TIME FLIES when you’re having fun. And it’s about that time again—a brand new electrical code is upon us. Say hello to the 2017 National Electrical Code! I’m here again writing for IAEI magazine and I’ve got my top picks for this new edition of NFPA-70. I like to think of them as the “Top Ten Electrical Code Changes.” Sure, there are a bunch of changes, but I always feel obligated to pick out the “Top Ten” as I see them. For me, it’s fun. So without further ado, here they are:
- Article 210.8 – More clarification has been added that describes how one is to measure distance to a receptacle when requiring GFCI protection. Clarification is a good thing! The 2017 NEC states that when determining distance from a receptacle, the distance shall be measured “as the shortest path the cord of an appliance connected to the receptacle would follow without piercing a floor, wall, ceiling, or fixed barrier, or passing through a door, doorway, or window.” That is exactly how I have always measured this distance. Common sense would tell us that it isn’t a perimeter measurement (like with receptacle spacing). But I guess there were some people that were getting a bit too creative when measuring, hoping to not trigger the requirement. The new language leaves no room for misinterpretation. It should also be noted that clarification was also added in Article 210.8(A)(7) stating that when measuring off of a sink, one must measure “from the top inside edge of the bowl of the sink.”
- Article 210.8(B) –This section has been expanded to require even more GFCI protection (did you guess)? For other than dwelling units, GFCI protection shall now be required on all single-phase receptacles that are 50 amperes or less, rated 150 volts to ground or less, and all three-phase receptacles that are 100 amperes or less, rated 150 volts to ground or less. In the 2014 NEC, ground-fault circuit-interrupter protection for personnel for other than dwelling units was only required for 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles. The locations where GFCI protection is mandated have not changed, with the exception of two new locations:
- 210.8(B)(9) was added for crawlspaces that are at grade level or below grade level
- 210.8(B)(10) was added for unfinished portions or areas of the basement not intended as habitable rooms
Keep in mind that these requirements are for other than a dwelling unit. Article 210.8 is so important for life safety. I think we should all read it over from time to time so as to keep these requirements fresh in our minds.
- Article 210.11(C)(4) – Garages shall now have at least one 20-ampere circuit. Period. Note: There is an exception that allows this garage 20-ampere circuit to also supply outdoor receptacles that are readily accessible.
- Article 250.64(B) – This section has been reworked and put into list form, and relates to the installation of the grounding electrode conductor when:
(1) Not exposed to physical damage
(2) Exposed to physical damage
(3) Smaller than 6 AWG
(4) In Contact with Earth
I will be honest with you; I really pushed for subsection (4) In Contact with Earth. One of my pet peeves when I do an electrical service inspection is to find a grounding electrode conductor running along the surface of the ground without any protection … just lying there. The 2014 language left the reader with the impression that a grounding electrode conductor lying on the earth didn’t need protection – ever. That was never the intent. It needs protection if it is subject to physical damage. The new language states that a grounding electrode, if in contact with the earth, shall not be required to comply with 300.5, but shall “be buried or otherwise protected if subject to physical damage.” So if you are an electrical inspector and feel that the grounding electrode conductor is subject to people walking on it, kicking it, tripping on it, or whatever do me a big favor and have the contractor bury it a little bit. I really have to thank my code panel (CMP-5) for adding this new language. It makes enforcement so much easier for the inspector!
- Article 250.52(B) deals with things that are not permitted to be used as a grounding electrode. Section 250.52(B)(3) was added stating that the structures and structural reinforcing steel described in 680.26(B)(1) and (B)(2) shall not be used as a grounding electrode. The original public input for this change came from our very own Keith Lofland. I was certainly glad to see it when we were going over the plethora of public inputs (he had my vote immediately). Basically, this new section states that the swimming pool and the swimming pool steel rebar cannot be used as a grounding electrode conductor. Yes, the pool steel may in fact make a very good grounding electrode conductor, but that’s exactly the point. How would you feel if there was a fault of some kind and you were the person in the pool? Nobody can really predict how current would flow in a situation where the swimming pool steel is utilized as a grounding electrode. It’s just practical safety that the pool not be used as an electrode.
It was never the intent of the National Electrical Code that swimming pool reinforcing steel be used as a grounding electrode conductor. In fact, in the beginning of Article 680-22 (1996 NEC) there was a Fine Print Note that read:
“It shall not be the intent of this section to require that the No. 8 or larger solid copper bonding conductor be extended or attached to any remote panelboard, service equipment, or any electrode, but only that it shall be employed to eliminate voltage gradients in the pool area as prescribed.”
- Article 514.3(B)(3) Fuel Storage. This is a new article and it covers certain setback requirements for compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, and liquefied petroleum gas. Basically it is stating that the fuel tank must be separated from property lines, any public way, and buildings on the same property. If there is more than one tank, they must also be separated from each other. There are also specific distance requirements for dispensing devices. This is a huge change and these requirements will possibly overlap with those of the permit technician, fire inspector, building official, and zoning official; this is where teamwork comes in. Inform your colleagues about this new change in the 2017 NEC, and that the electrical inspector now has specific enforcement power with regard to the location of a fuel tank. See how your jurisdiction wants to assure compliance with this new section. Perhaps a site plan will have to be provided at the permitting stage, showing the actual setback distances. All code enforcement professionals should always work together to achieve the safest installation possible.
Distances for natural gas are given in NFPA 52-2013 (Vehicular Gaseous Fuel Systems Code), distances for hydrogen are given in NFPA 2-2011 (Hydrogen Technologies Code), and distances for liquid propane gas are given in NFPA 58-2014 (Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code).
- Article 514.11(A) – This article has be rewritten to make it clear that whether the facility is attended or unattended, there will be an electrical disconnect installed not less than 20-feet and no more than 100-feet from the fuel dispensing devices that they serve. Where there is more than one emergency shutoff device, they shall be interconnected. It is important to remember that the emergency electrical-shutoff must power down everything, and there is listed equipment available for purchase to facilitate this requirement. In an emergency, the following must shut off:
- all dispensing devices
- all remote pumps serving the dispensing devices
- all associated power circuits
- all associated control and signaling circuits
- all other electrical equipment in the hazardous (classified) locations surrounding the fuel dispensing devices
- Article 690 – Solar. It seems that each code cycle, Article 690 changes significantly. Solar takes a while for inspectors to learn, as it’s not something they see every day. Just when I think that I’ve got it down, the Code totally changes. For kicks and giggles, I composed a list of all the labeling requirements contained in Article 690 and my list actually spans about three pages. Do we have a condition of “over-labeling” here? Did CMP-4 go too far with the many changes in Article 690? In my opinion, electrical inspectors are going to need to take continuing education, specific to Article 690, in order to keep up. Hopefully this will be something that IAEI can provide either on the local level, national level, or both. The many changes in Article 690 warrant that the electrical inspector spends a lot more time in this article and have additional study aids and training available.
- There are five new articles that we need to be aware of and I will list them here:
- Article 425 – Fixed Resistance and Electrode Industrial Process Heating Equipment
- Article 691 – Large-Scale Photovoltaic (PV) Electric Power Production Facility. This is a brand new code article that covers the installation of large-scale PV electric power production facilities with a generating capacity of no less than 5000 kW, and not under exclusive utility control. So in other words, SOLAR FARMS.
- Article 706 – Energy Storage Systems. There are all sorts of new technology on the horizon with which to store energy, for use as needed. An energy storage system is defined as, “one or more components assembled together capable of storing energy for use at a future time.”
- Article 710 – Stand-Alone Systems
- Article 721 – Direct Current Microgrids. Direct current power sources can include ac-dc converters (rectifiers), bi-directional dc-ac inverters/converters, photovoltaic systems, wind generators, energy storage systems (including batteries), and fuel cells.
- Article 695.14(F) Generator Control Wiring for Fire Pumps. Some new language has been added here that requires generator control wiring to be continuously monitored. Being way out here in Wyoming, it is not uncommon that I see a generator being used in conjunction with a fire pump. It is a rural area, and choices and options are sometimes very limited. Now if there is any failure of the remote start circuit, it must trigger both visual and audible annunciation of the generator malfunction and the generator must start. This new section is also very interesting because if we keep reading we get a lesson on code structure. In sections 695.14(F) subsections (1), (2), and (3) we can see that the code panel did not add the newer language that can be found in 695.6(A)(2)(d) subsections (1), (2), and (3) with regard to the routing of conductors inside a building. I believe this to be a simple oversight, and I will be submitting a code change to correct this as soon as public input becomes open for the 2020 NEC.
The National Electrical Code is a living document. Code changes help to increase the safety of any electrical installation. All code changes are important, and the ones listed here are just a few, but I believe they are very significant. Don’t stop here; take the time and familiarize yourself with the entire 2017 National Electrical Code! Many resources, such as IAEI’s Analysis of Changes, NEC 2017, are available to help you. I hope that you share these changes with colleagues and trade professionals. In closing, I wish you all happy and safe wiring!