What is the National Electrical Code

What is the National Electrical Code

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  1. One of the very first things any apprentice electrician hears when he or she starts on the long road to becoming a certified electrician is "Let the Code Decide." "Let the Code Decide" is the slogan of the International Association of Electrical Inspectors. Every apprentice electrician is told upon entering training that the National Electrical Code (NEC) is the electrician’s Bible and he or she must live by the shall and shall not rules set down in its pages. The apprentice electrician is asked, "What does the Code have to say" about a given topic but is seldom told how the NEC became part of every electrician’s daily life.

    It all began on New Years Eve, 1879, when Thomas Alva Edison revealed his latest invention, the incandescent light bulb to the world. He revealed it in a public demonstration held at his home and laboratories in Menlo Park, New Jersey.  With that New Years Eve demonstration, the world not only became aware of the electric light but for the first time, but of the value electricity could have for them. Edison light bulb was just the beginning. Other great inventions, like Tesla’s electric motor, soon followed.

    The New York Board of Insurance Underwriters published an article in the newspapers pondering the dangers of fire caused by electric wires. In response to that article, Edison wrote the New York Board of Insurance Underwriters on May 6, 1881. In that now famous, or maybe I should say "infamous" letter, Edison said: "I beg to say that the system of lighting of the Edison Electric Light Company is totally free from any possible danger from fire, even in connection with the most inflammable material." Of course, much to Edison’s chagrin, it didn’t work out that way. In 1881 alone, there were 23 fires in New England textile mills that were traced to Edison’s electrical wiring.

    The problem was that there was no unified code as to how electrical wiring was to be installed. Every installer had to decide for himself how to install Edison’s electric light system. Based on their limited experience with electricity, the installers didn’t always make the right choices. The results were an epidemic of fires. By 1895, there were five electrical codes in use throughout the United States and no two of them required the wiring to be installed in the same manner. It suddenly became obvious to anyone involved with the installation of electrical wiring that there was a pressing need for one uniform electrical code.
    In March of the following year, representatives from several insurance agencies and electrical companies met at New York City headquarters of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to develop a single unified code based on the best aspects of the five existing codes. By May or June of the following year they had drafted the first unified code and titled it the "National Code." The National Board of Fire Underwriters recognized its importance and published it as the "National Electrical Code of 1897." The NEC was born.

    The original committee that drafted the "National Code" that became the "National Electrical Code of 1897" was an intelligent group of forward thinkers and knew their limitation. The code had grown from a brief document of a few pages in 1897 to well over one thousand pages by the time they met in New York City in 1911. Recognizing that they had accomplished their goal to develop a single unified electrical code, they disbanded turned the responsibility for periodic revision of the code and the publishing of the code to the newly formed National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The NFPA was formed in 1896 with the sole purpose of reducing fire and safety hazards. The NEC as we know it today became the NFPA Publication 70. Since the National Electrical Code of 1897 the NEC has undergone 51 revision with the 2008 Revision being the current revision but the 2011 Revision will be out in a few short months.

    It doesn’t matter whether you’re an apprentice electrician working towards your certification, a certified journeyman electrician, a certified master electrician, or a do-it-yourself electrician you need to have a copy of the latest revision in your library and you need to refer to it daily. When there is any doubt about how you should proceed with an electrical project, "Let the Code Decide." As the resident homeowner, you are permitted by the NEC to do anything that a licensed electrician can do but you have to abide by the same rules. You have to pull a permit and have the inspections performed on your work and those inspectors know the code inside and out. Your wiring will pass or fail inspection based on whether or not it meets minimum code standard. Study you Bible. Commit it to memory. Live by it. Your life and the lives of your loves one depend on it.

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