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The National Electrical Code

What is the National Electrical Code (NEC) and why is it so important? It’s part of the coursework and training of an electrician. The NEC, also known as NFPA 70, was first produced in 1897. It is a collection of safety codes and requirements thought up by the National Fire Protection Association. The document is updated once every three years, the latest version being the 2011 NEC. The NEC can come in book form (roughly 1000 pages) or an electronic form. You can buy the National Electrical Code through the National Fire Protection Association’s website at A NEC Handbook is also available for sale at their website. This handbook contains the NEC regulations, but goes through some extra effort by explaining what these codes mean and how they may be executed.

Though the NEC is only a recommended code and not law, many state and local governments use the NEC as a benchmark and either place the entire document into law or use it as a basis and modify it to suit their needs. Even if the state or local government doesn’t make the NEC into enforceable law, if anything is done outside of the requirements that the NEC describes and someone gets hurt because the standards were not followed, than whoever did not follow the NEC can be sued for negligence. These rules are widely accepted as the safety benchmarks that every electrician or builder should know.

Now I’m sure you are wondering, what does this document consist of? The NEC delves into every aspect of safety an electrician may come across. First the reader will be presented with an overview of the document’s goals and purpose. Then in the first chapter, the reader is shown definitions which will help the reader better understand the jargon of the code book. Basically, the book is divided into two categories.

Chapters 2-4 are regulations for your standard electrician, and chapters 5-8 regard non-traditional or specialized electrical work. Chapters 2-4 will cover things like wiring and wiring protection (such as proper temperature ratings), circuits (such as branch circuits, service circuits, and feeder circuits), circuit protection (such as ground fault circuit interrupters), installations (such as installing wire into empty conduit or duct work), general-purpose equipment (such as receptacles and heaters), and safety precautions for conductors and cables.

Chapters5-8 will be more concerned with concepts such as advanced or unique machinery, high risk occupancies, communications systems, and emergency systems. Chapter 9 provides the reader with tables and examples of the regulations given in previous chapters. It’s important to read “Notes to Tables” before delving into chapter 9. Many mistakes are made by electricians who disregard the notes that help explain the tables. The last thing in the NEC document are the appendixes for reference.

The National Electrical Code is a hefty document filled with an abundance of information which can be hard to decipher. That is why many apprenticeships, associate’s degree programs, and trade schools for electricians spend so much time drilling these rules and regulations into the student’s head. It’s also important, that even when an electrician’s licensing and certification is done, he still returns to study the documents since it’s constantly being updated and a good electrician should know the current national standards.

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