North Carolina building code panel to re-examine breaker rule

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - The state panel charged with setting building rules may reverse its decision to require certain circuit breakers in new homes that could prevent electrical fires after the Legislature told it to reconsider.

The North Carolina Building Code Council will meet to examine its approval earlier this year to require the devices in nearly all rooms in new homes starting in January, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported. The General Assembly ordered the council to take a second look in a bill approved in this year's session.

Supporters of the expanded use of what are called "arc fault circuit interrupters" said their cost — as little as $60 to a small home — are worth the value of saving additional lives. The new devices already are required in bedrooms.

"It all comes down to the value of a single life," said Kim Reitterer, a Charlotte electrical engineer and council member. "If we're not careful, this will be changed, and North Carolina homeowners will lose out."

Some homebuilders argued expanding use of the device is unnecessary because modern electrical codes already protect homes from electrical fires. If the requirement is allowed to stay, that and other new code requirements could add $1,000 to the price of a 3,000-square-foot home, said Mack Nixon, another council member.

Additional code changes wouldn't take effect until June.

"I'm all in favor of safety," said Nixon, a Perquimans County homebuilder. "If there's some proof here that shows us we've got a real issue in North Carolina, I'd like to see it."

The interrupters are advanced versions of the circuit breakers that can detect smaller fluctuations in electrical current linked to frayed wires and cut voltage to them.

Charlotte fire officials identified 379 fires that might have been prevented had the devices been in place since 2005. The interrupters can cost between $30 and $55, although contractors would pay less.

"Yes, it's going to add a little more to the cost of a residence. The fire service doesn't feel it's going to add an amount that's going to prohibit somebody from purchasing a residence," said Rob Kinniburgh, Charlotte's fire marshal.

The Legislature approved a bill ordering the council to reconsider its decision and report back on whether the interrupters and two other code changes make sense.

"I don't know who proposed it, but it sounds like a good idea to me," said Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, who is also a real estate developer. "Anything we can do in North Carolina to make housing more affordable, we ought to be thinking about doing that."


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