Wade Elliott: GFCI Protections Are Focus Of NEC Update 

Story by Woodall's Campground Management

Editor's Note: Wade Elliott is the president of Utility Supply Group, Kingston, Wash. Elliott is a member of the National Fire Protection Agency’s (NFPA) National Electric Code (NEC) Panel 7. Panel 7 is tasked with developing and updating the NEC for RVs, RV Parks, Manufactured Homes and Manufactured Home Communities. Wade represents The National Association of RV Parks on the NEC Panel 7.

The triannual update to the National Electric Code (NEC) is nearly complete and is due for publishing later this year for states and other Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) to adopt and implement at the beginning of 2020. In my state of Washington, the new editions are usually put in place for enforcement at the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1.

In the 2020 edition’s debate and discussion a clear and unmistakable theme came through – ground faults and its increased safety. In the 2017 NEC a rather significant global change was made to a general section of the NEC requiring that many (branch) circuits have ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection.  The code reads, “all single-phase receptacles rated 150 volts or less…100 amperes or less installed in the following locations…”. These locations include “outdoors.”

From this, many AHJ’s and inspectors concluded that RV site electrical equipment must have GFCI protection on the 30- and 50-amp receptacles, in addition to the 20-amp receptacle where it is already required.

In the 2020 code RV pedestals are explicitly excluded from the need for 30- and 50-amp GFCI protection for the following reasons:  

— The 30- and 50-amp power on the RV pedestal are considered feeder circuits (those circuits that feed another panel) and not branch circuits. The changes made in 2017 applied to branch circuits, such as the 20-amp receptacle on an RV pedestal, not feeder circuits.

— The leakage current allowed by UL for GFCI circuits when all the downstream GFCI receptacles are added together would be enough to constantly trip the pedestal GFCI circuit.  

In all the discussions the various code panels had during the debate and during the public commenting period the theme consistently emerging was — with more GFCI protection available, fewer electrical shocks are seen. You can bet that electrical inspectors will be paying closer attention. An electrocution in an RV park, which could have been prevented, could leave the owner or manager open to litigation.  

The message was explicit; GFCI is now a hot topic. Get ahead of the game and install GFCI protection on all circuits where required. NEC article 210.8 (B) is the place to find out where they are required.

Bottom line — the 30- and 50-amp circuits feeding the RV are NOT required to have GFCI protection. Preventing the inclusion of GFCI protection of 30- and 50-amp RV site circuits is a big deal and operators need help to prevent a future push to include them by GFCI protecting circuits that should be protected.

Another safety issue is reverse polarity. Reverse polarity is the switching of the hot and neutral wires in a circuit. Reverse polarity is prevented in personal and home electrical devices by one of the blades on 15- and 20-amp plugs being wider than the other blade. When a wire is crossed in an RV park a number of problems can occur; tripping or even inoperability of GFCI protective devices, damage to sensitive electronic equipment, etc.

In the 2020 code a requirement for a reverse polarity detector was added to the construction of new RVs. This reverse polarity could be caused by a problem internal to the RV, a crossed wire in the RV site distribution and even a problem in a nearby RV on the same circuit. RV park operators ensuring their site electrical distribution has the correct polarity before guests are placed on that circuit can sort out what sounds like a possible can of worms. When your equipment is ‘clean,’ a problem that comes up can now be isolated easier and removed.  

Here is another spot to get ahead of the game.

The code panel removed the requirement for the 20-amp receptacle to have tamper resistance normally required inside of a home. However, look for the requirement that the 20-amp receptacle be weather resistant. I would expect to see this required on 30- and 50-amp receptacles in the future.

The 2020 code will explicitly prohibit having more than one 30- or 50-amp cord feeding an RV.  Many people had believed it was implicit in the code already. No RV is manufactured to have more than one cord and unqualified persons have modified RVs that have them.

A recent article in the press had recommended replacing the 30-amp receptacle in a pedestal to allow two 50-amp cords to an RV. This violates the NEC in at least two ways.

— If a 50-amp receptacle is present, a 30-amp receptacle must be present

— Two cords feeding an RV are prohibited.

This is a safety problem and should never be allowed on your RV site equipment.

Finally, the 2020 code prohibits the use of autotransformers when connected to RV site equipment. These autotransformers, sometimes also called a buck/boost transformer, place an additional load on the distribution systems in an RV park and can cause the sites on a circuit surrounding a site using the autotransformer to experience lower voltages from the additional amp flow to the autotransformer. The code article does note that the use of surge protectors is allowed.

For the 2020 NEC cycle many items of concern were clarified and settled in a positive manner for RV park operators. The panel reaffirmed the ground rod issue from recent years, gave operators language to prohibit use of multiple connections and autotransformers to their pedestals and gave notice that operators need to check their distribution system for reverse polarity problems.  

However, the principal message is safety and the prevention of electrocutions by using GFCI protection in more places than we have seen previously. Get ahead of the game and install GFCI protection on all circuits where required.

Original Article