate to the mission of making the world a safer place in a series of blogs over the coming weeks. Our next blog will examine the three different branches of a Type 1 EES the Life Safety Branch, the Critical Branch, and the Equipment Branch. We will cover what types of loads are allowed on each, how each branch is required to perform, and how exactly we install these systems to accomplish this. We'll also explore the nuances of the relationships between the NEC, NFPA 99, and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code . Make sure to stay tuned as we break down one of the more complicated and confusing areas in electrical installations. To learn more about this topic and related information found in the 2020 National Electrical Code, be sure to check out NFPA's new digital access to the NEC, which provides needed information in the code with features like keyword search and the ability to pull up other referenced sections without leaving the page you were on! Best of all, you can bundle it with a copy of the book and save big. Check it out today, and let us know what you think.

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