Surge Protection and the 2020 National Electrical Code

The National Electrical Code, which has been adopted by all 50 states, sets the minimum standard for safe electrical design, installation, and inspection to keep people and property protected from electrical hazards. Code is revised every three years using public input, commentary, and technical sessions. With the introduction of the 2020 code, there have been 15 code revisions since 1977, the year the median American home was built.

One of the new 2020 National Electrical Code changes is that surge protection is required for dwelling units. New and replaced service equipment supplying dwellings are now required to be protected by listed Type 1 or Type 2 Surge-Protective Devices. These protect electrical devices and appliances that may not be protected by point-of-use SPDs. It is estimated that the average home has $15,000 worth of equipment that can be damaged by surges and that 80 percent of surges in a home, the residents generate themselves.

Think of surge protection as a bouncer at a nightclub. He may only let certain people in and quickly tosses the troublemakers. Getting more interesting? A good whole-house surge protection device does essentially the same thing. It allows in only the electricity your home needs and not the unruly over-voltages from the utility—then it protects your devices from any trouble that can occur from surges inside the house. Unlike surge strips, whole-house systems are built to shunt large surges and can last for years.

Type 1 SPD permanently connected SPDs intended for installation between the secondary of the service transformer and the line side of the service disconnect overcurrent device.

Type 2 SPD permanently connected SPDs intended for installation on the load side of the service disconnect overcurrent device, including SPDs located at the branch panel.

Check with your local codes to see if this new code will be adopted.

Why I Write A Blog

My grandfathers were small business owners/ entrepreneurs and prime examples of the pursuit of the American Dream. My father, my biggest influence, at a very early age began his own electrical contracting company. Following in my father’s footsteps I proceeded to get an electrical engineering degree. Being part of a family tradition where much of the dinner talk regularly revolved around business, I developed a passion and have become a lifelong student of business. I chose a career in electrical distribution and for nearly 40 years I have been operating companies that support small contractors.

I launched the Contractors Business Blog as a space where I can share tips, tricks, ideas, and helpful articles I come across in my travels, that are not necessarily industry or technically specific, but may help make your business or venture successful. I may also, from time to time, share experiences or observations regarding success stories or struggles of contractors that I have witnessed or experienced directly. I hope you find this information useful and I welcome your feedback.

5 Things to Know About Whole House Surge Protection

Let’s talk whole house surge protection. What is it? What do you need to know? And why is it an important investment for the safety of your home buyers and their devices.

Surge protection? Boring and technical and way too may terms like amps, right?

TecHome Builder recently spoke with Craig Pluemer, marketing director of the Surge Protection Business for Schneider Electric, about whole-house surge protection. And they are determined to make this subject not so boring and technical.

Think of surge protection as a bouncer at a nightclub. He may only let certain people in and quickly tosses the troublemakers. Getting more interesting?

Well, a good whole-house surge protection device does essentially the same thing. It allows in only the electricity your home needs and not the unruly over-voltages from the utility then, it protects your devices from any trouble that can occur from surges inside the house.

Whole-house surge protective devices (SPDs) are typically wired to the electric service box and located nearby to protect all the appliances and electrical systems in a home. They are typically a $200 to $500 add-on. (large profit margin for Electricians)

80 percent of surges in a home we generate ourselves.

Like many of the surge suppression strips we’re used to, whole-house surge protectors use metal oxide varistors (MOVs), to shunt power surges. MOVs get a bad rap because in surge strips one surge can effectively end the usefulness of an MOV. But unlike those used in most surge strips, the ones in whole-house systems are built to shunt large surges and can last for years.

According to Pluemer, more homebuilders today are offering whole-house surge protection as standard adders to help differentiate themselves and help protect homeowners’ investments in electronic systems, especially when some of those sensitive systems can be sold by the homebuilder.

1. Homes are in more need of whole house surge protection today than ever.

“A lot has changed in the home over last few years,” says Pluemer. “There are many more electronics, and even in lighting with LEDs, if you take an LED apart there’s a little circuit board there. Washers, dryers, appliances also have circuit boards today, so there’s a lot more today to be protected in the home from power surges—even the home’s lighting. “There’s a lot of technology that we’re plugging into our houses. “Homes are in more need of whole house surge protection today than ever

2. Lightning isn’t the biggest danger to electronics and other systems in the home.

“Most people think of surges as lightning, but 80 percent of surges are transient [short, intense bursts], and we generate them ourselves, “says Pluemer. “They’re internal to the home.” Generators and motors like those in air conditioning units and appliances introduce small surges into a home’s electrical lines. “It’s rare that one large surge will take out appliances and everything at one time,” explains Pluemer, but those mini-surges over the years will add up, degrade the performance of electronics and cut short their useful lifespans.

Overvoltages on the utility lines can also harm systems in the home, which is a prime reason for whole-house surge protection at the electrical service panel.

There is virtually no surge protection for a direct lighting strike. If you’re concerned about that, look into lighting rods.

3. Whole house surge protection protects other electronics.

You may ask, “If most of the harmful surges in a house come from machines like AC units and appliances, why bother with whole-house surge protection at the breaker panel?” The answer is that an appliance or system on a dedicated circuit, like an air conditioning unit, will send the surge back through the breaker panel, where it can be shunted to protect everything else in the home, Pluemer says.

Back-up power generators can be a big culprit. If they’re connected to the electrical service to provide power to many circuits in the home and turn on automatically when power goes out, they can send power surges through the electrical lines that a whole-house surge protection system can shunt.

“It’s protecting the wiring the house, and every outlet is being protected,” says Pluemer.

4. Whole house surge protection should be layered.

If an appliance or device sends a surge through a circuit that’s shared among other devices and not dedicated, then those other outlets could be susceptible to a surge, which is why you don’t want it just at the electrical panel. Surge protection should be layered in the house to be at both at the electrical service to protect the whole home and at the point of use to protect sensitive electronics. Power conditioners with surge suppression capability, along with the ability to provide filtered power to audio/video equipment, are recommended for many home theater and home entertainment systems.

5. What to look for in whole house surge protection devices.

Most homes with 120-volt service can be adequately protected with a 80kA-rated surge protector. Chances are a home is not going to see large spikes of 50kA to 100kA. Even nearby lightning strikes traveling over power lines will be dissipated by the time that surge reaches a house. A home will likely never see a surge over 10kA. However, a 10kA rated device receiving a 10kA surge, for example, could use up its MOV surge-shunting capacity with that one surge, so something in the order of 80kA will ensure it lasts longer. Homes with subpanels should have added protection of about half the kA rating of the main unit. If there’s a lot of lightning in an area or if there’s a building using heavy machinery nearby, look for an 80kA rating.

Surge protection should be layered throughout a house.

The 10 Worst Grounding Mistakes You Will Ever Make

Proper grounding and bonding prevent unwanted voltage on non-current-carrying metal objects, such as tool and appliance casings, raceways, and enclosures, as well as facilitate the correct operation of overcurrent devices. Beware of wiring everything to a ground rod and considering the job well done. There are certain subtleties you must follow to adhere to applicable NEC rules and provide safe installations to the public and working personnel. Although ground theory is a vast subject, on which whole volumes have been written, David Herres, in his article in EC&M magazine, asks us to take a look at some of the 10 most common grounding errors you may run into on a daily basis.

(10) Failure to bond equipment ground to water pipe.
Improper connections are often seen in the field. Screw clamps and other improvised connections do not provide permanent low impedance bonding. The worst method would be to just wrap the wire around the pipe or to omit this bonding altogether.

(9) Failure to properly reattach metal raceway that is used as an equipment-grounding conductor.
When equipment is relocated, replaced, or removed for repair, many times equipment ground paths are broken. If these connections are not fixed, there’s an accident waiting to happen. Setscrews, locknuts, and threads should be fully engaged and continuity tests performed before equipment is put back into service. Dirt and corrosion can also compromise ground continuity.

(8) Failure to install a second ground rod where required.
A single ground rod that does not have a resistance to ground of 25 ohms or less must be augmented by a second ground rod. Once the second ground rod is installed, it’s not necessary for the two to meet the resistance requirement. As a practical matter, few electricians do the resistance measurement.

(7) Failure to properly attach the ground wire to electrical devices.
Wiring daisy-chained devices in such a way that removing one of them breaks the equipment grounding continuity is a common problem. The preferred way to ground a wiring device is to connect incoming and outgoing equipment-grounding conductors to a short bare or green jumper. The bare or green insulated jumper is then connected to the grounding terminal of the device.

(6) Failure to ground submersible well pumps.
At one time, submersible well pumps were not required to be grounded because they were not considered accessible. However, it was noted that workers would pull the pump, lay it on the ground, and energize it to see if it would spin. If, due to a wiring fault, the case became live, the overcurrent device would not function, causing a shock hazard. The 2008 NEC requires a fourth equipment grounding conductor that you must now lug to the top of the well casing. Many people assume that in a 3-wire submersible pump system one wire is a ground. In actuality, submersible pump cable consists of three wires (plus equipment-grounding conductor) twisted together and unjacketed. Yellow is a common 240V leg, black is run, and red is start, which the control box energizes for a short period of time. Prior to the new grounding requirement, everything was hot.

(5) Improperly grounding frames of electric ranges and clothes dryers.
Prior to the 1996 version of the NEC, it was common practice to use the neutral as an equipment ground. Now, however, all frames of electric ranges, wall-mounted ovens, counter-mounted cooking units, clothes dryers, and outlet or junction boxes that are part of these circuits must be grounded by a fourth wire: the equipment-grounding conductor.

(4) Improperly connecting the equipment-grounding conductor to the system neutral.
You must connect a grounded neutral conductor to normally noncurrent-carrying metal parts of equipment, raceways, and enclosures only through the main bonding jumper (or, in the case of a separately derived system, through a system bonding jumper). Make this connection at the service disconnecting means, not downstream. When you buy a new entrance panel, a screw or other main bonding jumper is usually included in the packaging. Attached to it are instructions stipulating that it is to be installed only when the panel is to be used as service equipment.

(3) Non-installation of GFCIs where required.
Recent Code editions have mandated increased use of GFCIs. In dwelling units, GFCIs are required on all 125V, single-phase, 15A and 20A receptacles in: bathrooms; garages; accessory buildings with a floor at or below grade level not intended as a habitable room, limited to storage, work and similar areas; outdoors; kitchens along countertops; within 6 feet of outside edge of laundry, utility, and wet bar sinks; and boathouses. In other than dwelling units, GFCIs are required on all 125V, single-phase, 15A and 20A receptacles in bathrooms, kitchens, rooftops, outdoors, and within 6 feet of the outside edge of sinks.

(2) Installation of a satellite dish, telephone, CATV, or other low-voltage equipment without proper grounding.
If you look at a number of satellite dish installations in your neighborhood, a certain percentage will inevitably not be grounded at all. Of those that are grounded, there is still a high probability many are not fully compliant. For example, the grounding electrode conductor could be too long, too small, have unlisted clamps at terminations, have excess bends, or be connected to a single ground rod but not be bonded to other system grounds.

(1) Improper replacement of non-grounding receptacles.
Dwellings and non-dwellings often contain non-grounding receptacles. It is perfectly fine to leave the old two prongers in place. But because an intact functioning equipment ground is such an obvious safety feature, most electricians tend to replace these old relics whenever possible.