Previewing Changes from the NEC 2020 Code Review

Every three years, members of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) meet to review, modify and add new National Electrical Code (NEC), or NFPA 70, requirements to enhance electrical safety in the workplace and the home. This year's code review is well underway: the second draft of NEC 2020 is complete and the annual NFPA Conference and Expo is scheduled for late June.
What follows is a preview of what are, in my opinion, the most significant code changes on track to pass. In this blog, I'll explore the reasoning for each change and the future steps the NEC may take beyond 2020 regarding:

• Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection
• Service entrance equipment
• Reconditioned equipment
• Performance testing
• Load calculations
• Available fault current and temporary power

This is a high-level overview. In the coming months, my Eaton colleagues and I will dig deeper into each topic as part of a continuing series on the 2020 code review cycle.

GFCI protection
The 2020 change
Code-making panel 2 (CMP 2) removed the reference to 15A and 20A recognizing protection for any amp-rated receptacle outlet in the identified locations.
The rationale for change
This is a movement toward streamlining both 210.8(A) for dwelling units and 210.8(B) for other than dwelling units. Feedback suggested electrical engineers, suppliers and contractors now realize it doesn't matter where a GFCI is installed and that we need not identify different locations. CMP 2 also recognized that a hazard doesn't change when a circuit is greater than 20 amps. Whether an installation is 15 to 20 amps or 60 amps, circuit risks still exist and protection is warranted.
What might the future hold?
As GFCI requirements continue to change, product compatibility (unwanted tripping) still consumes some professionals, often without cause. Nevertheless, I believe the industry will continue to create new products that align with GFCIs. In addition, some believe it's prudent to extend GFCI protection to all branch circuits. I expect spirited debates regarding increased safety versus cost as the industry contemplates future code reviews.

Service entrance equipment
The 2020 change
NEC changes continue the mission of aligning code with product advances. Updates will address an array of safety issues:
• Service panelboards with six disconnects are no longer permitted
• Fire-fighter disconnects for one- and two-family dwellings are now included
• Line-side barrier requirements are expanded to service equipment beyond panelboards
• Arc reduction for services 1200 amps and greater must ensure arcing currents activate arc reduction technology
• Short-circuit current ratings (SCCR): pressure connectors and devices must be marked "suitable for use on the line side of the service equipment" or equivalent
• Surge protective devices are required for all dwelling units
The rationale for change
The NEC recognized the vulnerabilities and hazards associated with equipment and changed many longstanding rules. Because there's no protection from a utility, the NEC began changing service codes in the 2014 cycle and today is more aware of technologies and solutions that help mitigate and reduce the likelihood of arc flash and shock.
What might the future hold?
Rules that we have lived with and accepted for years are now in question as technology continues to advance. With that, safety knowledge within our industry and the NEC will continue to challenge norms.

Reconditioned equipment
The 2020 change
Updates will establish a foundation for future efforts to add clarity, expand and correct requirements within the NEC for reconditioned and used equipment. The changes are the NEC's first foray into ensuring proper reconditioning for electrical equipment.
The rationale for change
While reconditioned equipment has its merits, not all rebuilt devices are re-created equally. With that, the correlating committee put out a public comment to all code panels, asking each to consider equipment in their purview and determine what can and cannot be reconditioned per National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) allowances for refurbished equipment.
What might the future hold?
I see challenges on two fronts. First, the NEC will need to add more clarity to terminology around "reconditioning," "refurbishing" and the like. Secondly, changes do not dictate how resellers must refurbish equipment, which presents a safety concern. With that, resellers must rely on original manufacturer documentation. I believe the industry will see an increase in documentation awareness and raise more questions, such as listing refurbished equipment to one standard or many. The creation of additional listing marks may also stir debate.

Performance testing
The 2020 change
The NEC now requires primary current injection testing for some Article 240.87 equipment after installation. Following manufacturer instructions is also permitted as primary current injection testing may not always make sense.
The rationale for change
The stage was set with existing NEC requirements for field testing of ground-fault protection of equipment technologies upon installation, and no requirements exist for testing 240.87 equipment after installation. During public input phases, some in the industry expressed concerns with the cost of transporting test equipment, testing the correct areas of functionality and making sure manufacturers' test instructions are followed. The rule change addresses some of these concerns and, more importantly, advances worker safety.
What might the future hold?
The NEC determines what must be done; how changes are implemented is not something the NEC often defines. In that light, I'm working with NEMA to create testing processes and guidance and look forward to discussions that influence post-installation best practices.

Load calculations
The 2020 change
CMP 2 will reduce load calculation multipliers to account for higher-efficiency lighting solutions in other than dwelling units.
The rationale for change
The electrical industry has a strong focus on sustainability, reducing carbon footprints and creating technologies that reduce energy use. However, the NEC had yet to change load calculations to accommodate. 2020 code changes will account for lower VA usage of lighting loads and adjust calculations accordingly. Energy codes drive the changes; jurisdictions across the country enforce a variety of energy codes (or possibly none at all), and the proposed solution considers them all. Thus, the NEC will take a conservative approach toward reducing multipliers to assure circuits do not trip under normal conditions.
What might the future hold?
Opportunities exist to improve load calculations for other applications such as mission-critical healthcare systems, but the industry must proceed cautiously. The healthcare environment is one where power cannot go out, especially during medical emergencies. I believe the industry will work to understand worst-case load scenarios and determine a reasonable approach to load calculations for devices like feeders, branch circuits and service entrance equipment.

Available fault current and temporary power
The 2020 changes
The NEC will require marking available fault current on all equipment, including switchboards, switchgear and panelboards. Changes will impact temporary power equipment:
• Article 408.6 will extend to temporary power equipment and require markings for available fault current and the date of calculation
• Article 590.8(B) for temporary overcurrent protection devices between 150 volts to ground and 1000 volts phase-to-phase will be current limiting
The rationale for change
Panelboards, switchboards and switchgear were not part of the 2017 code update for marking available fault current. The NEC continues to take steps to increase the likelihood that ratings are higher than available short-circuit current. This is especially important for temporary power equipment that moves from job site to job site and experiences tremendous wear and tear. To ensure proper function, temporary equipment will reduce the power system stresses no matter where a given temporary system is installed.
What might the future hold?
The NEC continues to focus on the basics. Interrupting ratings and SCCR are important for safety, but they're not receiving proper attention in the field. I expect field marking of panels with SCCR and available fault current to drive change in the industry and raise awareness on how equipment is labeled to determine the SCCR rating. Some equipment base SCCR on the lowest interrupting rating overcurrent protection device, but inspectors and installers must be mindful of that scenario to ensure proper installation. Equipment labeling will come under scrutiny, as will the methods used to calculate fault currents.

Looking to the future

2020 code changes will be substantial in that the code-making panel looks to soon modify tried-and-true requirements—some of which have existed for decades. Of course, there are many details to consider both now and in the future. As part of this continuing series, my Eaton colleagues and I will dig deeper into each of the topics I've listed and offer opinions on where the NEC may take safety tomorrow. 

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