The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 50% of home electrocutions have been prevented by Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, which were introduced into the NEC in the 1970s.
The 2017 National Electric Code features significant changes in the GFCI Protection for Personnel category. These adjustments include a fix for the service receptacle rule, required lighting regulations and clarifications on how to properly size feeders. Most of the adjustments come in Articles 210, 215 and 230, and they represent some of the most prominent changes in the electric code. With this in mind, let’s dive into the new guidelines and explore what they may mean for you.
210.8 GFCI Protection for Personnel is a major area for changes in the NEC. New requirements for GFCI protection have been added in every code edition since 1971, but the 2017 changes are especially substantial.
Clarifying accessible location confusion
The main rule states that GFCI protection must be provided as required by 210.8(A) through (E). The GFCI device must be located in an accessible location. This last clause has introduced some confusion as to what constitutes an accessible location. Let’s break this down. Firstly, this statement refers to the test and reset button. From there, article 100 of the NEC defines readily accessible as a location that can be reached quickly without a person having to climb over or under an obstacle, without using a portable ladder and without tools. In essence, somebody should be able to walk up to a GFCI outlet and press the test and reset buttons without any sort of trouble.
The confusion comes into play when an outlet is not readily accessible, but that it needs GFCI protection. For example, a bathroom outlet in the ceiling creates some difficulty. The height of the outlet would make it not readily accessible, but GFCI protection is still necessary. In cases such as this, the test and reset buttons need to be placed in a readily accessible location. The test and reset buttons don’t have to be on the outlet itself, they just have to work for that outlet and they must be accessible.
Making detailed rules convenient with a new note
Another change involved is a note in 210.8, where the NEC adds Info Note 2. The note states that article 422.5(A) also contains GFCI rules for appliances. The note directs readers to appliance-specific GFCI notes. The appliance notes have been centralized into article 422.5(A) to make them easier to find.
Addressing measurement uncertainty
The 210.8 GFCI rules regarding measurement had become somewhat confusing, leaving room for uncertainty. The 2017 NEC now states that, “When measuring distances for GFCI protection, the distance is the shortest path that a cord would take, without piercing a floor, wall, ceiling, or fixed barrier; or passing through a door, doorway, or window.”
This new measurement clarification is a much-needed addition to the NEC GFCI rules as it clarifies how to properly handle rules that include measurements. For example, there’s a GFCI rule that says any outlet within 6 feet of a sink needs a GFCI outlet. This type of regulation created confusion as to what those six feet really means. For example, an outlet that is on the other side of the wall from a sink – not even in the same room. Does that qualify as within six feet of the sink? That type of confusion is gone with this specific guideline that specifies what those measurements really mean.
There is, however, one key exception based on the wording of the code. If an outlet is under a sink blocked by a cabinet, a cord could easily go below the sink, beyond an open cabinet door and into the outlet without traveling nearly six feet. In 2014, that outlet would be considered to need the GFCI protection – and the risk is real as the outlet is directly beneath a sink and behind a cabinet that is often open. The cabinet is generally interpreted as a door, however, so the outlet wouldn’t need GFCI based on the updated language of the code.
For the most part, the new details on measurement resolve questions about GFCI requirements, but they do introduce a few areas of uncertainty. Architecture, engineering and construction professionals should check with local authorities to clarify interpretation within the jurisdictions where they work.