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Inching Toward Victory: GFCI Exemption for Outdoor HVAC


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An NFPA Industry Task Group with ACCA representation has recommended an amendment to the 2023 NEC to exempt ALL outdoor HVACR from having GFCI protection until September 1, 2026.

Background
Section 210.8(F) in the 2020 National Electrical Code (NEC) requires GFCI protection on outdoor HVACR equipment. Due to electrical incompatibilities, there have been numerous reports of nuisance trips in the field. In response, the NFPA Standards Council agreed to form a Task Group of affected stakeholders, “to evaluate and reach an informed, technically substantiated resolution to the issues raised.” The group was encouraged to submit proposals to revise the NEC, if appropriate.

ACCA has been represented on the Task Group by Mr. Ed Lehr, president, Jack Lehr Heating, Cooling & Electric Inc., Allentown, PA. Other Task Group members include representatives from HVAC equipment OEMs and GFCI manufacturers. In addition, there are affected parties representing the Leading Builders of America (LBA), the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR), and the Air-Conditioning Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI).

Current Tentative Interim Amendment (TIA) for 2020 NEC
If we rewind the tape a little bit, due to the above nuisance trip issues, an NFPA TIA to the 2020 NEC was issued on August 26, 2021, and made effective September 15, 2021, as underlined below.

210.8 Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupter Protection for Personnel.
(F) Outdoor Outlets. All outdoor outlets for dwellings, other than those covered in 210.8
(A)(3), Exception to (3), that are supplied by single-phase branch circuits rated 150 volts to ground or less, 50 amperes or less, shall have ground-fault circuit-interrupter protection for personnel.
This requirement shall become effective on January 1, 2023, for mini-split-type heating/ventilating/air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment and other HVAC units employing power conversion equipment as a means to control compressor speed.
Informational Note: Power conversion equipment is the term used to describe the components used in HVAC equipment that is commonly referred to as a variable speed drive. The use of power conversion equipment to control compressor speed differs from multistage compressor speed control.

The BIG WIN: New Proposed Exemption Extended to ALL Outdoor HVAC
Over the course of many meetings for the past several months, the Task Group has reviewed a lot of field survey data on GFCI nuisance trips. This included tripping of single-stage HVAC equipment as well as variable speed (power conversion) equipment. The data was collected by ACCA, AHRI, LBA, and others. Additional survey data was submitted by ACCA from the Texas Air Conditioning Contractors Association (TACCA). The bottom line is that listed HVAC equipment typically can have a leakage current higher than what would trip a Class A GFCI (5 mA), but that the “touch current” is well below levels that would injure or harm an individual.

In addition, ACCA informed the Task Group that the nuisance trips are not only related to compressors, but also involve ECM fan motors. Such motors are in a large share of split system outdoor units. The industry is converting many models this year to comply with the new regional efficiency minimum (SEER2) that takes effect on January 1, 2023. This will only increase the use of ECM fan motors that will create more nuisance tripping. For these reasons, the Task Group agreed to recommend that ALL outdoor HVAC be exempted from 210.8(F).

Nuisance Tripping = Health & Safety Concerns
The Task Group also recognized that if GFCI protection is required while the incompatibility issue remains, there is a higher risk of people being adversely impacted by exposure to extreme temperatures due to nuisance tripping than the risk of people being exposed to a leakage current that could cause injury or harm. This aspect would qualify as the “emergency in nature” requirement for an NFPA TIA.

Industry Research to Find the Problems / Offer Solutions
The Task Group has also been informed of industry research funded by AHRI and conducted by the Electric Power Institute (EPI). The research project’s first phase is to determine the nature of the GFCI nuisance trips on HVACR equipment. This part of the project will conclude in September 2022. However, that will only identify the problems. There will need to be more research conducted next year to identify potential solutions to prevent nuisance tripping.  In addition, there is a proposal to add coverage to UL Standard 60335-2-40 for “appliances accessible to the general public.” The coverage also adds requirements for a double “protective earthing conductor” with a sensor to monitor leakage current. However, this is only a proposal and must be further investigated to see if this could be used in lieu of a GFCI, only without the nuisance trips.

Since the above activity will take years to complete, the Task Group agreed to recommend that the new TIA to the 2023 NEC will not expire until September 1, 2026. This will hopefully allow enough time to complete the research, offer solutions, and make changes to the UL standard and the NEC.

Next Steps for the TIA
The Task Group’s recommended TIA will be reviewed by NFPA Code Making Panel #2 (several members of which served on the Task Group), and will be submitted to the NFPA Standards Council for approval at its next meeting. Once approved, the TIA will be issued as part of the publication of the 2023 edition of the NEC. This will increase its visibility for states and other jurisdictions that will consider adoption of the 2023 edition.

More States Excluding 210.8(F)
For now, most if not all states that have adopted the 2020 NEC have either delayed or deleted 210.8(F) until January 1, 2023. The list continues with the State of Virginia considering the exemption. Right now, California is considering adoption of the 2020 NEC as their updated electrical code. Hopefully California will take the same action as the other states.

ACCA and some of its ACOs have been successful in getting the word out, which has spread to other states. The ACCA Codes Subcommittee has developed a template to assist in requesting jurisdictions to delete this requirement when they adapt the 2020 NEC. Click HERE to view and download the template. An up-to-date list of states that have either adopted or are in the process of adopting the 2020 NEC can be found by clicking HERE. The NEC update is dated March 1, 2022.

David Bixby

Posted In: Technical Tips

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