History of The Electrical Code


The National Electric Code (NEC) of the United States is the standard by which determinations are made about the safety of electrical systems and installations. In its current incarnation, it is an incredibly detailed and technical set of requirements that lay out different expectations. However, it is not a national law. So why is it so important? And where did it come from?

The NEC was first created in 1897. During the advent of the electrical era, there was a lot of confusion about electrical safety. Disagreements over safety between early pioneers, as well as a lack of public understanding about electricity in general created an atmosphere where there was a good deal of concern about the future, and the ability of society to use electricity effectively and safely. A group of experts came together and created the first electric code, which was soon adopted as a national standard. Over the next century, the importance of the code increased, and nowadays it is the standard by which nearly every electrical project carried out in homes is judged.

The use of a robust standard for electrical work has done a lot for our country. The implementation of safer standards for electrical work is a great way to help ensure that fewer people are injured or killed by the very powerful force we harness as a tool. As our knowledge increases, we are able to improve the safety of different practices.

But why is it so important if it isn’t a law? First, the publication of a manual which details the practices which are known to be safe and good creates a standard by which electrical work can be judged. If it is known that a certain electrical practice is less than safe, it creates good grounds for a lawsuit if this unsafe practice is knowingly used, and disaster strikes. Therefore, electricians and contractors who wish to avoid litigation are incentivized to follow the national electrical code. Additionally, they can tout their following of the electrical code as evidence that they are using the best, safest practices which are currently known.

But there is a lot more to the electrical code. Many lower level jurisdictions, such as cities and states, adopt parts of the electrical code into their local laws and standards. Therefore, it is quite possible that while the NEC is not a law nationally, you might live in a location where all construction and projects must legally be up to code. And while some local entities might amend the code, it is for the most part kept fairly intact. When a new version of the electrical code is published, most local governments are reasonably quick to adopt the new version into their laws.

Additionally, the code requirements that your house is under is based on when the electrical work was done. If you are living in an older house that has not had extensive renovations done, it is very likely that your electrical work will not match with the current standards for electrical work. However, it is not against the law for you to inhabit your house. Instead, your house only needs to meet the electrical code from when the electrical work was done. If new electrical work is done, it must be up to code. Additionally, depending on local laws and your circumstance, there may be situations where you will need to get your building up to code.

The contents of the electrical code cover a wide variety of different electrical standards. From outlining specific outlets to be used in different situations, to detailing specifics like the types of screws to be used for different purposes, the NEC often goes into great detail. This means that you will need an electrician who is meticulous and thorough. While contractors often have to improvise and adapt to unexpected challenges, an electrician must be able to combine his knowledge of what will work, with his knowledge of the electrical code to know what will pass inspection and offer all parties involved the least possible risk.

Therefore, if you are a bit worried about passing an inspection, or are bothered by the fact that you need to follow the electrical code, remember the good that the electrical code has done, and can do for you. While it can seem frustrating to be forced to follow very specific instructions about how to do a specific thing (particularly when you might need to spend extra money), these guidelines are often created because they have been shown to make things much safer and cheaper in the long run. So hire an electrician who has a good respect for, and understanding of, the electrical code, both nationally, and the version which is adopted in your area. A true professional will not compromise on the best known building practices.


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