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What is the National Electrical Code?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2016
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A national electrical code is a standardized set of recommendations for electrical wiring, equipment, and related issues. Many nations have their own version of a national electrical code, with one of the most famous being the National Electrical Code® used in the United States. The purpose of such a document is to create a set of guidelines which can be followed by electrical contractors to ensure that electrical systems across the nation are standardized, safe, and easy to work on.

The National Electrical Code® in the United States is published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). It is also known as NFPA 70, referring to the publication number used to identify the National Electrical Code®. While this code is not enshrined in the national law as a legally binding document, many regions mandate that electrical contractors abide by it when they perform electrical installations.

This document is revised and updated every three years to reflect changing practices and information in the field. It includes recommendations which range from the correct installation of bedroom outlets to the proper position for an electrical transformer. Every single wiring task imaginable is covered in detail in the National Electrical Code®, with an eye towards safety, usability, and standardization.

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Safety in electrical wiring is a major concern for many people, and for governments, because the authorities which issue permits may be held liable if people are injured by faulty wiring. The goal of an electrical code is to reduce the risk of fires and other hazards. In addition, the code standardizes the types of fixtures used, how they should be wired, and the color coding utilized in electrical circuits, so that anyone can work on electrical wiring and understand what is going on. Standardization also promotes ease of repair, as people can swap out interchangeable parts easily when the same parts are used across the country.

The contents of the National Electrical Code® are viewable for free, allowing anyone to look up issues of interest or to learn more about electrical wiring. Electrical contractors must generally demonstrate knowledge of the code before they can be licensed, and many other construction professionals, such as general contractors and plumbers, are also aware of relevant sections of the code. People who plan to do their own electrical work would be strongly advised to read the code and conform with it, both for safety reasons and to ensure that their homes do not have code violations. Code violations can hamper the sale of a home, and subject the owner to fines and other penalties.

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