Electrical codes vary on a granular level by state and even local governments, and often, these differences reflect the unique needs of those areas. Despite those variances, you will discover significant consistency across all electrical codes in the United States. The reason for this is the National Electrical Code, which has been adopted by all 50 states and many U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico. The NEC is maintained by the National Fire Protection Association. The first edition was introduced in 1897, and the NFPA has introduced new editions every three years since without fail. The latest edition is the 2020 NEC. This document serves as the basis for all electrical codes throughout the U.S. until the release of the 2023 NEC, and in this article, we explore the major changes that arrived with the 2020 edition.

GFCI Protection

The changes regarding GFCI protection are the most extensive found in the 2020 NEC and include not only refinements but a wealth of additions. GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. It is an electrical wiring device that is quickly able to detect an unbalanced electric current and isolate that circuit. Used in kitchens, for instance, GFCI saves lives by avoiding extended electric shocks. Our experts recommend GFCI as one of the electric code standards where older homes should be updated. It really does protect people, and upgrading to GFCI outlets is a relatively low-cost home improvement.

The new code provides updated product standards for manufacturers, updated installation requirements for electricians, and updated placement requirements. The requirements of GFCI have been expanded with the addition of 250-volt receptacles and the elimination of amperage limits. The 2020 NEC also expands the areas within a home where GFCI should be installed to 11 distinct location types, and these changes were made based on incidents, including fatalities, that occurred in the U.S.

Dwelling Receptacle Outlets

The NFPA also updated the general standards for all receptacle outlets used in residences. It has updated manufacturer guidelines but also installation guidelines, including which tools should be used to install a receptacle, for instance, and how much torque should be applied. Kitchen islands were another point of emphasis for this NEC version. Islands are now a prominent feature in American homes, but the NEC had not really reflected that. The code that had existed was quite sparse. It has been updated to require GFCI outlets for islands and to specify placement and count based on island size.

Emergency Disconnects

Emergency disconnects are not a new concept within the NEC and have had electrical codes associated with them for decades. The focus for dwellings is manual disconnects installed on the exterior of the residence that let you either disable the main power source or disable power to a particular appliance. The 2008 NEC, for instance, added the requirement for an external disconnect that disables power to all aspects of the HVAC system, including the air conditioner, furnace, and so forth.

The most notable change for the 2020 NEC is that builders are now required to install an exterior main emergency disconnect with all single- and two-family dwellings. This change is interesting because it was not made with the residents in mind but rather due to requests made by first responders. When firefighters arrive at a house fire, their job is made much easier if they can quickly and in a relatively safe manner disable the electric system.

Surge Protection

Prior to the 2020 NEC, surge protection was not required. The now-outdated perception was that surge protection for residential purposes was a concern from the point of access. That viewpoint has changed due to a better understanding of surge protection but also because of changes to electrical systems in modern homes. These systems are becoming much more complex, and we are placing much greater demand on them. Adequate surge protection not only protects our investments in our homes but also helps prevent fires and other serious issues. Any service that supplies a dwelling must now have a surge-protective device. The SPD will be an integral component of the equipment and must be easily accessible for maintenance, repair, replacement, upgrades, and so forth. The code also applies to existing residences anytime such equipment is replaced but not repaired or maintained.

Covering Exposed Cables on Sidewalls and Ceiling Surfaces

While exposed cables continue to be allowed, they must now be covered, and the code provides guidelines on how to cover them and what materials to use. This addition to the NEC arose for two different reasons. One was an industrial aesthetic design trend in urban areas throughout the U.S. that resulted in wires not being covered by the ceiling or sidewall as expected. This change still allows for the industrial look but requires the installer to take extra steps to protect the premises. The growing prevalence of radiant ceiling and sidewall panels for heating also motivated this addition. It adds additional guidelines for how those cables must be installed and protected.

Power Over Ethernet

Power over Ethernet—often abbreviated PoE—describes a system in which electric power is transmitted via an Ethernet cable. The purpose of PoE is that you can supply power to a device without a dedicated power source. Consider a common scenario in which an IP security camera is connected to the home network via its Ethernet cable and receives power through that line. One of the challenges that the NFPA faces with PoE is that it is not a single standard but rather a collection of standards in addition to ad hoc systems that do not really adhere to any standard. Electrical codes for PoE were only first introduced with the 2017 NEC but were greatly expanded with the 2020 NEC, and even more, additions are expected with the 2023 NEC.

Deenergizing Panel Boards

This update was made to protect the electricians who maintain, repair, replace, and upgrade services. The six disconnect rule has been in place for many years but created a hazard to workers because it can lead to scenarios in which you can ensure an electrically safe work condition. This update now requires all services to have a single means of disconnect, which allows a worker to ensure electrically safe work conditions.

Local Electricians in Georgia and South Carolina

Your home is an existing residence and thus is not required to meet the standards of the latest electrical code. But you may want it to in cases where safety and quality of life are concerned. Arc Angel Electric has locations in Cumming, GA and Bluffton, SC and provides services in those cities and throughout the surrounding areas. We have served these regions for more than 20 years and can inspect your home and provide our professional recommendations on how you can and should modernize it. Our company also offers a wide range of other electrical services, including the installation, maintenance, and upgrade of electrical panels, generators, indoor lighting, EV chargers, smart home devices, and surge protection. Call us today or contact us online to ask any questions you may have or to schedule an appointment.

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