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Dwelling Unit Calculations

Nov. 1, 2009
Apply demand factors for correct load calculations.

Thank you for visiting one of our most popular classic articles. If you’d like to see updated information on this topic, please check out this recently published article, Load Calculations — Part 1.

Note: This article is based on the 2008 NEC.

A dwelling unit is a single structure that provides complete and independent living facilities, according to the NEC definition found in Art. 100 (Fig. 1 ).

Dwelling units have special requirements for load calculations. Although most of the actual load calculation requirements are in Art. 220, others are scattered throughout the Code and still come into play when making certain calculations (see SIDEBAR: Where to Find Dwelling Unit Code Requirements Outside Art. 220 at end of article). Keep the following considerations in mind when making dwelling unit calculations:

  • Voltages. Unless other voltages are specified, calculate branch-circuit, feeder, and service loads using the nominal system voltage [220.5(A)]. For a single-family dwelling unit, the nominal voltage is typically 120/240V.
  • Motor VA. Use motor table voltage and current values, such as 115V, 230V, or 460V — not 120V, 240V, or 480V [430.248 and 430.250]. A much more accurate VA rating is obtained by using the motor’s rated voltage and current, which were used in developing the Code Tables.
  • Rounding. Where calculations result in a fraction of less than 0.50A, you can drop the fraction [220.5(B)].
  • Receptacles. You can use 15A or 20A receptacles on 20A circuits as long as there is more than one receptacle on the circuit. For these purposes, a duplex receptacle is considered to be two receptacles [210.21(B)(3)].
  • Continuous loads. A continuous load is one in which the maximum current is expected to continue for 3 hr or more, according to the Art. 100 definition. Fixed electric heating is one example of a continuous load [424.3(B)]. When sizing branch circuit conductors and overcurrent devices for a continuous load, multiply the load by 125% [210.19(A)(1) and 210.20(A)].
  • Laundry rooms. A laundry area receptacle is required [210.52(F)], at least one of which must be within 6 ft of a washing machine [210.50(C)]. Any receptacle within 6 ft of the outside edge of a laundry sink must be GFCI protected [210.8(A)(7)].

Required circuits

In addition to the circuits required for dedicated appliances and those needed to serve the general lighting and receptacle load, a dwelling unit must have the following circuits:

  • A minimum of two 20A, 120V small-appliance branch circuits for receptacles in the kitchen, dining room, breakfast room, pantry, or similar dining areas [220.11(C)(1)]. These circuits must not be used to serve other outlets, such as lighting outlets or receptacles from other areas [210.52(B)(2) Ex]. These circuits are included in the feeder/service calculation at 1,500VA for each circuit [220.52(A)].
  • One 20A, 120V branch circuit for the laundry receptacle(s). It can’t serve any other outlet(s), such as lighting, and can serve only receptacle outlets in the laundry area [210.52(F) and 210.11(C)(2)]. In your feeder/service load calculation, include 1,500VA for the 20A laundry receptacle circuit [220.52(B)], as shown in Fig. 2

Feeder and service calculations

Occupants don’t use all loads simultaneously under normal living conditions, so “demand factors” can be applied to many of the dwelling unit loads in order to size the service. Some demand factors provided in the Code are intended for use in dwellings only; others are allowed only in non-dwellings. Therefore, be careful to apply demand factors only as allowed by the NEC.

The NEC provides two dwelling service load calculation methods: the standard method and the optional method.

Standard method for feeder and service load calculations

The standard method consists of three calculation steps:

  1. General lighting VA load. When calculating branch circuits and feeder/service loads for dwellings, include a minimum 3VA per sq ft for general lighting and general-use receptacles [220.12]. When determining the area, use the outside dimensions of the dwelling. Don’t include open porches, garages, or spaces not adaptable for future use.
  2. Small appliance and laundry circuits. The 3VA per sq ft rule includes general lighting and all 15A and 20A, 125V general-use receptacles, but doesn’t include small-appliance or laundry circuit receptacles. Therefore, you must calculate those at 1,500VA per circuit. See 220.14(J) for details.
  3. Number of branch circuits. Determine the number of branch circuits required for general lighting and general-use receptacles from the general lighting load and rating of the circuits [210.11(A)]. Although this is explained in Annex D, Example D1(a) of the NEC, let’s look at an another example.

Question: What’s the general lighting and receptacle load for a 2,000-sq-ft dwelling unit that has 34 convenience receptacles and 12 luminaires rated 100W each (Fig. 3)?

The calculation is pretty simple.

2,000 sq ft x 3VA = 6,000VA.

No additional load is required for general-use receptacles and lighting outlets because they are included in the 3VA per sq ft load specified by Table 220.12 for dwelling units. See 220.14(J).

Now let’s work through an example to determine the number of circuits required.

Question: How many 15A circuits are required for a 2,000-sq-ft dwelling unit?

Step 1: General lighting VA = 2,000 sq ft x 3VA = 6,000VA

Step 2: General lighting amperes:
I = VA ÷ E
I = 6,000VA ÷ 120V*
I = 50A
*Use 120V, single-phase unless specified otherwise.

Step 3: Determine the number of circuits:
Number of circuits = General lighting amperes ÷ circuit amperes
Number of circuits = 50A ÷ 15A
Number of circuits = 3.30, or 4 circuits. Any fraction of a circuit must be rounded up.

Optional method for feeder and service load calculations

You can use the optional method [Art. 220, Part IV] only for dwelling units served by a single 120/240V or 120/208V 3-wire set of service or feeder conductors with an ampacity of 100A or larger [220.82]. The optional method consists of three calculation steps:

  1. General loads [220.82(B)]
  2. Heating and air-conditioning load [220.82(C)]
  3. Feeder/service conductors [310.15(B)(6)]

Step 1: General loads [220.82(B)]

The general calculated load must be at least 100% for the first 10kVA, plus 40% of the remainder of the following loads:

  1. General lighting and receptacles: 3VA per sq ft
  2. Small-appliance and laundry branch circuits: 1,500VA for each 20A, 120V small-appliance and laundry branch circuit specified in 220.52.
  3. Appliances: The nameplate VA rating of all appliances and motors that are fastened in place (permanently connected) or located on a specific circuit, not including heating or air-conditioning.

Be sure to calculate the range and dryer at their nameplate ratings.

Step 2: Heating and air-conditioning load [220.82(C)]

Include the larger of (1) through (6):

  1. Air-conditioning equipment: 100%
  2. Heat-pump compressor without supplemental heating: 100%
  3. Heat-pump compressor and supplemental heating: 100% of the nameplate rating of the heat-pump compressor and 65% of the supplemental electric heating for central electric space-heating systems. If the control circuit is designed so that the heat-pump compressor can’t run at the same time as the supplementary heat, omit the compressor from the calculation.
  4. Space-heating units (three or fewer separately controlled units): 65%.
  5. Space-heating units (four or more separately controlled units): 40%.
  6. Thermal storage heating: 100%.

Step 3: Feeder/service conductors [310.15(B)(6)]

  • 400A and less. For individual dwelling units of one-family, two-family, and multi-family dwellings, use Table 310.15(B)(6) to size 3-wire, single-phase, 120/240V service or feeder conductors (including neutral conductors) that serve as the main power feeder. Feeder conductors aren’t required to have an ampacity rating greater than the service conductors [215.2(A)(3)]. Size the neutral conductor to carry the unbalanced load per Table 310.15(B)(6). Table 310.15(B)(6) can’t be used for sizing the feeder or service conductors that supply more than a single dwelling unit.
  • Over 400A. Size ungrounded conductors and the neutral conductor using Table 310.16 for feeder/services over 400A and those that do not fill all of the requirements for using Table 310.15(B)(6). Let’s try a calculation example.

Question: What size service conductor is required for a 1,500-sq-ft dwelling unit containing the following loads?
Cooktop: 6,000VA
Disposal: 900VA
Dishwasher: 1,200VA
Dryer: 4,000VA
Ovens (two each): 3,000VA
Water heater: 4,500VA
A/C: 17A, 230V
Electric heating (one control unit): 10kVA

Step 1: General loads [220.82(B)]
General lighting: 1,500 sq ft x 3VA = 4,500VA
Small-appliance circuits: 1,500VA x 2 circuits = 3,000VA
Laundry circuit: 1,500VA
Appliances (nameplate):
Cooktop: 6,000VA
Disposal: 900VA
Dishwasher: 1,200VA
Dryer: 4,000VA
Ovens (each 3 kW): 6,000VA
Water heater: 4,500VA

Total connected load: 31,600VA

First 10kW at 100%: 10,000VA x 1.00 = 10,000VA

Remainder at 40%: 21,600VA x 0.40 = 8,640VA

Calculated general load: 10,000VA + 8,640VA

Calculated general load: 18,640VA

Step 2: Air-Conditioning versus heat [220.82(C)]

Air-conditioning at 100% [220.82(C)(1)] vs. electric space heating at 65% [220.82(C)(4)]

Air conditioner [Table 430.248]:
A/C VA = V x A
A/C VA = 230V x 17A
A/C VA = 3,910VA (omit)

Electric space heat: 10,000VA x 0.65 = 6,500VA

Step 3: Feeder/service conductors [310.15(B)(6)]

Calculated general load (Step 1): 18,640VA

Heat calculated load (Step 2): 6,500VA

Total calculated load = 18,640VA + 6,500VA = 25,140VA

I = VA ÷ E

I = 25,140VA ÷ 240V = 105A

Therefore, the feeder/service ungrounded conductor is sized to 110A, 3 AWG [310.15(B)(6)].

The NEC doesn’t explain how demand factors were derived, and it’s not essential that you understand this in order to apply them correctly. Be sure to work on some practice calculations so you understand how to apply the various demand factors to a dwelling unit calculation.

The standard calculation and the optional calculation methods were both discussed in this article. These are two distinctly different calculation methods, so be careful not to mix them. Remember that the standard method is in Part III of Art. 220, and the optional method is contained in Part IV. When you are evaluating the necessary loads in either type of calculation method, follow the requirements for specific loads covered in other Articles outside of Art. 220. Which method is better to use? On an exam, you’ll likely be told which method to use on a specific question. However, if the question doesn’t specify a method, use the standard calculation. The optional method is usually faster and easier to apply, so it has a natural advantage for daily use on the job.

SIDEBAR: Where to Find Dwelling Unit Code Requirements Outside Art. 220

Branch circuits — Art. 210

Areas supplied by small appliance circuits — 210.52(B)(1)

Feeders — Art. 215

Services — Art. 230

Overcurrent protection — Art. 240

Wiring methods — Art. 300

Conductors — Art. 310

Appliances — Art. 422

Electric space-heating equipment — Art. 424

Motors — Art. 430

Air-conditioning equipment — Art. 440

For more information, read "Load Calculations -- Part 1."

About the Author

Mike Holt

Mike Holt is the owner of Mike Holt Enterprises (www.MikeHolt.com), one of the largest electrical publishers in the United States. He earned a master's degree in the Business Administration Program (MBA) from the University of Miami. He earned his reputation as a National Electrical Code (NEC) expert by working his way up through the electrical trade. Formally a construction editor for two different trade publications, Mike started his career as an apprentice electrician and eventually became a master electrician, an electrical inspector, a contractor, and an educator. Mike has taught more than 1,000 classes on 30 different electrical-related subjects — ranging from alarm installations to exam preparation and voltage drop calculations. He continues to produce seminars, videos, books, and online training for the trade as well as contribute monthly Code content to EC&M magazine.

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