Changes to PA UCC Code: Electrical Code Changes to the IBC and NEC

As has been discussed in previous editions of “Insights”, Pennsylvania has recently updated their baseline building codes from the 2009 International Codes to the 2015 International Codes. Along with that change comes not only revisions contained in the International Codes themselves, but also updated references to other standards including the 2014 National Electrical Code (previously 2008), the 2013 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (previously 2007), and the 2015 Life Safety Code (previously 2009).

In this edition we look at how these changes impact electrical system design and highlight some of the more significant provisions in the International Building Code and National Electrical Code.

International Building Code
Looking at building electrical systems, the most significant changes seen in the 2015 IBC surround fire alarm system requirements, including:

  • Revised requirements for voice evacuation systems in Group A occupancies.
  • All Group E facilities with over 100 occupants are now required to have a voice evacuation fire alarm system.
  • Expanded requirements for carbon monoxide detection in Group I, R, and E occupancies.

National Electrical Code
The changes seen in the 2014 NEC cover a broad range of technical topics, but can generally be grouped into the following recurring themes:

  • Emphasis on “accessibility” of devices and equipment
  • New requirements to bring devices and circuits up to current codes when performing one-for-one device replacements
  • Additional labeling, documentation, and reporting requirements
  • Added emphasis on electrical system reliability

Significant technical changes in the 2014 NEC include, but are not limited to:

  • Selective Coordination: Probably the most impactful changes, from a design and potentially cost standpoint, brought about by the adoption of the 2014 NEC are changes to selective coordination requirements.
    • The requirement for selective coordination has been expanded to all potential ranges of currents and time, whereas previously the lower time limit was loosely defined. Coordination down to zero seconds is challenging and has a direct impact on distribution system design and device selection.
    •  Selective coordination is required for all supply-side protective devices, including normal-side distribution, not just emergency-side distribution as required by previous code iterations. Changes to existing normal-side distribution equipment and devices may be required to meet this requirement when adding or modifying an emergency system.
    • Selective coordination of the distribution system must be designed and documented by a licensed professional engineer.
  • Labeling: Added new requirements for labeling of maximum available fault current on service equipment and SCCR ratings on mechanical equipment nameplates.
  • Personnel Doors: All rooms containing any equipment rated at over 800A must swing out with listed panic hardware. Previous code versions triggered this requirement at 1200A with additional dimensional provisions.
  • Shared Neutrals: Shared neutral conductors are now prohibited for most applications.
  • Device Replacement: New code provisions require GFI, AFCI, and tamper resistant devices be installed in code-required locations any time an existing device is replaced.
  • GFI and AFCI Devices: GFI and AFCI protection requirements and locations have been greatly expanded.
  • Emergency Systems: All emergency switchboards and panelboards are now required to have a listed surge protection device.
  • New Sections: New code requirements governing design and installation of photovoltaic and wind-powered generating systems.

Normally with any code update there are growing pains as engineers try to determine how to apply new regulations, inspectors try to figure out what to look for, and owners try to get a feeling for how the changes impact project and maintenance costs. Luckily, while these codes are newly adopted in our state, they have been used in other jurisdictions for years and we have the benefit of hindsight – publications, interpretations, and construction cost data – that early adopting jurisdictions did not. If you have any questions or would like to discuss what these changes mean to you and your projects moving forward, please do not hesitate to contact Wesley Stiles, PE at 717-845-7654 or wls@ba-inc.com.