- Features | January 31, 2014
One Nation Under Code
The multiple benefits of a single electrical code that could be uniformly applied and enforced throughout the United States was recognized early on by the electrical industry and provided the impetus for creating the first National Electrical Code® (NEC). While different geographic areas may create unique installation considerations (e.g. proximity to salt water, identified seismic areas, corrosive soil conditions, or flooding), the overwhelming majority of requirements in the NEC® are applicable whether the installation is located in Key West, Florida, or Nome, Alaska.
A single set of requirements affecting product construction that provided for uniform enforcement and allowed for the development of national training programs are attributes of a single document that could be used to regulate electrical installations. The fact that every statewide electrician’s licensing examination is based in whole or in part on the NEC has been a significant factor in the willingness of a number of states to enter into reciprocal licensing agreements allowing the electrical workforce to move around the country to seek employment when work in their home state is lean. One electrical installation code used throughout the country enables the electrical industry to move forward in a common direction.
The August 2013 issuance of the 2014 NEC by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards Council marks the 53rd edition of this country’s most widely recognized, adopted, and enforced construction code. Since the first edition in 1897, the NEC has been revised on a regular basis in order to stay current with the electrical construction industry that relies on it to provide the necessary rules for safe electrical installations in residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial settings.
More so than probably any other system in a building, the electrical system is impacted by advances in technology. Whether it is a new method to distribute and control electrical energy, advancements in circuit protective equipment, an alternative means to generate electrical energy, or providing for the infrastructure needed to support “green” initiatives, it is imperative that the NEC be regularly updated so that its requirements are relevant to the industry that relies on it to establish the benchmark for the necessary level of safety.
Since 1911, the NFPA has been the sponsor of the NEC. The connection between NFPA and the NEC is not understood by many of those who use the document. Simply stated, NFPA is the organization responsible for producing and publishing of the “book.” NFPA’s mission of fire, building, and electrical safety is reflected in its many activities, and the development of codes and standards is one of its important functions. The NEC, also known as NFPA 70, is one of nearly 300 codes, standards, and recommended practices for which NFPA is responsible. All of these documents have a specific scope and purpose as it relates to carrying forth the NFPA mission. For most in the electrical industry, the NEC is NFPA’s best known and most widely used code, but other documents such as NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace; NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code; and NFPA 79, Electrical Standard for Industrial Machinery are other NFPA documents that are used by the industry.
Creating the First Code
Those who gathered to create the first National Electrical Code were visionary. Recognizing the tremendous potential that electrical power offered to a country in the midst of another industrial revolution, the proponents also understood that standardization of wiring methods, equipment, and installation requirements was necessary to promote electrical industry growth. Prior to 1897, five regional electrical codes existed in the United States, and there were also electrical codes being used in Britain and Europe. Seizing the tremendous opportunity to develop a single national electrical installation standard, a group of interested parties met in New York City in March 1896. Attending this meeting were representatives of the Amer