It has been my pleasure and responsibility to be a member of National Electrical Code (NEC) code-making panel 2 (CMP-2) for nine NEC code cycles. Over this time, the code-making panels have produced the codes for 1981, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002 and they are now working on the 2005 edition of the NEC. In this article, I will describe some of my experiences on this panel as well as some of the important code rules that have been introduced into the NEC by CMP-2 over the years.
Code-making Panel 2
The purview of our panel now includes NEC articles 210, 215, and 220. The articles cover Branch Circuits, Feeders, and Branch-Circuit, Feeder and Service Calculations, respectively1. The panel consists of 13 voting members and their alternates including nonvoting representatives of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most members of code-making panels represent specific organizations dealing with the design, installation, manufacturing and safety of electrical equipment and systems. In my case, I am designated as a “special expert” indicating my independent status on the panel.
The code-making panels officially meet twice during each three-year code cycle. During the first meeting, the panels consider proposals submitted by the public and other interested parties to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which sponsors the NEC. These proposals are organized and then sent to the panel members for consideration before the first official meeting. Generally, the proposals suggest either new text for the NEC, revised text, or that text be deleted. The text in question is normally a code rule that is being challenged, or it represents a new rule to be included in the NEC.
By my estimate, CMP-2 in 1981 received 201 proposals when the panel also had the responsibility for Article 225, Outside Branch Circuits and Feeders. In 1981, about 25 percent of the proposals were accepted.
The number of proposals to CMP-2 has generally increased over the years to 372 for the 2005 code. The nineteen code panels for the NEC received a total of 3578 proposals for the current code cycle. This is actually down from the 4722 proposals submitted to revise the code for the 2002 NEC. The National Electrical Code Committee Report on Proposals (ROP), available from the NFPA, contains all of the proposals and a description of the panel action and comment if any. The ROP associated with the 2002 NEC contained 1384 pages not including introductory material! In contrast, the report for the 1981 NEC contained only 346 pages.
Proposals that are rejected or only partially accepted require a comment from the panel. It should be noted that the vote taken at a panel meeting is not official and the panel action is actually determined by the results of written ballots submitted by members after the meeting. Hilton Head, South Carolina, was the location of our most recent CMP-2 meeting to discuss proposals in January 2003. The scheduled date for the ROP for the 2005 NEC to be available is July 2003.
Proposals—Accept or Reject?
Proposals to modify the NEC must include the proposed text of the proposal and indicate the wording to be added, revised, or deleted. In fact, a form for proposals is provided in the back of the current NEC and is also available on the NFPA web site. A justification for the proposal is also required and should be given in a statement of the problem and substantiation for the proposal. Those proposals that clarify the code language or clearly improve the safety of electrical systems with suitable evidence have the best chance of being accepted. Documented research, surveys, test results, or engineering analysis are examples of substantiation that has been acceptable to the code panels. Of course, panel members may add their own expertise and many proposals are accepted in modified form.
As an example, Article 220 concerning feeder and service calculations has not changed greatly over the years except for specific occupancies such as office buildings and restaurants. In 1981, the requirement for the general lighting load for office buildings was reduced from 5 watts per square foot to 3.5 watts per square foot (39 VA per square meter). Energy conservation was the current topic then and engineering data presented to the panel convinced us that many buildings were in fact being over designed with respect to the service size. Similar studies for new restaurants led to an optional method for load calculation in 1990.
Proposals are typically rejected if the proposals are too broad or unclear. Many proposals are rejected because of insufficient substantiation, particularly if the proposal suggests a significant change to the NEC. Other proposals may be rejected if the scope of the proposal is too narrow or if the change may only apply in certain geographic areas. The local authority having jurisdiction would normally enforce such restrictions. An example might be a proposal to prohibit a specific wiring method underground because the soil below ground in the area is typically damp or wet.
Once the ROP is published, the public and interested parties are invited to comment on the proposals during several months after the publication. In most cases, the comments sent to the code-making panels must address specific proposals or topics that were discussed at the first panel meeting. The NEC panels will meet to discuss the comments submitted for the 2005 proposals in December 2003. If the comment suggests changing or deleting an accepted proposal, the panel members can accept all or part of the comment or reject it. Certain comments can be “held” for consideration at the next code cycle if the material was not addressed by the proposals. The results are published in the National Electrical Code Committee Report on Comments (ROC).
Before any accepted proposals or comments modify the NEC, the Technical Correlating Committee considers the results from all of the code-making panels to correlate the proposals. The proposals are further considered and voted on by the NFPA membership at its annual meeting. Thereafter time is allowed for challenges of the action at the annual meeting to the NFPA Standards Council and appeal to the NFPA Board of Directors. The NFPA Standards Council then considers the entire record from initial proposal to the last appeal and determines whether or not to release the new Code2. The 2005 NEC is expected to be available to the public in late summer 2004.
Important Changes (1981-2002)
In this section, I have chosen a few items that caused extensive discussion at our CMP-2 meetings. These topics include the requirements for ground-fault circuit-interrupter protection for personnel (GFCI), the newly introduced requirement for arc-fault circuit-interrupter (AFCI) protection, and receptacle placement for receptacles serving kitchen countertops.
In Article 210, the use of GFCIs on 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles has been expanded since 1981 from bathrooms, garages, and outdoors in dwelling units to include GFCI protection in crawl spaces, unfinished basements and rooftops as well as at countertops near kitchen sinks and wet bars. The requirement to have GFCI protection in bathrooms of hotels and motels was added in 1984. The 1993 NEC expanded the GFCI requirements to bathrooms and roofs of all occupancies. The 2002 NEC added kitchens of non-dwelling occupancies to the locations requiring GFCI protection. Earl Robert’s book Overcurrent and Undercurrents, All about GFCIs listed in the references presents interesting reading about the history and working of the devices3.
The AFCI is a relatively new device required by the NEC to provide protection from the effects of arc faults4,5. The requirement for installing AFCIs on branch circuits supplying 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacle outlets in dwelling unit bedrooms was introduced in the 1999 NEC. However, the requirement was not to become effective until January 1, 2002. The 2002 NEC required AFCI protection on all branch circuits that supply any of the 125-volt outlets in the bedroom of a dwelling. For the 2005 NEC, lively discussions continue as to the exact form of the requirements for AFCIs. The opinions range from dropping the requirement to extending the use of the devices to elsewhere in the home. Those who support the present requirement wish to have more data on the effectiveness of the AFCIs already installed.
One item that usually produces a lively discussion concerns the placement of receptacles in the kitchen. In 1981, by Article 210-52(b), receptacles were required to be installed at each counter space wider than 12 inches (305 mm). This was simple enough until housing designers evidently considered the kitchen as a meeting place as well as a place for cooking. In 1990 we decided one receptacle was also required for each four feet (1.22 m) on island or peninsular countertops wider than 12 inches (305 mm). This basic rule is still in effect.
In the 1993 NEC, these receptacles could be installed above or below (but not more than 12 inches below) the island or peninsular countertops. The argument against putting the receptacles below is that a child might tug on the cord and pull an appliance off the counter top. Aesthetic reasons were given for not putting the receptacles in the countertop and mar its appearance. There was also a hint as to how to measure the length of a peninsular countertop—from the connecting edge. Attempts to draw radii, etc., by certain engineer members of CMP-2 to define the correct spacing of the receptacles provided an interesting exercise in geometry but were finally dropped as being too “complicated” for field use. The 2002 NEC states in 210.52(C)(5) that receptacles should be installed above countertops. However, exceptions allow the receptacles to be installed below for the physically impaired and in cases where island or peninsular countertops are flat and there are no means to mount the receptacles above. There are new proposals on this topic for the 2005 NEC. However, this is definitely not my area of expertise so I have no comment as to how things will turn out this time.
Although serving on CMP-2 requires quite a bit of work before and during the panel sessions, there is still time for relaxation and visits to places of interest in the cities in which the meetings are held. Our panel has met in various cities such as Fort Lauderdale, Hilton Head, San Antonio, Phoenix, Newport Beach, and San Diego. I have included a few pictures of panel members and other associates meeting over a meal. Photo 1 and Photo 2.
Earl Roberts was chair of CMP-2 when I joined and he served for five code cycles with me. Jim Carpenter became a panel member in 1990 and was chair from 1996 to 2002. Ray Weber is the chair for the 2005 code cycle. It has been a distinct pleasure to serve with these gentlemen and a number of other panel members. Their dedication and competence is evident as shown by the scope and quality of the NEC.
Although some committees are said to “take minutes and waste hours,” the NEC code-making panels perform the important task of developing electrical safety standards for the U.S. and many other countries. I believe that our work on CMP-2 over the years has led to increased safety by reducing shock hazard and preventing fires.
1 The examples in Annex D of the NEC showing load calculations are developed by CMP-2 also. However, these examples are included for informational purposes only and are not officially a part of the NEC rules.
2 For a complete description of the code making process, see the latest NFPA Directory. It is available from NFPA headquarters in Quincy, MA.
3 Roberts, Earl W.Overcurrent and Undercurrents, All about GFCIs(Reptec, Mystic, CT., 1996)
4 Gregory, George and Alan Manche, “The Truth About AFCIs (Part 1)”, IAEI News, (January/February 2003): 65-69.
5 Gregory, George and Alan Manche, “The Truth About AFCIs (Part 2)”, IAEI News, (March/April 2003): 18-23.