Volume 4, Issue Number 2 July 1, 1999

Building Code Groups: Threatening the NEC?

The National Electrical Code® is the world´s best-known and most widely-used building code. Besides serving as official wiring rules in most U.S. states and local jurisdictions, it is rapidly being adopted by Mexico and other Latin American countries. This widespread acceptance demonstrates the importance of uniform safety codes developed through open, consensus procedures. But in March of this year, a coalition of three model building code organizations filed suit against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), publisher of the NEC. Some observers see this as the first step of an attempt by building code officials to try and develop their own, competing electrical installation code. Such an effort would reduce public safety, and harm the interests of all segments of the U.S. electrical construction industry.

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Proposal to Certify Fire Alarm Installers Defeated

A proposal to require that all installers of supervising (monitored) station fire alarm systems be certified was defeated at the recent NFPA World Fire Congress and Exposition in Baltimore. A revision proposed for the 1999 edition of the National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72) would have required that all future supervising station fire alarm system installations be verified by one of two agencies.

This new requirement would have imposed a number of specific conditions including periodic field inspection of supervising station fire alarm systems. But one practical effect would have been to require that installers of these systems be certified by either Factory Mutual Corporation (FMC) or Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL). These two agencies currently verify the installation of central station fire alarm systems when this is required by customers or local fire marshals.

The proposed revision of NFPA 72 would have made this practice, which is currently optional, mandatory for all future installations of supervising station fire alarms. However, at the Technical Committee Report session on May 20, the NFPA membership voted 123 to 103 to hold the change proposal. This means it will be returned to the Technical Committee on Fire Alarm Systems for re-consideration during the 2002 revision cycle.

Controversial proposal The proposed requirement that all supervising station fire alarm installations be verified had been controversial from the beginning. A number of public comments had been filed in opposition. Several of these stated that the original proposal should not have been accepted because the need for it had not been properly substantiated. Fire alarm manufacturers and several fire professionals present at the Technical Committee Report claimed that the proposal, if accepted, would improve public safety and reduce false alarms. But several consultants and business owners suggested that the current verification programs were ineffective in guaranteeing proper fire alarm operation, and thus should not be expanded by making them mandatory for all supervising station systems. The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) testified that the proposal would unjustifiably "lock in" facilities to using the original fire alarm installer over the life of a building. An alarm installation company stated that no safety or technical justification had been presented for imposing this additional layer of regulation and expense. NECA is represented on the NFPA 72 committee, but did not testify either for or against the proposal at the Technical Committee Report session in Baltimore.

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NECA Publishes New Lighting Standard

The second NATIONAL ELECTRICAL INSTALLATION STANDARD™ for lighting systems is now available from NECA. NECA/IESNA 502-1999, Recommended Practice for Installing Industrial Lighting Systems (ANSI), is the fourth NEIS™ to be published and the second to be approved as an American National Standard. The first ANSI-approved publication was NECA/IESNA 500-1998, Recommended Practice for Installing Indoor Commercial Lighting Systems (ANSI).

Both lighting standards were jointly developed with the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), the professional organization for lighting designers and engineers. "We always try to work with other industry expert groups when writing installation standards for electrical products and systems," says Brooke Stauffer, NECA director of codes and standards. "We wind up with better, more technically complete standards this way. And I think it also gives specifiers and users more confidence in the final, published product. ANSI approval is important to us for the same reason."

Approval by the American National Standards Institute represents a 'higher' level of approval for standards developed by industry associations like NECA. In the ANSI consensus process, a broad range of non-profit organizations, government agencies, and major corporations review and vote on draft standards.

Building momentum A number of other NATIONAL ELECTRICAL INSTALLATION STANDARDS™ are in various stages of development or ANSI adoption, including a third joint standard by NECA and IESNA on installation of outdoor lighting systems. The next standard scheduled for publication is NECA 100, Symbols for Electrical Construction Drawings; it is expected to be available by August 1999.

The new NECA/IESNA 502-1999, Recommended Practice for Installing Industrial Lighting Systems (ANSI), is priced at $25.00 with NECA-member and quantity discounts available. Contact the NECA Order Desk at (301) 215-4504 tel, (301) 215-4500 fax, or NEIS™ can also be purchased from Global Engineering Documents at (800) 854-7179.

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National Electrical Grounding Research Project

Effective earth grounds are important for both safety and performance reasons. The National Electrical Code requires low-impedance paths to ground to protect persons from shock hazard and to conduct fault currents to ground (this also insures the proper operation of overcurrent protective devices).

In addition, effective grounding helps to minimize stray currents that can interfere with the proper operation of sensitive electrical and electronic equipment, such as computers and medical devices. 1999 marks the sixth year of a national research project to study factors which impact the effectiveness of earth grounds.

This ongoing national investigation into how different soil and environmental conditions affect grounding electrode systems is expected to result in future revisions of the National Electrical Code. "The dilemma of grounding abnormal electrical current to protect energy users from electrical shock, and sensitive electronic equipment from voltage spikes continues to demand new solutions," observes David Brender, PE, national manager at the Copper Development Association. "A principal component of grounding systems involves the use of electrodes buried in the ground. A major purpose of this study is to determine whether such electrodes become less effective over time."

The multi-year national research project is being managed by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, an independent, non-profit organization associated with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in Quincy, Massachusetts. A number of other organizations are participating in and financially sponsoring the project. They include the Copper Development Association, Underwriters Laboratories Inc., International Facility Management Association, U.S. Army, National Electrical Contractors Association, and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, as well as electric utilities and grounding equipment manufacturers.

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Meter Socket Safety Recall Notice

Milbank Manufacturing Company is recalling for repair certain meter sockets manufactured between December 1, 1998 and February 19, 1999.

The affected units are located in territories serviced by Entergy and Texas Utilities:

  • Entergy EN020145 Milbank cat. No. U4505-X-2/K3 320 Amp Self-Contained Single-Phase Meter Socket
  • Entergy EN020147 Milbank cat. No. U2120-X-2/K7 320 Amp Self-Contained Three-Phase Meter Socket
  • TSN 301402 Milbank cat. No. S2711-X 320 Amp Self-Contained Single-Phase Meter Socket
Contact Steve Miller or Greg Bennett at Milbank (toll free at 1-888-537-0881, ext. 500) to schedule repairs for the affected meter socket units.

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Prices Reduced on 1999 Code Change Publications

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) has just dropped its prices on two important educational tools that help installers and specifiers learn about new and changed requirements in the 1999 NEC:

  • 1999 Illustrated Book of Code Changes. Written by well-known Code consultant Mike Holt, this 128-page book has full-color illustrations and clear, concise explanations of all 1999 NEC changes. Was $14.95 Now, just $11.95.
  • 1999 National Electrical Code Changes Video. A must for contractors, engineers, electricians, inspectors, and others, NECA's video training course leads you through more than 100 of the most important changes to the 1999 NEC. Perfect for in-house training sessions. Was $99 Now, just $79.
  • 1999 National Electrical Code Tables. A compilation of the most-frequently used tables from the 1999 NEC in a smaller, easier-to-carry format. Still, just $7.50
NECA-member and quantity discounts are available on all book and videos. Contact the NECA order desk at (301) 215-4504 tel, (301) 215-4500 fax, or

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In Brief

Article 600 (Signs) Code changes summary. An explanation of all changes to Article 600 "Electric Signs and Outline Lighting" in the 1999 National Electrical Code was presented at the recent NFPA World Fire Safety Congress & Exposition in Baltimore, Maryland. It uses strikeout and underline format to indicate changes from the 1996 NEC, and provides an explanation of all major changes. For a free copy of the Article 600 changes, contact Afsana Hashem at NECA Codes and Standards. (Address, phone, and fax are at lower right or e-mail your request to Be sure to provide us with your postal mailing address.)

Motor efficiency study released. The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Motor Challenge program has released a comprehensive study of opportunities for improving electric motor system efficiency and reducing energy costs to U.S. industry. Industrial motor-driven systems account for 23 percent of the nation's electricity use and two-thirds of U.S. industry's electricity consumption. The study involved surveys of 265 industrial facilities to identify ways in which the efficiency of motor-driven systems could be improved. It concludes that use of mature, proven technologies could reduce industrial motor energy use from 11 to 18 percent of current annual usage. For a copy of U.S. Industrial Electric Motor Systems Market Opportunities Assessment, call the DOE Motor Challenge program at (800) 862-2086.

2002 NEC® proposal deadline approaching. The deadline to submit change proposals for the 2002 National Electrical Code® is Friday, November 5, 1999. You can photocopy the proposal form on the last page of your 1999 Code book, or download forms from the National Fire Protection Association website at The subject of submitting 2002 Code proposals will be covered much more fully in the next issue of CONTRACTORS' CODE LETTER.

TIA proposed for National Fire Alarm Code®. The Fire Marshall's Association of North America has proposed a Tentative Interim Amendment to recently-approved NFPA 72-1999. The TIA would require household smoke alarms to have 10-year batteries, and permit them to have a feature that allows homeowners to silence alarms for up to ten minutes. The purpose, according to FNAMA, is to reduce the number of household smoke alarms that are nonfunctional either because dead batteries were not replaced, or because they were deliberately disconnected to avoid nuisance alarms. For a complete copy of TIA Log No. 599, or to file public comments, contact NFPA Codes and Standards at (617) 770-3000.

National Electrical Code errata. A listing of errors in the first printing of the 1999 National Electrical Code (ANSI/NFPA 70) is available on the website of the International Association of Electrical Inspectors. To download, go to and click on "Errata to NEC" at the left-hand side of the home page. Or to obtain a free printed copy of the errata, contact Afsana Hashem at NECA Codes and Standards.

Taunton expands "Code Check" series. Taunton Press, a major publisher of books for the construction trades, has just released "Code Check: Electrical." Like other Code Check publications, this newest one features an easy-to-use flip chart with 60 illustrations and 30 tables summarizing National Electrical Code requirements. "Code Check: Electrical" has durable laminated pages to resist abuse on job site, and retails for $14.95.

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In Print

T.E.D., June 1999, "Business Structure for Selling Voice and Data Systems" Electrical Contracting & Engineering News, June 1999, "1999 NEC Contains Significant Changes" Engineering Times, June 1999, "First Construction Quality Standards on Tap" T.E.D., May 1999, "Stay on Top of Cable Trends" EC, May 1999, "The NEC: Under Attack by Building Code Groups?" T.E.D., April 1999, "Analog and Digital: What's the Difference?"

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Upcoming meetings of interest to the codes and standards community. All meetings are open to the public, but some may require payment of a registration fee:

July 20-22: NFPA Standards Council, Nova Scotia, Canada

Aug 5-6: ANSI Board of Standards Review, New York, NY

Aug 16-17: Standards Engineering Society Annual Conference, Toronto, Ontario

Sep 12-16: IAEI Northwestern Section Meeting, Spokane, WA

Sep 19-22: IAEI Western Section Meeting, Wichita, KS

Sep 24-26: IAEI Canadian Section, Hamilton, Ontario

Oct 3-6: IAEI Eastern Section Meeting, Ellenville, NY

Oct 10-13: IAEI Southern Section Meeting, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Oct 18-20: NFPA Technical Committee on Electrical Equipment Maintenance (70E), Sparks, NV

Sep 29-Oct 1: NFPA Standards Council, Anchorage, AK

Oct 24-28: IAEI Southwestern Section, San Francisco, CA

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Summer 2013

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