What Changed? A Look at the NEC 2014
With every release of a new NEC code book, electricians across the country find themselves faced with a large, unwieldy document that has many wide-ranging implications for their industry and their working life. With the current (2014) edition of the NEC code book coming in at more than 900 pages, having an accessible guide to the most important changes is critical. In this article, we look at the background and structure of the new code book, some of the main impacts this document will have on master and journeyman electricians alike, and some recommendations for training and retraining key staff on its most important elements.
First published in 1897, the National Electrical Code Book outlines a set of country-wide best practices for the installation and repair of electrical wiring in homes and businesses. The NEC is updated every three years; its most recent iteration was released on August 15, 2013. For working electricians, staying up to date with the latest version of the code is essential; though on its own the NEC is not legally binding, it serves as a de facto guide for state and municipal organizations for the development of regional building codes. Thus, by being aware of the most recent changes to the code, electricians and installers can effectively and legally work almost anywhere in the country.
Structure and Outline
As with all recent versions, the 2014 NEC code book is broken down into nine chapters:
- Chapter One provides an overview of the code, featuring concise definitions of any term appearing twice or more. This is followed by a second set of definitions specific to any equipment or installation operating at 600 nominal volts or higher. Also included is an explanation of the general requirements for any electrical installation, including approval, examination, installation, use, markings and other important safety considerations.
- Chapter Two covers the wiring and protection of grounded connectors, branch circuits, feeders, service conductors and other devices. This chapter also discusses overcurrent protection, grounding and bonding, and surge protection for devices installed in systems of 1000 volts or less.
- Chapter Three treats wiring methods in greater detail, outlining a comprehensive set of recommendations for different equipment and materials commonly used in residential, commercial and other electrical installations, with the exception of integrated devices such as motors and any other conditions modified by later sections of the code.
- Chapter Four covers the application and installation requirements for general use equipment, including flexible cords and cables, switches, switchboards, appliances, lighting systems, generators, HVAC units and other devices. A special section addresses the specific installation requirements of appliances in systems over 1000 nominal volts.
- Chapter Five includes recommendations for electrical equipment and wiring in special occupancies where the building’s intended use will dictate best practices. These include locations in Classes I, II and III due to flammable gases and other fire/explosion hazards, intrinsically safe locations, fuel dispensing facilities, agricultural buildings and more.
- Chapter Six covers provisions and recommendations for working with special equipment ranging from cranes and hoists to pipe organs and audio recording devices.
- Chapter Seven addresses the safety and wiring considerations of emergency alert systems, legally required standby power systems, fire alarms and other devices essential to emergency preparedness and business continuity.
- Chapter Eight outlines additional considerations and requirements for working with (non-emergency) communication systems, such as radio and television equipment, broadband networks, antennas and more.
- Chapter Nine provides a convenient reference of important tables containing nominal dimensions for different wiring types, conduit values and properties, and more, grouped by relevant article.
In addition to the nine main chapters of the 2014 NEC code book, a series of 10 informative annexes is included (Annexes A through J) which contain information beyond the scope of the code itself that working electricians may nonetheless find useful. This includes standards for accessible design, specific product safety standards and more.
Behind the 2014 NEC
Revising a document of the size and scope of the 2014 NEC is a time-consuming process. The 2014 edition of the NEC was prepared by the National Fire Protection Association's National Electrical Code Committee at its June 2013 Associate Technical Meeting. The document's final draft was issued on August 1, 2013 and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on August 21. During the preparation of the 2014 NEC, 3745 proposed changes and 1625 comments were taken into consideration. 19 code making panels were involved in the document, comprising over 470 volunteer experts from organizations such as the International Association of Electrical Inspectors, the National Electrical Contractors Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and several other industry organizations.
One of the first things anyone will notice upon receiving the 2014 NEC guidebook is the addition of four new articles:
- Article 393 outlines requirements for the safe installation of low voltage suspended ceiling power distribution systems, or CPDS. As CPDS have become increasingly popular for powering occupancy sensors, wireless routers, RFID trackers and other building management equipment, this addition standardizes the installation process and helps avoid a messy, inefficient and potentially dangerous "rats' nest" of wires. Article 393 outlines permitted uses of CPDS devices as well as situations, such as damp, concealed or inaccessible locations, where installation is not recommended. Other items covered in Article 393 include proper grounding and enclosures, back feed protection and more.
- Article 646 codifies the requirements for working with modular data centers — namely, any prefabricated unit of 600 volts or less containing servers and other information technology appliances, as well as other supporting equipment such as HVAC or electrical service distribution devices. Modular data centers can be housed in a enclosure as big as a standard shipping container. They represent an economical alternative to building an IT infrastructure from scratch, and as a result have been adopted by more and more businesses across the country. Special considerations listed in Article 646 include ensuring adequate emergency lighting and working space is available.
- Article 728 covers fire-resistive cable systems, conductors and other devices commonly used to protect important circuitry during a fire. Prior to the publication of the 2014 NEC, electricians had to rely on manufacturer's guidelines alone for installing fire-resistive cabling; the new article firms up these requirements, providing specific recommendations for installing, supporting, grounding, splicing and marking fire resistive cables.
- Article 750 was proposed by the specially assembled Smart Grid Task Group and deals with energy management systems. Smart grid management systems offer considerable energy-saving advantages — as more and more businesses and homes are implementing them, standardized procedures for installation have become necessary. Article 750 specifies that energy management systems not be able to override the backup power system of a fire pump, healthcare facility or any other legally required, critical operation or emergency standby system. Article 750 also ensures that an energy management system not be used to control power to an elevator, hazardous gas ventilation system, emergency lighting circuit or other device that could put users/occupants at risk if they fail. The article also covers standards for marking both energy management systems and remote control devices.
Other New Features of the 2014 NEC Code Book
While the four new articles in the 2014 NEC are the most noticeable changes, they are not necessarily the ones that will have the most impact on training and compliance over the next three years. The NEC has wide-reaching implications and, as more municipalities adopt its most recent set of standards, it is important to stay aware of any changes that can affect your business. Some of the most important differences between the current NEC and those that came before it include:
- Definitions: "Retrofit kit," defined as "a general term for a complete subassembly of parts and devices for field conversion of utilization equipment," has been added to the definitions section of the code.
- Markings: A newly added subsection 110.21B has been included in an effort to standardize field-applied hazard markings. This will help technicians, electricians and engineers better identify hazards and take the necessary precautions while working. Specifically, the change requires that field markings be in compliance with ANSI Z535.4-2011 guidelines for font size, color, location and other elements. In most cases, markings must also not be handwritten and must be of suitable durability to withstand the environmental conditions present. Other changes to marking guidelines include a provision that working space requirements be listed on or adjacent to any electrical installation.
- Doors: Arc flash and arc blast events are a persistent occupational hazard for electricians. New NEC guidelines recommend that, when equipment rated 800A or higher is present, electrical rooms must contain outwardly swinging doors equipped with appropriate listed panic hardware. These doors must also be located no less than 25 feet from the edge of the working area. This is to ensure that electricians or other team members suffering burns on their hands can quickly exit the room in the event of an accident.
- Conductor sizing: The latest changes to the code attempt to clear up one of the most persistent debates that have arisen regarding past versions — namely, how to properly size a conductor. The revised text of Articles 210 and 215 more clearly articulate that terminal rating of continuous vs. non-continuous loading is to be taken care of in a separate calculation from any correction or ampacity factors, with the more restrictive of the two numbers being used.
- Lighting loads: New requirements for lighting load calculations represent an effort to bring the 2014 NEC more in line with the working realities of today's contractors. According to Article 220.12, lower energy code values for lighting load calculations can be used in place of the NEC's suggested 3½VA/square foot standard if certain conditions are met, including the installation of a power monitoring system that alerts the building's owner if usage exceeds a certain threshold.
- GFCI and AFCI protection: Several changes to the 2014 NEC code pertain to ground fault and arc fault circuit interrupters (GFCI and AFCI). Both devices must now be installed in an easily accessible location to facilitate periodic testing. In residential buildings, laundry areas have been added to the list of locations where single phase, 120V, 15A or 20A outlets must be equipped with a GFCI. As well, protection requirements for kitchens, bathrooms and commercial rooftops have been expanded. AFCI devices are now required in similarly equipped kitchens, laundry areas and certain branch circuits.
- Selective coordination: "Few rules have created more arguments than selective coordination," notes NEC consultant Mike Holt. NEC 2014 revises and clarifies many of the recommendations around the process, limiting it to engineers and others similarly qualified to selectively coordinate supply-side devices. While many of the proposed changes to the code argued for more leniencies in this regard, the finalized document adopts stricter recommendations, including a clearer articulation of the fact that selective coordination is required for all emergency and legally required standby systems. As well, all such systems must now be coordinated to 100% completion, without any overlap or possibility of an upstream device opening before another situated closer to the fault.
The 2014 NEC and Rising Importance of Solar Energy
Changes to the National Electrical Code have wide ranging implications — some of the latest reflect the rising importance of solar energy to our industry. This is important to note as a thorough knowledge of photovoltaic systems is an important part of electrical NEC exam preparation. Code requirements for PV systems are covered in Article 690; some of the important changes for 2014 include that:
- • ground-fault protection is now required for all current-carrying conductors and other components, including intentionally grounded conductors
- • overcurrent protection devices must now be installed and accessible on PV source and output circuits, as well as several other components of a solar installation
- • to minimize the risk of fire and improve the safety of first responders, both AC and DC PV systems must now be equipped with rapid shutdown equipment and identified as such
- • MC-type metallic multiconductor cables can now be used as source circuit conductors in underground PV systems
In addition, grounding requirements for PV systems have been amended. In one controversial change, Article 690.47(D) now calls for the installation of "additional auxiliary electrodes for array grounding" (italics for emphasis) — a move that Holt and others have condemned as unsafe and open to misinterpretation.
Training, Implementation and Electrical NEC Exam Preparation
As these and other contentious issues indicate, there's no question the 2014 NEC is a complex document. This article covers only a small portion of the most recent changes and their implications for various professionals. Many electricians find that periodic retraining with an accredited continuing education institution is an excellent way to get up to speed quickly and minimize their risk of noncompliance. StateCE's electrician program makes it possible for an experienced or new electrician to train on code requirements in their spare time, learning from skilled industry experts who understand the latest regulatory changes and can provide insights that will help better implement them in practical situations.
We offer four program streams to meet the needs of every professional, including journeyman electricians, master electricians and journeyman and master sign electricians. All course content is available online, allowing you to train at your own pace from anywhere in the country. Since 2001, our institution has helped more than 100,000 professionals expand their credentials, brush up on the latest requirements or train for a new career. Contact StateCE today for more information about any of our electrician programs.