National Electrical Code 2005: Expanding GFCI Requirements—Article 210 Branch Circuits

By Chris Tapas, P.E., President, Tapas Engineering Services PC, Chicago April 6, 2005

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a regular monthly column that covers significant new issues raised by the 2005 Edition of the National Electrical Code.

The National Electrical Code has included ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection since 1962 and gave it definition in the 1968 NEC. In each edition thereafter, GFCI safety requirements have expanded. Today, the 2005 NEC constitutes the largest expansion of GFCI usage yet in Section 210.8, providing GFCI requirements for dwelling units and industrial, commercial and institutional facilities.

Article 210, Branch Circuits, has had its “ground fault circuit interrupter protection for personnel” paragraph revised in two major sub paragraphs 8(A)(7)-Dwelling Units and 8(B)(2) Other than Dwelling Units. Sub paragraph 12, Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter Protection, was also revised.

These revisions increase the ground fault circuit interruption protection in both dwelling units and occupancies used for purposes other than dwelling, and increase the level of arc-fault protection in dwelling unit bedrooms (effective Jan. 2008).

Article 210.8(A)(7), GFIC Protection — Dwelling Units, was changed to include GFCI protection for all receptacles located an arc measurement of 6 ft. from the dwelling unit laundry, utility and wet bar sink. The paragraph added guidelines further defining the method of measurement and the description of locations where GFCI protection is required within the dwelling. Previously, this section covered GFCI protection for 15- and 20-amp receptacles serving wet bar countertops within the six ft. arc. Now it has been expanded to include 15- and 20-amp, 125-volt receptacles within 6 ft. of the outside edge of the dwelling unit laundry sinks, utility sinks and wet bar sinks at any height. The reference to the countertop was dropped. In short, this means any receptacle within 6 ft. of these sinks located from the floor to 6 ft. above the sink must be GFCI protected.

Article 210.8(B)(2), GFCI Protection-Other than Dwelling Units, was revised to furnishing a better definition and guidelines to the CFGI protection requirements. Bathrooms, commercial and institutional kitchens, rooftops and public areas are required to have GFCI-protected receptacles, even if the receptacles are not on countertop surfaces.

Commercial and institutional kitchens are further defined as a kitchen area with a sink and permanent facility for food preparation and cooking. The fundamental criterion is a sink must be installed in the food preparation area in order to require GFCI protection of the receptacles. This helps define the parameters of a commercial or an institutional kitchen. Essentially it eliminates cord- and plug-connected cooking appliances that are not permanently connected, such as a toaster, from food preparation areas.

For Article 210.12, Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter Protection, code text was revised to further specify that all dwelling unit bedroom branch circuit AFCI protection devices must be listed as a combination type AFCI effective Jan. 1, 2008. The word “receptacle” was deleted and the words “listed device that protects the entire branch circuit” were added. This applies to all outlets, including smoke detectors.

The combination type arc fault protection device is designed to detect arcs as low as 5-amp peak. The existing AFCI circuit breakers are designed to operate when arcs exceed 75-amp peak. If you wire bedroom branch circuits with one circuit for lighting and receptacles, this change will have little effect. But the practice of separating the lighting from the receptacle circuits in dwelling unit bedrooms will now require two AFCI circuit breakers. The 125-volt limitation to the requirement means that AFCI protection would not be required for a 240-volt baseboard heater or room air conditioner.

The resulting code changes increase the level of protection from electrical shock that can potentially harm personnel and damage property.