On January 26, the State Fire Marshal published an Emergency Amendment to the existing Massachusetts Electrical Code that will allow the ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) requirement to be waived due to nuisance tripping after a review by a qualified person.
Over the past several months, affordable housing developers and advocates, led by 2Life Communities, made the Massachusetts Electrical Advisory Committee aware of large numbers of nuisance trips of GFCI protective devices protecting certain appliance types, particularly electric stoves.
Affordable housing providers found that the GFCI circuit breakers required by the electrical code are not compatible with current stove manufacturers’ ability to deliver appliances that work with the breakers. Every time a resident attempted to cook, they would trip the breakers.
This nuisance tripping, happening in all the apartments built or renovated now, left thousands of affordable housing residents, including many seniors, without functioning kitchens and limited access to food.
The emergency amendment allows for developers whose appliances are not compatible with the GFCI breakers to have a qualified professional (i.e., an inspector) confirm that the installation is correct, document the situation at the municipality, and then allow for the substitution of the GFCI breakers for non-GFCI breakers.
The emergency amendment took effect immediately statewide for all electrical appliances (refrigerators, stoves, water heaters, etc.) and will be adopted in the 2023 National Electrical Code (NEC) this spring. It will remain in effect until January 1, 2026, the next code cycle. This will provide ample time for the appliance manufacturers and breaker manufacturers to develop compatible appliance equipment.
The Board of Fire Prevention Regulations (BFPR) also provided hardwiring these appliances as a second solution. In response to 2Life Communities' request for interpretation, the BFPR responded that the provisions of 2020 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70 with Massachusetts Amendments allow freestanding electric ranges to be hardwired. The BFPR also responded that ground fault protection in not required for a hardwired freestanding electric range.
Although hardwiring is a more expensive solution, some developers already needed use this option. The interpretation provides needed clarity and guarantees.
This Emergency Amendment was the result of sustained advocacy led by Amy Schectman and Elise Selinger at 2Life Communities; a strong coalition of affordable housing developers and advocates; critical involvement from both the Baker and Healey Administrations; and creative thinking and action from the Massachusetts Electrical Advisory Code Committee, the BFPR board members and their General Counsel.