In today’s podcast, Reuben and Tessa are joined by John Williamson, a retired Chief Electrical Inspector and electrical expert from Minnesota. The main topic of discussion revolves around the adoption of the 2023 National Electrical Code (NEC) in Minnesota and its impact on residential properties and its date of effectivity.
The podcast delves into significant changes, such as the expanded use of GFCI protection in kitchens, now covering all receptacles, including wall outlets. They also highlight updates for specific appliances, and outdoor outlets, and touch on AFCI protection when replacing electric panels. Throughout the discussion, John provides valuable insights and explanations behind these changes to ensure electrical safety and compliance for homeowners, electricians, and contractors.
Reuben and Tessa emphasize the importance of staying informed about these changes to ensure that home inspections, sales, and purchases comply with the updated NEC for enhanced electrical safety. The episode wraps up by directing listeners to additional resources for more information about the 2023 NEC
Please see the link below for the NEC Changes and detailed information.
Also, here’s a link to some of John’s articles on LinkedIn:
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Reuben: Welcome to my house, welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of Structure Tech Home Inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman. I’m your host alongside building science geek Tessa Murray. We help home inspectors up their game through education and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019, and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom.
Reuben: Welcome back. We are back with another podcast recording, another episode. Tessa, how are you doing today?
Tessa: Hey, good morning, Reuben. I’m doing okay on the rebound from some illness, but I’m still here, alive, grateful to be alive and doing well. How are you?
Reuben: I’m doing well. I got no complaints. I’ve been injured for the past couple of months. I haven’t been to my gym lately, but I’m back at it now and I’m feeling great. I am re-energized and couldn’t be happier.
Tessa: You need your workouts. You need your high intensity workouts, don’t you? To stay fit.
Reuben: I need my CrossFit workouts.
Tessa: And your family does too.
Reuben: They need me to get my workouts in. Yes.
Reuben: I got my son going with me now. The whole goal was he was going to start going with me this summer, and then I got hurt and I wasn’t going at all. All those plans went out the window, but as of just a few days ago, he has started doing CrossFit with me. I’m super pumped about that.
Tessa: Is there going to be a weightlifting competition between you two starting out here?
Reuben: I really hope so, Tess. Nothing will make me prouder. I would love that. Right now, I think I outweigh him by about 50 pounds. But give him about a year. He’s 15 right now. He’s about as tall as me, but not quite as thick. Not that I’m thick, but he’s really thin. But give him a year or two. That’ll change.
Tessa: Well that’s fun.
Reuben: All right. So…
Tessa: Who’s our guest today?
Reuben: We’ve got a special guest today. We’ve got John Williamson. And John, I should have pulled up your bio because you used to be in charge of electrical for the state of Minnesota, but you’ve stepped back from that role and now you’re just an electrical guru. Is that about right?
John: I don’t know about that. I’m having fun. Yeah, I retired from the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry in December of 2021 as Chief Electrical Inspector. I’d been with the state 27 years. Prior to that, I was an electrician. I worked for a small private inspection company. We did building inspections, plumbing, everything. We did it all. I had all the certifications. It was a lot of fun. And so prior to that, I was an electrician, foreman general foreman. I’ve been in the trade 45 plus years. And since I retired, I’ve ramped up my work with Family Handyman. And now, I’m working with Fine Homebuilding too. Writing stories, editing electrical content created by others. It keeps me busy. Yeah. I enjoy it.
Reuben: Yeah. And your articles are always fantastic. That’s how you and I got to know each other was through the Family Handyman, right?
John: Correct. Yeah.
Reuben: Okay, yeah. I thought so. We both contributed articles there. I love that you contribute to them because sometimes there’s stuff in there where it’s like, all right, who wrote this? Where did this come from? Do I… Can I believe this? But anytime it’s electrical related, you’re the author of it and I know it’s going to be correct. I love that you are participating in that.
John: I had an editor tell me that the internet has an insatiable appetite for new content. And it’s crazy. The quantity of stuff they have to produce every month for the internet and there’s no way I can create enough electrical content. They’ve got other freelancers writing for them. And I’m happy to edit their work. And they’ll mention my name in their stories. So yeah it’s all about, number one, safety, accuracy, make sure it complies with the electrical code. I think we’ve got the best electrical content on the internet because there’s so much misinformation out there. It’s really unfortunate, but can’t fact check everything, but we do.
Reuben: Yeah, you do.
Tessa: Thanks for your contributions, John. Yeah.
John: Thank you.
Tessa: Making the world a safer place, one article at a time.
Reuben: That’s right. John is a repeat guest on the show. The last time John was on was about three years ago. Amd it was shortly after or maybe shortly before Minnesota adopted the 2020 NEC. The NEC stands for the National Electrical Code. Now, in different parts of the country, they have different electrical codes. They might adopt the National Electric Code. They might adopt older versions of it. They might use the IRC, the International Residential Code, and pull the electrical section out of there. They might adopt the NEC and then make a bunch of changes to it and say, well, we like this part, but we’re going to amend this, that, and the other. But in Minnesota, man, we are strict on this. We adopt the entire NEC. We don’t change a single word out of it. Well, John will correct me here. To my knowledge, we don’t change a single word. We adopt the whole thing. And that is our electrical code. And it just went into effect. Wasn’t it July 1st, John? Is that right?
John: Correct. Yeah. It was adopted in Minnesota through the administrative rulemaking process. That’s about an 18-month-long process, but it was adopted with an effective date of July 1st, 2023. And the whole industry supports that concept. All of the continuing education and apprenticeship programs, technical colleges, they’re all on board with that July 1 adoption date. I just, real quickly, I was going to mention, unlike model building codes that do need to be amended at the local level, Minnesota thankfully doesn’t have hurricanes. We don’t have earthquakes. It’s very common for jurisdictions to adopt the model building code at their local level to add stuff in or take stuff out, depending on regional or local needs. The electrical code is not a model code. It’s an installation standard, and it’s promulgated at the national level. It’s flipped around. The building code is amended after the fact. The electrical code is amended prior to publication on a three-year cycle. When it hits the street, it’s done. There’s really no need to amend the electrical code. There are locations around the country where they do amend it, but those are usually for other reasons that I won’t necessarily go into. Politically, they might say, you know what? We don’t like the expansion of AFCI or GFCI protection for this, that, the other reason. But in Minnesota, we historically have always adopted the electrical code without any amendments because that’s what the industry wants.
Tessa: And John, Minnesota, it sounds like we’re on the 2023 code, and every three years, it seems like we adopt it, but is that the same for every other state?
John: No. If you Google electrical code map or adoption map, you’ll find NFPA, the National Fire Protection Association, and other national players. They have maps online that track the adoption of the National Electrical Code, and the map shows the jurisdictions that are maybe still in the 2020, the 2017, 2014. It just takes a lot of effort to adopt a code. In some areas, other areas, it’s almost automatic. The entire country is not on the 2023 as of today. I would guess maybe half the country is.
John: But if it’s… If you get… As long as it’s done on a state-by-state basis, that helps the electrical contractors. If they’re working in the state of Minnesota, they know that there’s only one code here. If they’re bouncing back between Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas, Iowa, they might have to have three code books on their dashboard. I don’t know.
Tessa: Well, that’s good to know just because we’ve got listeners that are all spread out across the United States.
John: Sure, yeah.
Tessa: It’s helpful for them to know that this discussion today is about 2023…
John: Yeah. Good point. Good point.
Tessa: NEC changes and updates. And if it’s not adopted where they are, at some point, it will be coming.
John: Yeah, very true.
Reuben: Yeah. So that’s why we’re talking about all this. One thing I want to bring up too, just for anybody who’s not super familiar with how codes work, I know we’ve done whole shows on this topic before, but the way it works is that we adopt this code, and now this applies to any permits that are pulled on or after July 1st. So if you pull the permit on June 30th, whatever work you do under that permit, which hasn’t even started taking place yet, you might start doing the work next month. If you pull that permit on June 30th, your work needs to comply with the 2020 NEC, the old version of the National Electrical Code. The new version only applies to work performed on permits pulled on July 1st or after that. Just want to make that distinction, and none of this is retroactive. It’s like if there’s a change that happens, it doesn’t mean if you’re selling your house, doing whatever, there’s no enforcement to make you bring things up to this new standard. This new standard only applies to new work that’s being done. Correct, John?
John: That is historically a correct statement, however, but…
Reuben: All right. Yeah.
John: There are provisions that have come into the NEC in the last few years that are retroactive, and a good example is replacing receptacle outlets. So I’ll use my son’s house as an example. 1953 vintage home, he’s probably got some old two-prong receptacle outlets somewhere in the house. If you go to replace that receptacle outlet today, it has to meet the current code, and it used to be pretty simple. You’d take out this old broken two-prong receptacle outlet, and you’d replace it with a three-prong outlet and ground it somehow. Well, now it has to be tamper-resistant receptacle, and it has to have AFCI protection, and it might need GFCI protection depending on where it is. Say it’s an old two-prong receptacle in the bathroom. So now you’re looking at tamper-resistant, AFCI protection, GFCI protection. It’s gotten a lot more complicated, and there’s…
Reuben: Okay, John, help me understand. What’s the difference between that and what I was saying?
John: Well, the retroactive… If you have that home today, and you don’t replace your receptacles, you’re not required to replace them. If you replace the receptacles, then the new code kicks in. So the code is not retroactive. When a new code comes out, you don’t automatically have to bring everything up to code. But if you touch it, or if you replace it… Another good example is the requirement for the emergency disconnect for first responders on the exterior of a home. If somebody’s upgrading their service today from a 60-amp service to a 200-amp service, you have to add that emergency disconnect because you’re making a change.
Reuben: And that went into effect during the last code cycle in 2020, right?
John: Right, right.
Reuben: Okay. Now, on that, just because this is one that I get asked about all the time. I’m sure we talked about it three years ago, but refresh my memory. When you’re replacing a panel, one of the things you need to have today is you need to have AFCI protection in a whole bunch of places throughout the house. If you’re just simply swapping out the electric panel, do you need to add AFCI breakers?
John: No. There’s a provision in the code that says… They’re an exception, I should say. You don’t need to add… If you’re just replacing the panel, you’ve got… You’re taking out the old panel. You’re sliding in a new panel. Say it’s an old fuse panel, and you’re upgrading the circuit breakers. And it’s basically in the same footprint. The new panel is in the same footprint as the old panel. There’s an exception in the code that says you don’t need to provide AFCI protection for all of those existing branch circuits in that scenario. Even if you need to put in some junction boxes because the existing wires aren’t long enough to reach the new panel, that’s okay. There is an allowance for that. But if you, on the other end, if you extend those existing branch circuits, then you have to provide AFCI protection. And there’s different ways you can do that.
Reuben: Okay. All right. Thank you. All right. So, boy, I already feel like this is going to be a two-parter. We’re going to try to keep this to a one-parter. But last time we had you on, we could not keep it to one show. But I feel like there’s not as many big changes that affect purely residential stuff. And that’s really what I wanted to focus on today is the more visual changes, the more noticeable changes that are coming that home inspectors and people selling and buying houses ought to be aware of. And you and I kind of exchanged some emails beforehand going over this list. So, John, I’m hoping you could work through a few of these bigger changes that we talked about.
John: Yeah, absolutely. The first one that you and I looked at was the expansion of GFCI protection in kitchens. And this is one of those code changes that can sneak up on people because all they did was they removed a few words from the code. So, when something is deleted, part of the words are still there, but most of the words are gone. It might not, just casually reading the code, you might not realize, oh, there was a change there. So, it’s helpful to study the changes so you know what’s going on, what the background reasoning was. But anyway, there was a… They don’t call them proposals anymore. They call them public inputs. There’s public input. And the Consumer Product Safety Commission tracks a lot of this stuff, statistical information, fatalities, electrical accidents. And there was enough substantiation brought forward that they decided, you know what, you’ve got appliances in your kitchen. And yeah, a lot of times they’re sitting on the countertops. Well, say you’re having a party and you set up a little card table and you plug in your Crockpot to a wall receptacle in that kitchen. Well, the hazard associated with that appliance is still there.
John: Just because it’s not sitting on the countertop plugged into a countertop receptacle and it’s sitting on this little side table plugged into a wall receptacle, the hazard is still there. The hazard is faulty appliances, worn cords, loose connections. So, the GFCI requirement in kitchens, they omitted or they deleted the wording that says, kitchens-for receptacles that are intended to serve the countertop. They removed the last part of that. So, now it’s just kitchens. So, visualize a kitchen. You’ve got countertop receptacles. Those are GFCI. And then if you’ve got a big enough kitchen and you’ve got wall spaces in your kitchen, maybe a little dinette area, those both wall receptacles now that are down at 12 inches or whatever, those are all. And it’s not a major change for the electrical contractor or the electrician. Chances are those receptacles may already be on, well, they’re already on the 20 small appliance circuit. Chances are contractors using GFCI circuit breaker, probably a combination or dual function, I should say, AFCI, GFCI breaker back in the panel. So, it’s not a game changer for electricians or home builders, but it is an expansion of GFCI. So, it’s one to have a good knowledge of.
Reuben: So, let me repeat it back and make sure I got this straight. You’re saying that in the past, it was all of the countertop receptacles or receptacles intended to serve countertops, and now it’s all of the receptacles?
Reuben: Real simple. It doesn’t matter where it is, if it’s under the sink, if it’s behind the refrigerator, whatever.
John: Yeah. I’d have to look in the code. There might be some exceptions that I don’t have right in the handy. But for the most part, just think about previously the typical wall receptacles in the kitchen were not required to be GFCI protected. A lot of times in recent times, they probably already were, but it’s just now that those are required, so.
Reuben: Okay. All right. Good to know about. Thank you. What else do we got?
John: Well, let’s see here. We’ve got, there’s a change in the code. They added, let me pull it up here so I can read it verbatim. They added a provision in the code, we’ve always had this requirement and code that you have to have GFCI protection for receptacles that are within 6 feet of a sink. Well, believe it or not that, and it was for kitchens, and there’s a definition of kitchen where you’ve got food preparation primary provisions for cooking, that sort of thing. So what was missing from that equation were bar sinks. So in a family room, there was just a gap in the code that did not require GFCI protection for receptacles at bar sinks. So we still have the requirement for GFCI protection for kitchens, and like I said, they eliminated that countertop provision.
John: And then they added new requirement areas with sinks and permanent provisions for food preparation, beverage preparation, or cooking. So that loops in any areas with sinks such as wet bars. That’s the classic example that people can visualize in their head, so that those receptacles now are required to be GFCI protected. Similarly for other than dwelling units, there’s same provision new in the code. So when you walk into your local convenience store to grab your slushie and a hot dog, the rollers [chuckle] you’re gonna, all the GFCI receptacles for those convenience store dispensing areas are gonna be GFCI protected. So that was another expansion of GFCI protection.
John: It’s the theme here, if you really study the code hard, it’s becoming a case where there’s very few places in the house now that are not required to be GFCI protected. The day could come, I’m not making a prediction, but the day could come when the entire house is protected by GFCI and probably AFCI.
Reuben: I’ve heard people talking about that, John.
John: Yeah. They don’t call it GFCI or ground-fault circuit interrupter protection in Europe. They have another name for it, but it’s fault protection. And it’s many countries around the world, not just Europe fault protection it might be at a higher elevation. Ours is 4-6 milliamps because we’re concerned about somebody getting shock and affecting their heart. But in a lot of countries, maybe it might be 20 milliamps, they might have a higher threshold, but fault detection is pretty much standard for an entire home in many countries around the world.
John: So there’s a lot of places that are way ahead us on this. We’ve been doing it incrementally. But the day will come when it’s just part of every service panel. It’ll just be built right in. Just like surge protection is now you can add a surge, whole house surge protection, but as panel manufacturers ramp up, they’re just building the surge… Whole house surge protection right into panels, so.
Reuben: Yeah. Why not? And would it make sense just to make it much more easy to understand if we just call this electrocution protection? Isn’t that what it does and why we have it?
John: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Electrocution by definition means that you’re land… You’re dead, sorry to say, but it’s harsh. GFCI protection is to prevent fatal electrical shocks. You still might feel something, you might get a tingle, but it’s not gonna kill you. And so yeah, you’re exactly right. It’s protection from fatal electrocution, fatal electrical shock.
Reuben: Yeah. Maybe in our reports we should just start calling them electrocution protection devices and really confuse the heck out of everybody, [laughter] But it’d be so much easier to understand and it would be so much more widely embraced. Like, people get it. You talk to a home seller, they’ve been in their house 50 years, and it’s like, oh, now I need to put in these GFPDI things like the inspector said I need these, why do I need these? If you just said electrocution prevention devices, like, oh, okay, yeah, that sounds nice. Like smoke alarms, everybody gets it. It’s real simple. We know what it does.
John: Yeah. We need to take small step back because this was a significant change in the 2020 code. So the receptacles that we’re talking about are not just the 15 and 20 amp circuits. We’re talking about. Excuse me, the, when you go back to the primary… Requirements for GFCI in the opening paragraph says, all 125 volts to 250 volts receptacles were sold in the following locations: Yada, Yada, Yada. So that was a significant expansion, now… And that’s a good segue to the next topic, which is… And I don’t wanna…
Tessa: Let me interrupt real quick, John, was that… Would that include clothes, dryers and…
Tessa: Ovens and stuff like that?
John: Yep. That’s where I’m headed. Yep.
Tessa: Okay. Sorry.
John: They did a good thing in the code. In article 422 for appliances, they spelled out the technical requirements for when GFCI was required for specific appliances. And then they had examples, like inflation, tire inflation machine at the convenience store and different things, drinking fountains. Well, now they’ve cleaned all that up. They took it out of 422, they put it back in article 210 where all the other GFCI stuff is, and they simplified things. And I’m gonna read this to you verbatim here. GFCI protection shall be provided for the branch circuit or outlet supplying the following appliances rated 150 or less… 150 volts or less to ground and 60 inches less. And that applies to single phase or three phase. But that’s sort of… I don’t wanna get too technical. So what they’ve done is they’ve captured all the appliances that require GFCI protection, and they put them in a nice list and they added five new appliances to that list. And that is the significant change. I’ll just run down the list real quick. And some of this is not for residential.
John: Some of this is for commercial, like automotive vacuum machines, drinking water coolers and bottle fill stations, high pressure spray washing machines, tire inflation machines, vending machines, some pumps, dishwashers that was already in the code. Electric ranges, wall mounted ovens, counter mounted cooking units, closed dryers and microwave ovens. Again, for somebody that might not be in the industry, they might not realize that when I said branch circuit or outlet, we’re talking about cord and plug connected appliances here, or hardwired appliances. So it doesn’t matter anymore. People would be able to bypass the GFCI requirement for certain appliances by plugging them into a receptacle outlet ’cause most GFCI protection is focused on providing that protection at the receptacle. Well, we’re in a different part of the code now and we’re talking of receptacles or hardware and a good example is a dishwasher. Dishwasher might be plugged in to a receptacle under the sink, or it might be direct connected to a piece of NM cable that’s just coming out of the wall underneath the dishwasher.
John: So for all those appliances that I just mentioned, and the five new ones, again, I’ll repeat them, electric range, wall mounted oven, counter mounted cooking unit, clothes dryer and microwave oven. Those five new appliances were added to the list. Again, the GFCI protection requirements have been incremental, but they’re starting to capture the 240 volt appliances that we’re used to using like washers and I’m sorry dryers and ranges of cooking units. So…
Reuben: Yeah. And then it makes me wonder as a home inspector, what should our recommendation be now? For forever we’ve been saying, “Hey, it’s a good idea to add GFCI protection in the kitchen to help prevent against lethal shocks. And it’s been required… We don’t say this in our reports, but it’s been required since like 1987 or something. It’s been around for a long time. It’s really…
John: 50 years actually. Yeah.
Reuben: Okay. Yeah.
Reuben: But it’s really easy for us to make this recommendation, but now you’ve got this change. You’ve got a house that was built… It’s on the market, it’s new construction. They just put it together, [chuckle], and they just got approval from the city, and the dishwasher didn’t have GFCI protection or the oven, the wall oven didn’t have GFCI protection. What am I gonna do? Am I gonna go in there now today and say, “Hey, you may wanna upgrade to a GFCI protected circuit for the wall oven too.” In both situations I’m suggesting a change to something that’s already there. I’m suggesting an upgrade, but the newer one seems absolutely ludicrous. The sellers are gonna run me out of their house if I start talking about making changes to something that hasn’t even been lived in yet. Where do we draw the line, John?
Reuben: I know you’re not a home inspector. But…
John: There’s a great saying in the… Primarily in the inspection community or in the code development community, code is… It’s a consensus code and anybody and everybody can submit public input and public comment. And when somebody pushes back about a new requirement in the code, the standard reply is, we look forward to public comments for the next code cycle. [laughter]
John: So and it’s hard not to get sidetracked here, but the code panels are hundreds and hundreds of people that are involved in 20 plus code-making panels that NFPA does not write the code. NFPA is just the, they’re just guiding the process. They’re like the recording secretary. They’re just kinda, they’re holding court and they’re providing an opportunity for people to bring all this stuff forward. So, but you’ve got, and the code-panels are balanced. They got special rules so that you can’t have anyone special interest group can’t have a super majority and that kind of thing. It is pretty balanced and consensus. But when they bring data forward with fatalities, service people, homeowners, children the whole air conditioner thing that the GFCI requirement for, air conditioners, which we’re gonna talk about next, that was all based on, a couple of kids getting killed. It’s just heart wrenching. So it’s hard for the code making panels to argue against that statistical information when somebody presents them with a body count. It’s like, oh my gosh, we need to change the code. Unfortunately, everything gets painted with the same brush and now it applies across the board. I understand what you’re saying and I have the same feeling sometimes it’s like, are we really fixing a problem here, based on one situation, or where are we going with this? So.
Reuben: Yeah. All right, so what do we got next, John?
John: The next thing is the requirement for GFCI protection for primarily air conditioners. That was the a big heartburn. The code change in 2020 was for outdoor outlets. And again, we’re talking about outlets. This is one of my, not a pet peeve, but it’s kind of pet peeve I guess, when we talk about outlets, people refer to receptacles as outlets. Well, receptacle is just one type of outlet. We’ve got lighting outlets, we’ve got smoke alarm outlets, we’ve got appliance outlets, we got electric heat outlets. Outlet is just defining the code. It’s just a point on the system where you derive power for a piece of utilization equipment. So if we’re talking about receptacles, we need to call them receptacles not just outlets. So, but in this case, we’re using the universal term outlets. So 2020, the requirement for GFCI protection for outdoor outlets.
John: It was like throwing this giant fishing net out your window and capturing all of this outdoor stuff, and there just wasn’t a whole lot of thought given to it. There’s an exception for lighting. You don’t have to have GFCI protection for outdoor lighting outlets. But the biggest problem that that change created was it netted the air conditioning units, well, air conditioning units, condensing units, we found out through trials and tribulations and heartburn and talking to the HVAC industry, their equipment meets a different standard. They’re allowed to have some leakage current in their equipment, especially when you’re talking about equipment that has power conversion in it where let’s say a mini-split system where you’ve got the outdoor condenser unit and then you’ve got the indoor evaporator unit and but it’s variable speed. So they’re taking AC power, converting it to DC power so they can regulate the speed of the blower fans and that sort of thing.
John: So this power conversion equipment was probably the cause for a lot nuisance tripping of the GFCI. So anyway, long story short there was a tentative interim amendment. There was some relief provided to the industry. And as of now the electrical code has, created an exception. Let me get to it here. For outdoor outlets, which, like I said, it’s a huge net it captures so many for dwellings, all outdoor outlets, which we’re talking garages, accessory buildings, boat houses, that sort of thing. But the exception states, GFCI protection shall not be required for listed HVAC equipment. This exception will expire September 1st, 2026. So if your inspectors go out today and they find a new air conditioning unit that does not have GFCI protection, that’s fine. But that exception will expire on September 1st, 2026. And the idea there is to give the manufacturers, HVAC industry, the product safety standards, the UL standards it gives people time to ramp up and tweak their equipment, bring down these fault current thresholds so that GFCI… They’ll play nice together. The GFCI, 4-6 milliamp threshold will work nicely with the equipment. Everybody will be happy. So we’re providing the protection from electrocution, but we don’t have the phone ringing off the hook with people complaining, “Hey, I can’t, my GFCI keeps tripping.”
John: And then that’s what was happening with electric ranges. And the story that I heard was that the heating elements in a countertop cook unit, electric cooktop, or electric range, when they’re manufactured, those heating elements have residual oil on them from the manufacturing process. Well, when you first fire up that range, that brand new range, that oil took time to cook off. And while it was cooking off, it provided a path for leakage current and the GFCI would trip. So people envision you’re moving into a brand new home, you’ve got all these beautiful new appliances and the GFCI for the range keeps tripping, I mean, I would be annoyed too. And what the manufacturer said, “Well, it just takes time for that residual oil to cook off. And then the tripping won’t happen anymore. So, that goes back to the appliance manufacturers, the appliance manufacturers have to roll up their sleeves and say, “Okay, quality control, what can we do to prevent this from happening moving forward.” So it’s a partnership. Gotta make it work.
Reuben: Yeah. At that point, I’m calling my electrician, I’m saying, “I don’t care what the code says, please take out this newfangled breaker you put in and put in the old breaker that works.” [laughter]
Reuben: And I’m sure tons and tons and tons of them were doing that. Right?
John: That is a possibility.
John: That is a possibility.
Reuben: Okay. Alright, what else have we got John?
John: Let’s see. Countertops, islands, peninsulas, briefly, I don’t know how we’re doing on time, but…
Reuben: We can’t do this one briefly, John.
John: Okay. Alright.
Reuben: This is the one that shocked me.
Reuben: Pardon the pun. That was a mistake. I’m sorry. [laughter] Surprised me John.
John: That was good. That was good. So when you go back several years, I mean, I can remember being at inspector meetings and inspectors were arguing amongst themselves and there was a point where you had to have, you had to measure your peninsula or you measured your countertop and you needed to have two receptacles or three receptacles based on this linear measurement. And then that all went away. And then the requirement became, okay, doesn’t matter how big it is, you only need one receptacle and typically it’s gonna be off the side of the peninsula or the cabinet. So I was like, “Okay, that’s cool. We only need one receptacle. Doesn’t matter how big it is.” Well then in 2020, they went with, you would determine the number of receptacles based on the square foot measurement of the countertop.
John: And well now for 2023, [laughter] after all these years of contractors and homeowners and electricians and the inspectors standing around that island arguing [laughter] amongst themselves, now receptacles are optional. [laughter] You’re not required to have any receptacles on your island. So the code language, again, very subtle change. It says if you install receptacles on your island, it has to meet these requirements, A, B, C, D. So it’s now optional. And I think that’s a welcome change. And again, unfortunately it was based on some really alarming statistics where people, children have been injured. I believe there was one or more fatalities where people were snagging the cords and pulling appliances off the countertop, sometimes into their lap or onto their arms or legs, you can imagine a crockpot or something. There’s just… I was never comfortable forcing people or telling people, the code requires you gotta have an outlet and it’s gotta be over here. And it was just, my sister’s apartment, I walk in the door and the island is right there.
John: And that island outlet is the one they use to keep their little laptop computer charged on the countertop and they’ve got duct tape, and kinda holding the cord back a little bit, but it’s just an obvious hazard. It’s just, so now it’s optional. If you do not install any receptacles, part of the island or peninsula, you have to provide provisions for future outlets. So you could run a cable inside the cabinet, put it in a junction box, put a blank cover on it, and it’s there for the next person if they decide, “Yep, we need some receptacle outlets on our island or peninsula.” Or you can run an empty conduit to a junction box. You don’t actually have to provide a cable there in an energized circuit. It could just be a raceway or a conduit of some sort, but some sort of provisions for making sure that people have a way to add the outlets at a later date. The other big change here is that the outlets can no longer be installed on the side of the cabinetry. They need to be installed on top. And I don’t know, this is a good example of where I wanna look at the exact wording.
John: Because this is a big deal. I just talked to an acquaintance of mine. He works, He’s a, works for a distributor. He reps several lines of electrical products, and his phone is ringing off the hook because people are upset about the fact that if they do want a receptacle, now it has to be counter mounted, has to be on top of the counter in the form of a little doghouse, or one of these popup receptacles that recesses down. And it’s like, oh, that’s kind of cool. Well, it’s not cool because now it’s taken up storage space because you have this assembly that retracts, you know, you…
John: I haven’t played with these things myself, but I don’t have any samples. But, you know, you press it and it pops up and you got this GFCI outlet. It’s very aesthetically pleasing. And when you’re done with it, you push it back down almost like a, I’m thinking of a spray hose on a kitchen sink as part of the faucet. You know, it’s when you’re not using it. It’s sitting there and it’s aesthetically pleasing, matches everything else. Well, when you’re not using it, now it’s taken up drawer space, or it’s taken up, it’s interfering with the drawers or shelves inside the cabinet, and it’s creating [0:45:51.1] ____ for cabinet makers and builders and homeowners. So that’s, every time there’s a change, there’s gonna be unintended consequences. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, and people have to work with it. So, but people that are manufacturing these popup devices and doghouses, of course, that changed everything for them. Yeah. Their fault.
Tessa: That’s a huge change, John, because I feel like, I don’t know, 99% of the receptacles we see at kitchen islands are mounted on the side cabinet.
Tessa: Rarely do you ever see, you know, countertop receptacles on a kitchen island. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that.
John: Right yeah.
John: You know, countertop receptacles have been around forever in science buildings, laboratories, commercial buildings, conference rooms where, in fact the industry, it’s not like we have a whole new industry of these pop-up receptacles or doghouse receptacles. You know, you’re sitting at the airport waiting for a plane. There’s receptacles built into all kinds of furniture. Sometimes, the popup kind or the doghouse kind, sometimes it’s just in some sort of a recess. So, they’ve been around a long time. They’ve just never, we’ve never had a need to use them in our homes. But now there’s a whole new market for that industry. So, the basic code language states that, let’s see here. Yeah, receptacle outlet location, receptacle outlet shall be located in one or more of the following on or above, but not more than 20 inches above the countertop.
John: So, in theory, if you wouldn’t have this, I don’t know if you see that much anymore, but if you had an island or a peninsula where you had overhead cabinets, the receptacles technically could be on the underside of those cabinets as long as they’re not more than 20 inches above the countertop.
John: And I’ve seen that before in homes years ago where somebody might have a plug mold strip kind of under that valance, on the upper cabinet. So it’s out of view, but it was there ready to be used. The other thing here is that, code, there’s two, being part of this code change. There’s two new definitions in the code. One for countertop and one for workspaces. And the reason they had to do that, and this, this requirement for these popup devices, covers both scenarios.
John: Some of these countertop receptacles are only rated for minor spillage of liquids, like a cup of coffee, eight ounce cup of coffee. That’s typically gonna be the popup receptacles that you’ll find in workspaces. So for a kitchen, which is, we’re talking countertop now, there’s a higher threshold in the UL standards with respect to spillage. And I looked this morning, I found a reference, don’t quote me on this, but it was 32 ounces, half a gallon. So if you’re dealing with a defined countertop, you need a popup receptacle or some sort of receptacle assembly that will withstand 32 ounces of spillage. And I’m sure that’s gonna be part of the marketing and packaging for these devices, because the code doesn’t go into that kind of detail. You only find that in the product standards. Like you will, if you’re dealing with a work surface type receptacle assembly, then the threshold is lower and they only have to be rated for up to eight ounces or so. I think I haven’t seen these things in the home centers yet, I’m gonna try to get my hands on a sample but my guess is that they will probably all be marketed towards countertop use in the home and they’ll have the highest rating, next one spillage 32 ounces, half a gallon, whatever it happens to be.
Reuben: Sure. Okay. Yeah, that’s a big change.
Tessa: That’s confusing. Why don’t they just make it the same threshold for…
Tessa: For workspaces and countertops.
John: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. The last one that we have on our list is we had this new requirement for emergency disconnect for services on homes gives an opportunity for first responders to turn off the power before they go into a burning building, for example, what was missing from the code that same requirement for an emergency disconnect is now required for a feeder to a home. So in typical urban area, suburban areas, utility conductors usually come to the home, to the meter socket, that’s typical scenario. Well, in outstate Minnesota, for example, and probably a lot of rural locations around the country, utilities, for many decades now, they’ve been rolling back their infrastructure. They, as part of their business model, they don’t wanna be responsible for any more electrical infrastructure than they have to be.
John: So, good example, Northern Minnesota, utilities up there, the cooperatives, they stop the lot line. So you’ve got this nice, 10 acre parcel on the lake. They’ll bring power, their power to the lot line and put in a meter pedestal. And from there it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to run another 200 feet to the home. Well, if that service equipment for that premises is at that property line, then from the pedestal to the home, that’s not service conductors. Those are customer owned feeder conductors. And all they did was they just said, you know what? We missed that when we rolled this requirement out 2020.
John: So we need to cover those bases too. So the requirement for the emergency disconnect is applicable whether the service conductors go all the way to the home or whether the home is connected via feeder conductors, so first responders, they show up to a home, they need to kill power. They don’t care whether they’re service conductors or feeder conductors. They’re just gonna be looking for that emergency disconnect. So now we’ve got uniform coverage both in, for services and for feeders. So…
Reuben: So just to make sure I understand this, you’re saying in the past, the way the code was written, the emergency disconnect had to be right at the lot line, say we’re in Northern Minnesota, they had to have the emergency disconnect right at the lot line, right? The service drop ended.
John: The… No, what changed was the lot line service equipment may have qualified not only as service equipment, but also as the emergency disconnect for first responders. If it was within sight and was readily accessible, and it was obvious to the first responders, they could go to that pedestal and kill the power.
John: But what was missing in the code was the same requirement was missing for outdoor feeders to our homes. Some lot line metering does not involve any kind of switching devices, no over current protection, no circuit breakers. So it was just a change that was necessary to make sure that regardless of how your home is connected to the electric utility, in all cases now you have to have that emergency disconnect so.
Reuben: Okay. And where would we expect to see that emergency disconnect?
John: Typically it’s gonna be on the home, on the exterior of the home, really accessible location.
Reuben: But is it okay if it’s at the lot line?
John: It’s okay if it’s at the lot line, if it’s within site and it’s readily accessible.
Reuben: But if it’s an acre away through the woods, no going.
John: No that’s not gonna work.
Reuben: Okay. Got it.
John: Yep. So we’ve covered quite a few things. The changes that we’ve talked about today were identified as the most notable changes that were part of the 2023 code. These changes were notable and made part of the rulemaking process through the code adoption process. So there’s a lot of changes in the 2023 code, but a lot of them are editorial, some of them are minor technical things. But in order to get buy-in from the electrical industry, from the home builders through the board of electricity, the Minnesota Board of Electricity actually promulgates this rulemaking process. The legislature, the statute just says the latest edition of the National Electrical Code is the electrical code for Minnesota. But the Board of electricity has to actually go through the adoption process. So in an effort to get buy-in from everybody, the board of electricity identified the notable changes, and we’ve pretty much covered all of them today. There are other changes, but they would be… They’re not newsworthy…
John: Compared to these changes. To the average person out there that has a need to know homeowners and electricians and contractors, so, yeah.
Tessa: And John, is there a website that people can go to to just see kind of the summary of these kind of major changes to the NEC?
John: The Minnesota Department of the Labor and Industry has a wonderful collection of documents online. They’ve got their residential inspection checklist, which is primarily geared for homeowners in the process of taking out permits. There’s the electrical codes and standards page at the Minnesota Department, labor and industry is just a gold mine of electrical information. They’ve got frequently asked question document. There’s carryover from vendors. Like Reuben said, there’s a lot of projects out there that are still operating under the 2020 code. So all of the 2020 documents are still online, but now they’ve rolled out all the 2023 documents. So the FAQ document is a great resource. And the residential inspection checklist is also a great resource both for contractors and homeowners.
Reuben: And I will, John sent me that FAQ document ahead of time before the show, so I’ll be sure that we link that document in our show notes for today.
Tessa: That’s great.
John: Yeah. Great.
Reuben: Alright. Well, John, thank you so much for coming on the show. You are always such a wealth of knowledge.
Reuben: We love having you on explaining all this and put this in layman terms for us. So appreciate it.
John: I appreciate the opportunity. I know I get long-winded, but I just, this is what I do. I just… When I retired…
Tessa: You never really retired, did you John?
John: No, I didn’t. I didn’t. You know, and it’s like it’s been a challenge because it’s like you’ve been in the industry for 45 years. How do you just walk away from something like that?
John: I get to still, I still get to play on the playground with this stuff. I don’t know what brain surgeons do. They can’t do brain surgery anymore when they retire, so…
Tessa: Anyone that uses the word fun and code in the same sentence, I think is…
John: That’s weird. I’m a geek.
Tessa: Well, you’re a gift to the world, John is what you are, and we need people like you, so…
John: Oh thank you. I appreciate that. I appreciate that.
Tessa: Thank you.
John: Alright. It was fun.
John: I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Reuben: We appreciate it. Good to see you John. Tessa, as always, great to see you too. And we will see you next week. Take care.
Tessa: Yeah. Thanks.
John: Thanks bye.