Author(s): Derek Vigstol. Published on May 1, 2019.

Power Aid

GFCI protection, emergency power disconnects, and much more: an overview of key changes to the 2020 NEC.


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The evolution of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code®, has taken place uninterrupted since the code was introduced in 1897. The 2020 edition of the NEC® fits solidly into that tradition, and features important changes related to emergency disconnects, ground-fault circuit interrupter protection, surge protection, and myriad other topics related to electrical safety. It’s useful to take a look at some of those key changes in advance of the upcoming NFPA Conference & Expo in San Antonio.

First, though, a bit of background on the revision of the 2020 code.

It seems like just yesterday the 2017 NEC hit the streets. Almost as soon as the book was released, masses of code zealots went to work on crafting the next round of public inputs for the 2020 NEC. There were 3,730 public inputs submitted—a bit below the typical number, but still a massive amount of work to manage and prepare for the first draft meeting held in January 2018. Months of task group meetings and many hours of staff preparation and training all led to the day when hundreds of electrical experts converged to hash out what would become the next edition of the NEC.

As a technical lead for NFPA’s Electrical Tech Services and an observer of many of the individual code making panel (CMP) meetings for the NEC, I was able to see firsthand all of the hard work by NFPA volunteers that went into turning thousands of public inputs into 1,400 first revisions. Conversations took place around topics such as defining kitchens more clearly, boat and marina hazards, the effectiveness of bonding around swimming pools, and whether technology has lessened the electrical load in a building enough to adjust the calculation values in Article 220. Out of all this activity came the collective CMPs’ first stab at the 2020 NEC. After review by the correlating committee, which ensured correlation among the different articles and with other NFPA electrical documents under its control, the actual first draft of the 2020 NEC was posted in June 2018.

That’s when the NEC universe got to work combing through the first draft and submitting public comments. As per the NFPA regulations governing the development of our documents, the second draft has a few more rules that guide what can and can’t be done with regard to submitting comments and how the committee must act on them. For one, the public comment stage is not the place to introduce any new material; as a result, all public comments must reference a resolved public input, a committee input, or a first revision. This is no small feat. After reviewing the first draft report, there were a total of 1,930 public comments submitted. Then the cycle of task groups, staff preparation, and planning meetings started again, leading to the big meeting in San Diego last October. Out of the second draft meeting we ended up with 634 second revisions, and it was on to the correlating committee once again, which made 73 second correlating revisions.

All of this is important because it helps to paint the picture of how we got from the 2017 NEC to where we are today, on the eve of the June 20 technical meeting at the annual Conference & Expo.

It is important to understand that no change or revision to the NEC is taken lightly. There are multiple points within the process for individuals to get involved and make their voices heard. More importantly, it is critical that users of the NEC understand that, at any point in the process, it only takes one third of the committee letter ballot to prevent a potential revision from moving forward. So by the time the final version of the 2020 NEC hits the shelves later this year, the revisions have been thoroughly deliberated, with multiple steps in the process at which opposition to a revision has an opportunity to prevent it from moving forward. With the code making panels made up of a diverse mix of people from all corners of the electrical world and representing organizations like the Independent Electrical Contractors, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Association of Electrical Inspectors, and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, there is a good representation of the crowd that will be affected by the changes. So every revision has had plenty of opportunity to be reviewed by those in the know, including the full NFPA membership at the upcoming technical meeting.

It’s too soon to say which changes will be reflected in the 2020 NEC—the process is still underway, and as I write everything is still fair game to have a motion filed to amend. Even the revisions covered below could possibly see action up until the Standards Council meeting in August if appeals are filed.

Here is a handful of important topics that shaped the debate around the 2020 NEC.

GFCI protection

Ground-fault circuit interrupter protection is an area of the NEC that seems to receive a fair amount of attention and active discussion every cycle—and the 2020 revision cycle was no exception.

Public inputs and comments ranged from adding GFCI protection in new areas of a building to requiring GFCI protection everywhere in a dwelling for 15- and 20-amp receptacle outlets. The result landed somewhere in the middle. CMP 2 couldn’t justify expanding GFCI to every receptacle outlet in a dwelling, as was suggested at the public input stage, citing that the substantiation submitted was insufficient. However, there was a considerable amount of discussion around the merit and the idea of GFCI protection for every receptacle outlet in a dwelling unit.

In dwelling units, GFCI protection has expanded to include both 125- and 250-volt receptacles supplied by a single-phase circuit at 150 volts or less to ground. The code making panel also revised the requirement in basements to include all of the basement, whether it is finished or not. The biggest impact this will have is requiring GFCI protection for dryers and ranges, if the range receptacle is within 6 feet of the sink. Since one of the options likely to be used for this protection is a GFCI circuit breaker at the branch circuit supply, it will be important to make note of what level the device is set to trip at. This could mean the difference between ground-fault protection for personnel or ground-fault protection for equipment.

Emergency power disconnects for dwellings

While we’re on the topic of dwelling units, there is another big change coming for one- and two-family dwellings. For some areas of the country, the addition of Article 230.85 will take some getting used to, which is why it deserves an explanation.

This is the new section of the NEC that requires an emergency power disconnect to be installed in a readily accessible location outside of the dwelling. Some parts of the country have been mounting the service disconnect outside for years. In those areas this is not a major adjustment, but it requires that it be marked as both the service disconnect and the emergency disconnect. In other areas where the service disconnect has traditionally been installed inside the home, there are three options for meeting this requirement: mount the service disconnect outside and mark it as mentioned; provide an adequately rated meter disconnect that is marked “emergency disconnect, meter disconnect, not service equipment”; and any other listed disconnect switch that is suitable for use as service equipment is marked “emergency disconnect, not service equipment.”

There was also a revision to add conditions for a service disconnect to consist of two to six switches or circuit breakers. This will force the majority of service disconnecting means to be a single switch or circuit breaker or meet certain requirements in order to have more than one. This came from an input that based the need for this revision on safe electrical work practices. This revision provides the ability for an installer/maintainer to operate a single disconnect that de-energizes conductors and circuit parts in the enclosure except for the line side of the disconnecting means. This is aimed at reducing the likelihood of an incident with energized conductors or circuit parts in the service equipment, and enhancing safety.

Code organization

Revisions are also being considered that affect the organization of the book itself. Every cycle seems to bring with it changes that shift where users can find the needed requirements. Sometimes these changes can have a major impact, as they did when all of Chapter 3 was reorganized to improve usability. Sometimes these revisions simply need to be noted so that users are aware of where requirements have moved to.

This time around seems to be more of the latter—most of the new articles and corresponding deleted articles are aimed at improving the usability of the NEC. For instance, Chapter 8 involves the requirements for communications systems. This chapter has historically had more of a standalone feel to it regarding the rest of the code. Because of this, NEC users who frequent Chapter 8 also tend to be focused solely on their specific article in Chapter 8. Over time, this has led to many requirements that are the same across all of the communication systems to be duplicated among the articles. For this reason and to increase the usability of Chapter 8, these duplicate requirements were placed into a new Article 800, and the existing Article 800 was renumbered to Article 805. This also mirrors the process used for other parts of the code, including Chapter 3 and Article 300.

Reorganization for overvoltage protection

Another noteworthy reorganization revolves around overvoltage protection, or, as it is more commonly called, surge protection. Articles 280 and 285 have long been the locations in the NEC to find the requirements for installing surge protective devices, if you chose to install them. This time, the conversation was about how the code has always required protection against overcurrent, but what about overvoltage protection? It’s a question that has often arisen since the requirement was put in Article 230 to have a surge protective device installed on services supplying dwelling units, and the logical place to put this “new” overvoltage protection article was next to overcurrent protection. While it is a new home for existing requirements, not much has changed that would affect how these devices are installed.

These are just a few of the proposed changes for the 2020 revision cycle. If you plan to attend the Conference & Expo leading up to the technical session, be sure to attend the various educational sessions that will speak to a number of the revisions, the work that went into creating them, and the impact these changes will have on the electrical industry. We are just coming into the summer of 2019, but the process will soon start all over again for the 2023 edition. And you don’t have to be on a code making panel to be part of the revision process.

For more information on how to get involved in the NEC process, visit the NEC document information page at

DEREK VIGSTOL is an NFPA technical lead, Electrical Tech Services. Top Photograph: Getty Images