When designing a space with electrical outlets, it’s always important to assess ways to improve the safety of the space. Whether you are designing a brand new start-up facility or even if you are just remodeling your own kitchen at home, it is imperative to arm yourself with safety knowledge.

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a unique device developed for just that reason. GFCI shuts off an electrical circuit if it detects that the current is flowing through an unintended path. And in spaces with water and people for example, this device can be life-saving.

3 BENEFITS OF GFCI OUTLETS IN YOUR DESIGN

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Reduces Chances of Human Injury

 

Electric shocks can cause a lot of harm to a person. With possible injuries ranging from severe burns to heart problems, GFCI truly can be a life-saving preventative measure taken.

Electric shocks can cause a lot of harm to a person. With possible injuries ranging from severe burns to heart problems, GFCI truly can be a life-saving preventative measure taken.

 

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Prevents Some Instances of Fires

 

Electrical fires can be caused by a number of accidents, including when a live wire comes into contact with a metal conduit. Electrical fires are devastating and can burn down entire buildings. Implementing GFCI outlets into your design may help prevent such accidents.

 

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Required By Code in Certain Places

 

The National Electrical Code (NEC) is continuously updating to ensure the safety of people in spaces where electricity applies as our lives continue to shift.

GFCI OUTLET REQUIREMENTS IN THE NEC

The NEC divides its requirements for GFCI outlets between commercial buildings and dwellings as follows:

NEC Requirements for GFCI Outlets in Commercial and Industrial Buildings

Aimed at preventing water from tampering with outlets, these particular outlets in these particular rooms must always be GFCI protected in commercial and industrial buildings.

The total list of spaces that must have GFCI protection on electrical outlets is crazy long and changes as new revisions are released. For example, the 2017 revision includes; bathrooms, kitchens, rooftops, outdoor outlets, outlets within 6 feet of any type of sink, all indoor wet locations, locker rooms with shower facilities, garage service bays and boat hoists.

In regards to NEC standards, check with your local authorities. Not all states and municipalities adopt the standards as soon as they are released, and some may make modifications. Check out our ChicagoSan Francisco and other blogs for further clarifications.

NEC Requirements for GFCI Outlets in Dwellings

In residential buildings, the NEC has slightly different rules surrounding GFCI outlets. And this is critical knowledge for any furniture designer, interior designer, or home remodeling contractor. Make sure you know which outlets and rooms are required to be protected for any upcoming DIY home projects you may have in mind as well!

All of the following spaces require protection with GFCI outlets for all 15A and 20A, 125V outlets:

  • Residential bathrooms
  • Garages, unfinished basements, or any shed used for storage or as a workspace
  • Outdoor outlets
  • Kitchens and wet bars
  • Outlets located within 6 feet of any sink
  • Boathouses
  • Bathtubs and shower stalls
  • Laundry areas

One last caveat: there are some very exact exceptions to some of these “requirements,” but they are very limited and when dealing with the safety inspections. It’s always best to err on the side of being too safe than the opposite.

If you’ve been browsing this blog (or other helpful resources around electrical components and products), then you’ve probably come into contact with the phrases “UL Listed” and “UL Recognized.” But what do they mean? And which one is more important?

But first of all, what is “UL?”

UNDERWRITERS LABORATORIES STANDARDS AND TESTING

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is a global company that focuses on ensuring safety and standards for all design, production, and marketing. As innovation of technology (and accordingly design and production) sweeps the world, UL is invested in protecting the safety of the users, with the primary focus of North America (cULus).

According to UL, they “connect people to safer, more secure, more sustainable products, services, experiences and environments” by developing and disseminating testing for viable products.

A well-known example of UL testing and standards are fire resistant fabrics that are commonly specified for vertical applications – such as drapery or furniture panels. While the fire-resistant fabric is not law, it is so commonplace among designers that it is essentially expected.

It is also particularly important for electrical components such as those involved in power and data units in commercial, industrial, and residential buildings to be UL tested. But what do UL Listed and UL Recognized mean?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “UL LISTED?”

UL Listed means that samples of the specific product or component have been tested and found to safely meet at a minimum all applicable UL standards. Essentially, the specific product on its own is a UL Listed product.

For example, a UL Listed power unit has passed all UL testing in order to become listed. This product can be used on its own.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “UL RECOGNIZED?”

In some cases the power unit itself may only be able to be UL Recognized. In those cases, the whole desk, with integrated power (the system) will need to be tested to become a UL Listed system.

In simpler terms, when the power unit is UL Recognized, the desk it is incorporated into is will need to be UL Listed as an entire system. Certain installation standards must be met that are outside of the confines of the UL’s actual labs, such as the setting and other elements that can’t be control elements in testing.

WHY UL IS IMPORTANT TO DESIGNERS AND MARKETERS

Today, most people expect a level of corporate responsibility and sustainability. UL holds corporations to a higher standard by pushing the envelope for safety. Any time you specify a product without a UL mark, you are increasing the risk of injuring the end user.

A UL mark of any kind denotes a higher standard for your product. To people who understand UL’s importance, it means your company cares. And in an age when we all are caring more and more about the world around us, this can only be beneficial.

UL ensures that products are made to be safe, are made with safer components and in safer conditions. For designers, this means showcasing your firm’s corporate responsibility. And for marketers, this means boasting about your company’s care for its people and for people at large.

San Francisco Electrical Codes, as you can expect, follow the California Title 24 rule as well. By following California’s electrical codes, San Francisco in turn follows the NEC.

There is one major difference in the city’s electrical codes from the state level.

As stated in Article 356 of the San Francisco Electrical Codes, “LFNC [Liquid Flexible Nonmetallic Conduit] shall be permitted to be used in exposed or concealed locations for systems not exceeding 50 volts.” In simpler terms, this means that the power infeed to a modular power distribution system must be inside metallic sealtite.

While that is limiting in some respects, the up side is that it’s the only unusual requirement.

In San Francisco, corded power and data units are acceptable to be plugged into a modular power distribution system, as long as the power infeed to the modular power distribution system is metallic sealtite. This allows for easier design and construction of modular furniture and systems with electrical capabilities.

Corded units also add the benefit of being easily transported. For example, in situations such as classrooms where furniture may be moved from year to year (or even on a class-dependent basis), it’s far easier to unplug and rearrange furniture as necessary. Your only limitation is the length of the cord rather than the original construction of the room and outlet dependency.

This also makes open workspaces much easier to design and plan around. As an office grows and new workstations are added, it’s simpler to add corded power and data accessories rather than to plan around hardwiring layouts.

Largely because they’re easier to design and configure spaces around, corded power and data accessories are also far simpler to find. So, not only are they easier to use in design, but they are also easier to find in your exact preference.

In San Francisco, the sky’s the limit… As long as you’re following all other California Electrical Codes, including the lighting and receptacle codes as detailed in this blog.

Lighting accounts for roughly 18% of energy consumption in non-residential buildings across the country. Following heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, this is the second-highest contender in energy use in commercial buildings.

In states like California with dense populations and concentrated commercial and industrial areas, that number reaches roughly 30% – which is staggering. (Reading that makes me feel like the old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn, only I’m yelling to turn off your lights.) But the reason isn’t entirely due to population: it is also because California is more temperate so citizens don’t use as much energy on HVAC.

When tasked with discovering a solution in California, rather than compromising the power or quality of lighting, the state decided to implement and enforce Title 24 Part 6 in its California Code of Regulations in 1978.

In an effort to reduce energy use across the state, these continually updated standards became known as the Building Energy Efficiency Standards. Title 24 Part 6, specifically, contained all of the codes which addressed improving energy efficiency in lighting systems and HVAC systems.

These standards, updated on a 3-year cycle, effectively ushered in a new era of lighting in California non-residential buildings. As of January 1, 2017, California enforced the 2016 sustainability standards.

DISSECTING CALIFORNIA TITLE 24 PART 6

Put simply, Title 24 Part 6 requires that all lighting systems and HVAC systems in non-residential buildings (with limited exceptions) require switching or control capabilities to turn off when unoccupied. This is accomplished by either an occupancy sensor or a scheduled controller with an override capability

The same is true for electrical outlets.

The focus of Title 24 Part 6 is to reduce energy usage by limiting HVAC usage, light usage, and other device usages when space is not occupied.

And if you’re reading this and telling yourself that this doesn’t affect you, here’s why you’re wrong.

HOW DOES TITLE 24 PART 6 AFFECT INTERIOR DESIGNER AND FURNITURE MANUFACTURING?

When designing spaces, whether conference rooms, office spaces, university lecture halls, hotel rooms, or any other space designed around humans, lighting plays an imperative role. You could be designing for a romantic mood, a state of flow for focused work, or any other tone – but you define that tone with lighting.

So what does Title 24 Part 6 have to do with your designs and spaces?

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Office Settings:

A controlled outlet must be located within 6 ft of any uncontrolled outlets.

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Hospitality Guest Rooms:

A minimum of half of the outlets in each hotel or motel guest room must be a controlled receptacle.

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Open Office Spaces:

A controlled outlet is required in each workstation in addition to the rules for Office Settings.

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Exceptions:

Only clocks installed higher than 6 ft, IT equipment such as printers, and refrigerator or water dispenser outlets do not require controlled circuits in non-residential buildings.

Even as a non-designer or non-engineer working for a design-related company, it is crucial to understand California Title 24 Part 6. Knowing your audience when planning upcoming product launches, marketing material, website content, and product innovation requires that you not only speak the language but that you understand the language. So immerse yourself.

And it’s worth mentioning that California is just the beginning. While these rules may seem remote to you as a designer in Massachusetts, Michigan, or Florida, your state could be next.