New Electrical Code Requirement Causing Big Problems in the Field

Filed in Codes and Standards by on May 21, 2021 22 Comments

Two air conditioning condenser units outside a homeThe Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation (TDLR) held an emergency meeting this week to consider delaying the implementation of a section of the 2020 National Electrical Code (NEC) after numerous electric failures were reported in the state related to a new requirement.

At issue was section 210.8(F) of the 2020 NEC which requires a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) breaker to be installed on connections between a new home’s electrical system and the air conditioning condenser unit – the part of the HVAC system that resides outside. GFCI breakers are specialized devices that prevent electrocutions in homes by quickly tripping the circuit when a potential electrocution event is detected.

But before the 2020 NEC, GFCIs were not required for condenser connections, and as such, HVAC manufacturers had not engineered their products for such a connection. After Texas adopted the 2020 NEC in full, home builders and their HVAC contractors in the state began to follow the code’s requirements, including section 210.8(F).

Home owners and builders in Texas immediately began reporting issues with the GFCI breakers tripping when the air conditioner ran, sometimes multiple times each day, as the GFCI breakers are incompatible with HVAC units. The state recognized the need for emergency action with summer bearing down.

“The threat of air conditioning and other cooling systems failing and malfunctioning due to this incompatibility poses an imminent threat to Texans’ safety,” said TDLR Assistant General Counsel Doug Jennings at the meeting. “There is no question.”

The TDLR Commission ultimately voted unanimously to delay the requirements of section 210.8(F) until Jan. 1, 2023.

Other States Need to Address Section 210.8(F)

The incompatibility issues arising from section 210.8(F) are not limited to Texas. So far, 11 states have adopted the 2020 NEC. Already, seven of the 11 states have acted on section 210.8(F), some in an emergency fashion. Some, like Iowa and Massachusetts, amended the NEC to correct or remove the section. Others, like South Dakota, omitted the section when they adopted the 2020 NEC. And Washington State, like Texas, delayed the enforcement of the section until 2023.

But another 11 states are in the process of updating their electrical code to the 2020 NEC and others will follow. NAHB urges members to see where their state is in the adoption process and to contact code officials to ask how they plan to deal with section 210.8(F). Work with your local HBA to determine next steps. State and local HBAs are on the front lines of local code battles. The Texas Association of Builders‘ VP of Regulatory Affairs, Ned Muñoz, testified at the emergency meeting this week and his work was instrumental in addressing and resolving this issue.

Incompatibility the Result of the Code Development Process

The building code development process is a deliberate and collegial affair with input from various stakeholders and the public. The voices of end users of building codes, home builders, engineers, product manufacturers, public safety officials, and many others are heard in a multi-step process before a new model code edition is finalized. But there are opportunities for undue influence in the process.

To bolster the case for a code change, the proponents of the change offer real-world examples of why the code is needed, called substantiation. The substantiation for section 210.8(F) included a very unfortunate incident where someone was electrocuted by an outdoor condenser unit. But the investigation of the incident revealed that the new requirement would not have prevented the tragedy as the HVAC unit was on an older home and installed incorrectly by an unlicensed service provider. There was no substantiation involving a home built to recent code or work done correctly by licensed professionals.

Proponents of code changes are quite often manufacturers of the products that will solve a “problem.” In fact, the chief electrical inspector for Texas, Jerry Daniel, noted in this week’s hearing that the panel that approved section 210.8(F) “has a lot of manufacturers on it.”

“I am very concerned,” Daniel continued. “I can’t tell you, because I wasn’t on the code panel if this was one of those ‘let’s sell our product through the code’ or if this was actually something that they believe was going to work.”

(Watch a recording of the TDLR meeting on YouTube)

Daniel was highlighting a growing problem where code officials are being asked to enforce building codes that are frequently developed through a process that is manipulated by special interests.

Code changes must be supported by data over anecdotal evidence. NAHB has long advocated for code bodies to examine how their building codes are developed. NAHB believes in strong building codes that increase the safety, comfort, durability, and energy efficiency of homes. But if no issues are identified that need addressing, there should not be a change in the code simply because of a date on a calendar.

For more information on electrical codes, contact Dan Buuck. For more information on the code development process, contact Craig Drumheller.

Comments (22)

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  1. William Hall says:

    Most HVAC units have an external disconnect, which you are supposed to use prior to working on the compressor and related assemblies. A single incident, although tragic, does not justify changing the code for everyone, especially in the light of “outdated equipment installed by an unlicensed provider.” A further investigation seems reasonable.

    • thomas gaghen says:

      you are FOS… THE FIRST THING I WILL DO WHEN I FINISH THE HOUSE I AM BUILDING WILL BE REMOVE ARC FAULTS AND GFI’S ON MY REFRIGERTORS… STUPIDIST THING I EVER HEARD OF. TOO MANY REGULATIONS… THAT DO NOTHING EXCEPT CAUSE PROBLEMS AND COST INCREASES. ARC FAULTS WERE BAD ENOUGH WHEN IT WAS JUST BEDROOMS… IF THE BOARD ISN’T CHANGING SOMETHING…. I GUESS THEY DON’T FEEL LIKE THEY ARE DOING THEIR JOB

  2. While I would not argue in favor of the change, the article makes an inaccurate representation of the NFPA and ANSI code development process. Readers should understand that “a lot of manufacturers on the panel” was really three out of fourteen and 2/3 are required to pass any change. Also represented are two from enforcement, three “users” including NAHB, two representing installer/maintainers, one from a utility, one representing labor, one representing research and testing, and one “special expert.” The manufacturers did not control the panel. Still, GFCIs were not required on other refrigeration equipment until appliance manufacturers and listing standards were able to ensure compatibility, and as noted by the panel chair, the requirement is a lot more broad than just HVAC equipment. The panel vote was ten in favor and four against. I think it is a bad rule too, but attacking the development process is disingenuous at best. It is part of an old argument that “government consensus” is better than industry consensus.

    • J. Rede says:

      The Real Question Is: Which Manufacturer’s were represented? As I understand it, and I could be wrong, the quote-unquote manufacturers that are voting are the same ones that manufacture GFCI’s. That seems like a conflict of interest in this case. Tell me, did any HVAC manufacturers actually participate in the voting process? Or any other manufacturers of products that need to actually produce products to work with these devices?
      The issue with this process may be that the committee just did not have enough due-diligence investigation performed. But it may be much more than that.

      • Noel Williams says:

        If you want to know the answer to this question all you have to do is open the code book. The three members who represent manufacturers could not control the panel vote. In fact, even the chair opposed the rule. The reasons for opposition were clearly expressed and can be seen by anyone who really wants to know what happened. Arguments against the rule simply did not convince enough panel members to vote no. Although there were at least seven public inputs that suggested changes to 210.8(F) for the next edition, none of them addressed the issue of GFCIs being incompatible with HVAC equipment. Every person who is complaining about the rule had an opportunity to make an argument to revise the rule but they did not. One suggestion was made to add an exception for HVAC equipment with power conversion equipment. Another suggestion was that the section should be eliminated because it is redundant. That person apparently did not understand the technical distinction between an outlet (covered by 210.8(F)and a receptacle (covered by 210.8(A)).

        • If the discussion is allowed to be whether a new product is good or bad, consumers/businesses will always lose. New technology will almost always be better than older technology. The true question needs to be whether new technology must be mandated simply because it is new and better. The code should not be used to mandate new and better, it should ensure a base level of safe and sound. Newest and best should be left to the choice of the buyer. The code should only mandate the newest and best if the problem it solves is suffered by the majority, not by the few.

          Changes to the codes should be few, rare, and compelling. Code changes should only mandate the newest and the best after the newest and best have been available in the market as an option long enough to be generally accepted and proven. That the code is mandating unproven, problematic technology that is not widely available from multiple sources is proof that the manufacturer of the new tech is using the code as a marketing tool, without regard for whether it had a “vote” during the adoption process.

  3. Gary Woodham says:

    They did the same thing when the code was changed to require all circuits be AFI OR GFI protected. The breakers were deficient . Even now it is difficult to finish a new home after permanent power is on but small items such as final trim items are being done. Use of electrical saws trip the circuits. Homeowners continue to call to complain about circuits tripping after normal use.

  4. Arc Fault breakers in new homes are a joke ,Our electricians typically are making 2 to 3 trips back to replace defective or sensitive breakers in new builds .Cost is adding somewhere between 1500 to 1700 a home . Clients are disliking them also and complain about the sensitivity to the breakers with their household appliances and having to reset breakers . It is not the brand we use because we have tried them all , We have cut back on the opening on a circuit to no avail .The application is not a good one . Then even having to put Garage door opener plugs that are in the ceiling on a Gfi is another that I can not fathom .30 years as a homebuilder and these new applications to the codes are really getting ridiculous, because of sue happy people due to their incompetence and or lack of common sense

  5. David Winter says:

    I agree with Gary Woodham. “The breakers were deficient”. I would go as far as to say they are defective. Defective because they cannot differentiate between the fault it is intended to detect, and electromotive forces generated by some circuits. Put the burdon on the breaker manufacturer to make a breaker that can tell the difference, instead of foisting this crap on the industry and making all other industries come up with a workaround. I’m having the same issues with residential elevators.

  6. How do we get this code provision changed back? A few incidents should not be triggering another call to “Change the Code?!” Who’s running that place anyway?!

    • Noel Williams says:

      Anyone can submit public input to the code panels under the NFPA/ANSI development process. Anyone. But a lot of people are hesitant to get involved even though it costs nothing but a little time. Just complaining accomplishes nothing in changing the code unless the complaint goes to the code panels and the complaint includes a suggestion for how the code should read. The other way to change it is by jurisdiction – just as the original story illustrated.

    • Obviously no one with common sense.

      • Noel Williams says:

        All of those with common sense should get involved in the process then. Anyone can be involved. Just complaining accomplishes nothing. The only thing wrong with the NFPA/ANSI process is the people who have something to say and don’t say it. The committees and only address the input and comments made. They don’t have the input and comments that are not made.

  7. Roger Papineau says:

    AFCI’s only protect from series arcing with aluminum wire. Paschen’s Law states that it takes 327V to sustain an arc in copper wire (series arcing). This is a fraud being perpetrated on the home buying public which is why Michigan deleted the requirement from its residential code.
    AFCI’s were first developed as a bandaid to protect 20-30-year-old homes that were originally wired with aluminum Romex.
    https://web.archive.org/web/20210219015645/http://www.combinationafci.com/

    • Noel Williams says:

      Before AFCIs were ever considered for inclusion in the NEC they were already being used for protection from fires originating in cords, specifically cords on window air conditioners. That use is now a requirement for window ac units – either AFCI or LCDI must be installed in the cord. I see a lot of picking of “facts” to support an argument rather than making an argument based on the facts.

    • Noel Williams says:

      This is a highly simplified and inaccurate conclusion from Paschen’s Law. The 327 volts was dependent on other variables. This was for a specific gas (air) at a specific pressure (atmospheric) and at a defined gap (7.5 micrometers). Different gaps, different composition of the air, different pressures, and other factors can affect this voltage and gap distance. Paschen’s law is not valid in all situations.

  8. This is just one example of how the building code, which IMHO should be a base-level safe, sound home, has morphed into a tool to obligate homeowners to live in homes special interests have decided they need. Whether the goal is zero injuries, zero energy, zero whatever, the increased costs associated with never-ending code changes take away homeowners’ option to build or remodel a home they can afford. Homeowners should be able to choose between higher monthly costs but a lower initial ticket, more maintenance over less, and appropriate levels of risk for their family.

    • Noel Williams says:

      The libertarian in me agrees that I should get to decide what I want to use for a house and how much risk I am willing to assume. The problem is I don’t have the right to decide how much risk I can impose on my neighbors and first responders, especially firemen. For example, If I build a home that is less safe and more likely to have a fire, I put my neighbors properties at risk and require firemen to be put at risk to respond. So the argument that I should get to decide entirely on my own really only works if I am completely isolated from any community. In fact that was an argument from Fire Marshals who claimed that experience and test data showed a reduced risk of fire when AFCIs were used and that would also mean that there would be less risk to fire fighters. Things like this cannot be based solely on my personal desires if they affect others.

  9. david russell says:

    The AC’s GFCI will have be endured if they are set on enforcement. It takes 2-4 years to work bugs out. Been through all ARC Fault issues from the beginning. I also had and still have some issues with the Arc Dual function breaker codes , as it is written it removes basic homeowner responsibility and places it upon electricians to educate/ protect homeowners. from themselves. But my NOW position after over 50,000 + educational service calls on new homes and developing new install practices that reduce nuisance trips…. The homes are safer, the electricians are more skilled in proper installs, appliances are replaced when end of life of appliance has come. It stops homeowners from unsafe practices in a lot of cases, it makes it hard to use electricity improperly. Our biggest problem is the cost was never passed fairly to electrical contractors. And the bootleg shade tree electricians that come and for 350 to 750 will remove all those JUNKY Arc fault/GFCI devices so mom can use her 2 heaters. And there is no penalty enforced upon others when codes are ignored as 99 % of the time nothing comes of it. But I again state that 1% chance of a problem is when ARCS are removed isn’t worth the Life Safety risk with the new mind set of homeownership. IMHO

    • Dale Holland says:

      As a long time Master Electrician, I will state that any breaker that trips during normal use of a device is defective. I’m not talking about putting 30 amps of load on a 20 amp breaker, but if a 20 amp breaker trips when an electric heater turns on, it is junk. I never got involved in residential wiring other than my own home, but I will NEVER use arc fault breakers. They are not needed in a properly wired home and only create issues. There is also no need for a GFCI breaker on the condenser unit of an AC system. Every condenser unit is required to have a disconnecting means within sight of the unit, and if the person servicing the unit is too stupid to pull that disconnect or use other protective measures, then he deserves to be shocked. I worked commercial HVAC and Electrical for over 30 years. Never had any issues. You can not solve stupidity with regulations.

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