Changes to the 2020 NEC That Impact How We Install Residential Electrical Services
Change is inevitable in life, and in the National Electrical Code (NEC). Being a lifelong electrician myself, I can fully understand how hard it can be to have a system in place that works like a well-oiled machine and feel like it is being upended when I need to incorporate a new change requirement. But rarely do people ever make change for the sake of change. In our world, change is often implemented to make things safer. If you work in the electrical industry, you have an inherent responsibility to perform work that will keep people, and property, as safe as humanly possible. Sometimes that means doing things differently than the way we have become accustomed to, based on implementing procedural or technology-based changes. The 2020 cycle of the NEC incorporated two such changes.
For electricians who perform residential work on a regular basis, installing an electrical service within a home may feel like something you can do in your sleep. Installing the meter socket, panelboard, service entrance conductors and other standard electrical service elements, over-and-over again, just becomes a normal daily routine. Our electrical brethren know that regardless of what we are installing, we have to do it properly in order to ensure the safety of others. So, it only makes sense for those involved in our industry to regularly reevaluate if what we are currently required to do ensures safety for everyone, or if changes need to be made. Changes can be submitted to the NEC every cycle via public inputs in the NFPA standards development process. Electricians, engineers, inspectors, the general public, essentially anyone besides NFPA staff, can submit a proposed change to the standard for the next cycle. The 2020 NEC cycle saw public inputs to Article 230 (Services) that intend to make residential electrical services safer for all involved.
The first change in Article 230 deals with surge protection. There were two separate public inputs submitted that supplied justification for whole house surge protection in residential service applications. While plug-in style surge protectors (Type 3 SPD) may be used throughout the home to protect specific pieces of electronics, such as computers and televisions, many other items throughout the home are left without surge protection and therefore susceptible to lightning strikes and other potential surges. For example, hard wired smoke alarms and CO detectors have onboard electronics that could be negatively impacted by a surge. Should a surge occur in these devices, it would likely go unnoticed by the homeowner who is depending on these devices for life safety. The same could be said for ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCI’s), arc-fault circuit-interrupters (AFCI’s), security systems, and other sensitive electronic equipment. Submitters pointed to studies by recognized authorities such as NEMA, IEEE, and UL that substantiated surges can cause significant damage. Also, that many nationwide insurance organizations have recommended the use of surge protection at the service equipment level in order to ensure the whole home is protected against potential surges. Based on these public inputs, NEC Code Making Panel (CMP) 10 created a first revision (FR-8546-NFPA70-2018) that developed 2020 NEC section 230.67. Within this section, all dwelling units are now required to have a surge-protective device (SPD) installed as part of the service equipment or located immediately adjacent to the service equipment. The SPD must be Type 1 or Type 2, both of which are hard-wired, and the requirement applies to both new service installations and service upgrades.
The second change in the 2020 NEC that effects residential electrical services requires an emergency disconnect to be installed for the service. While not officially called a “First Responder” disconnect within the NEC, it has been commonly referenced as such in conversation due to the nature of the code change. The submitter of the public input substantiated their public input with following statement, in part, “Today, fire fighters do not have a way to safely remove power from an involved structure unless the service equipment is located on the outside of said structure in a readily accessible location. Pulling the meter is not a safe manner with which to remove power due to possible arc flash concern. Cutting the service conductors, via the use of an ax or bolt cutters is not safe for the fire fighter either as these methods can introduce large amounts of energy in the immediate vicinity of the fire fighter and potentially destroy their primary firefighting tool (axe). A means with which the power can easily be removed, that is readily accessible is required in order to keep our fire fighters safe while they extinguish flames and possibly save lives. They do not need to worry about shock hazards while doing their jobs.”
I use this quote in this context because I don’t know that there is any way possible that I could have said it better. Keeping them safe, people who risk their lives to keep us safe, is morally imperative. While the addition of section 230.85 to the 2020 NEC requires us to install an emergency disconnect in a readily accessible location on the exterior of the home, it isn’t necessarily changing what we normally do. For example, in many cases service disconnects are already being installed in a readily accessible location on the exterior of the home due to how far the service-entrance conductors must travel into the home to reach the electrical panel. In this case, assuming the disconnect is already rated properly for short-circuit current, the only change that would be required from NEC section 230.85 is to change your normal label on the disconnect that reads “SERVICE DISCONNECT” to now read “EMERGENCY DISCONNECT, SERVICE DISCONNECT.” A minor change that will make a major impact in the safety of first responders.
Working within the electrical contracting world for most of my career, I can empathize with change and how difficult it can be. Change is rarely accepted by anyone, within any industry, without some kind of resistance. After all, it makes you break the norm of what has always worked for you and incorporate something new. But when that change directly impacts the safety of both people and property, isn’t it worth the effort? In my current role as an electrical content specialist here at NFPA, I have a better view of the overall impact that codes and standards have on electrical safety than when I was a contractor. I am grateful for the experience I have gained in both roles, which have given me invaluable knowledge that allows me to clearly see exactly how big this world is, and how it takes all of us working together to protect one another.
Learn more about considerations for single-family residential electrical services.
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