Remodel With Care : Necessary changes in the NEC for dwelling units from 2017 to 2020

Published On
Dec 15, 2021

With everything that has happened with the pandemic and the “hunker at home” cultural change it has caused, many people are investing in their homes by remodeling, adding a room or garage, expanding their basements into living units or selling their old home and buying a new one. Electrical contractors in the residential arena are seeing a surge of work.

Take care when making changes, because just swapping out the old for the new may not be as simple as you might think. An electrical professional’s proper guidance will help the inexperienced homeowner make the appropriate moves without making major expensive or dangerous mistakes.


Remodeling a kitchen with new appliances, for example, can be a challenge, since just disconnecting and reconnecting may not be possible without some minor or major changes. An electrically operated in-sink garbage disposal may be operated using a wall switch to a switched receptacle under the kitchen sink. A different disposal design is operated using an air switch, with the push-button mounted in the countertop and an optional module that would permit an instant hot water dispenser. There also is a garbage disposal where the switch is in the drain connection at the disposal itself.

The next consideration is whether GFCI protection is required for the under-sink receptacle for the garbage disposal. In the 2017 National Electrical Code , the answer was no, since there was a stipulation stating that a receptacle within 6 feet of a sink must be GFCI-protected, unless the receptacle was located behind a door. Because of the cabinet door, the receptacle did not have to be GFCI-protected, even if it was within 6 feet of the edge of the sink.

That changed in 2020 when Code-Making Panel 2 removed “door or doorway” from the 210.8 introductory text. It now reads: “For the purposes of this section, when determining the distance from receptacles, the distance shall be measured as the shortest path the supply cord of an appliance connected to the receptacle would follow without piercing a floor, wall, ceiling, or fixed barrier, or the shortest path without passing through a window.”

Without the proper technical help from an electrical contractor, the homeowner would not know this requirement had changed. This could be a safety issue.

In addition to the slightly subtle change of deleting the words “door or doorway” in the 2020 NEC , there was a major change in the introductory text to 210.8(A) that will affect quite a few circuits on the inside and outside of dwelling units, where a remodel or addition to the home is occurring. This change involves the voltage level required for GFCI protection. In the previous NEC editions, GFCI protection for dwelling units was required for all 125V, 15A or 20A, single-phase receptacles. The new text will read as follows for dwelling units: “All 125-volt through 250-volt receptacles installed in the locations specified in 210.8(A)(1) through (A)(11) and supplied by single-phase branch circuits rated 150 volts or less to ground shall have ground-fault circuit-interrupter protection for personnel.”

This change would now require a 125/250V range receptacle that is within 6 feet of the edge of a sink to be GFCI-protected. Receptacles in laundry areas must all be GFCI-protected, including the 30A, 250V dryer receptacle, based on the 2020 NEC . If the laundry branch circuits are not being touched or the range receptacle is not being replaced, then compliance with this change for 2020 would not be required. However, if a laundry room is being added or increased in size or the kitchen is being remodeled, then compliance would be necessary.


The GFCI requirements for basements have changed from the 2017 text: “Unfinished portions or areas of the basement not intended as habitable rooms” with 125V, 15A or 20A, single-phase receptacles were required to be GFCI-protected. For example, the receptacles in a work area of a basement were required to have GFCI protection but this did not apply to finished areas in basements, such as sleeping rooms, game rooms or family rooms. For the 2020 NEC , the new requirement is for all 125V through 250V receptacles in the basement to be GFCI-protected, in finished and unfinished rooms or areas of the basement. Anyone remodeling or installing anything electrical in the basement, including sump pumps, must have GFCI protection on these receptacles. The reason for this change was that basements are below-grade and are thus subject to flooding, so GFCI protection is warranted.

Bob Dylan sang, “The times, they are a-changin’,” which certainly fits life in 2021 and the effects on remodeling and refinishing areas of homes.

About the Author

Mark C. Ode

Fire/Life Safety, Residential and Code Contributor

Mark C. Ode is a lead engineering associate for Energy & Power Technologies at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and can be reached at 919.949.2576 and

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