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Wade Elliott: An Update On ’20 NFPA Code Cycle

Wade Elliott

Editor’s Note: Wade Elliott is the founder and owner of Kingston, Wash.-based Utility Supply Group, a leading distributor of electrical infrastructure products to RV parks and campgrounds. Elliott sits on the NFPA 70 (NEC) Code Making Panel 7 as a primary member representing the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and also sits on the NFPA 1192/1194 panels as an alternate, again representing ARVC.

Every three years the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) repeats a process to evaluate and change the National Electric Code (NEC) to enhance safety, provide clarification and guidance to Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). The NEC is a standard by which states and municipalities (and others) can establish common ‘rules’ by adopting this NFPA standard. The 2020 code cycle started with a number of recommended changes (known as Public Inputs) submitted in late 2017 to the NFPA.

Eighteen separate code making panels went through a first draft process this past January. This process has a number of people from many disciplines collaborating on evaluating these Public Inputs. The panel then agrees to adopt, discard or modify the recommendations. If the recommendation is adopted, a vote is taken which requires a super majority of the panel to pass.  This work is then made available to the public for comment, for this cycle that will be starting in the summer.  Following the gathering of these comments, the panels will then evaluate the comments in the fall for submission to NFPA for final approval in 2019.

At times the various panels make changes in articles that have an effect on other articles; sometimes with unintended effects. During the 2017 code cycle, changes in a general section of the code concerning ground fault protection were implemented. However, these changes were interpreted by many AHJ’s as applying to special occupancies, such as farm buildings, RV’s and RV parks. These changes would require ground fault protection on 30- and 50-amp RV circuits.

A problem with this interpretation is that no manufacturer makes an RV pedestal with 30- or 50-amp ground fault protection. Additionally, there are not any known instances of shock hazard, which would have been prevented by ground fault protection on the 30- and 50-amp circuits.  Some safety experts actually think requiring this protection would serve to reduce overall safety, because many people would take actions to prevent the spurious trips by bypassing the safety devices.

The confusion caused by the differing interpretations has caused some AHJ’s to shut down RV park construction for lack of compliance to the general standard. Article 90.3 of the NEC provides that section 500 (Special Occupancies) “may supplement or modify the requirements” of the standard based on unique requirements of these special occupancies. The panel’s first draft addressed this confusion, as well as other topics.

The panel also took steps to clarify the requirement that an RV can only be connected to one source of power. That is, an RV cannot plug into the 50-amp, 30-amp and 20-amp (or any combination) to supply the RV’s electrical system. Using the 20-amp receptacle for auxiliary loads exterior to the RV is not affected by this requirement.  No RV is manufactured to use more than one power source. The addition of second power cords is an after-market process. This clarification will help RV park operators limit the use of more than one cord to an RV in their parks.

New to the 2020 code is a requirement that a new RV’s be built with reverse polarity detectors.  This will detect the reversal of hot and neutral wires to limit or prevent shock hazards. This reverse polarity could be on the park side of the pedestal, the RV side of the pedestal, and in some cases, neighboring RV’s (when connected to the same loop feed circuit or distribution panel). RV parks should take action now to ensure the pedestals and boxes in their parks do not have hot and neutral wires crossed.  A simple detector will allow you to quickly check for reverse polarity. This is best accomplished before your season starts so you can limit the reverse polarity search to the site equipment. If the RV site equipment is correctly wired, a detection of reverse polarity must then be coming from an RV in the park. RV park operators could quickly narrow the reverse polarity search (if they have taken action to check their sites) to that caused by an RV or others on the same circuit.

The panel took action to prevent autotransformers from plugging into RV site electrical equipment. The use of autotransformers helps the user’s RV maintain a good voltage in their RV, but at the cost of additional amperage used at that site and the possibility of lower voltage to surrounding RVs. This action helps RV park operators prohibit their use by having a code article to point to when speaking with their guests.

The panel also made a technical change to allow GRCI protection to come from either a breaker or receptacle, while removing the requirement to have tamper resistance on the receptacle. For the 2020 NEC the 20-amp receptacle will need to be rated as weather resistant. In our deliberations we also insured that we continued the 2017 ground rod provisions. Ground Rods are allowed, but cannot be required.

As mentioned above we are well into the process, but cannot call the work we have done so far the end of the process. Anyone is permitted to make comments on the NFPA website, www.nfpa.org. To do this, search for NFPA 70 on the website, then choose the tab for Next Edition. Comments may be made from July 6 to August 30.  You may have to register on the website, but there is no cost to do so. Stay involved in the process!

 

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