The Impact of Slow Code Implementation - What is an Inspector to Do?

The 2023 edition of NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code (NEC®) will soon be released. You might be thinking wait, what? My jurisdiction is still enforcing an older version of the NEC, wait for me! The NFPA standards development process has hundreds of volunteers, who donate over 30,000 hours of time thoroughly reviewing each NEC article and section along with thousands of public inputs so that a safe and useable code can be produced on time. Local code promulgation often lags due to navigating its way through local administrative processes, which take time. This may be at a state, county, or city level, which allows citizens, businesses, and organizations within those areas an opportunity to provide input to legislators on what codes should be implemented in that jurisdiction. Local committees may be formed and tasked with analyzing each section of the NEC to determine what they will amend, keep, or remove. These committees are usually comprised of electrical inspectors, licensed electricians, business owners, homeowners, and utility company representatives, all with their unique perspectives on the NEC. One difficult discussion that often takes place in local committee meetings is around the justification for an increase in new home construction costs by using the latest codes. Other topics can center on installations in different geographical locations as some areas deal with very warm weather while others extreme cold. The time these discussions and meetings take have an impact on the timely promulgation of the latest code. 

So, what does a possible slow implementation of a code mean to citizens and electrical inspectors? A NFPA Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute report, “Falling Behind on Electrical Safety: Wide Variations in State Adoptions of the NEC Reveal Neglect of Electrical Safety” shows the impact of electrical safety on communities that are not using the latest NEC updates and installations methods. One example is solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. Rapid shutdown of PV systems is extremely helpful to first responders. Article 690 Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems of the 2011 NEC, and prior editions, does not mention rapid shutdown of PV systems mounted in or on buildings. It is not until the 2014 cycle of the NEC where rapid shutdown of PV systems is brought into section 690.12. So, any jurisdiction enforcing versions prior to the 2014 NEC may lack the ability to enforce rapid shut down of PV systems through the NEC, putting lives at risk. Another example is electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. In the 2011 NEC, article 625 Electric Vehicle Charging System doesn’t mention wireless charging stations but the 2020 NEC article 625, Electric Vehicle Power Transfer System, does because of newer technology that may benefit users. Electrical inspectors are charged with enforcing the version of the NEC and any amendments that have been implemented by the jurisdiction in which they inspect. Lagging code promulgation makes it challenging to collaborate and get consistency with code enforcement when fellow inspectors in adjoining jurisdictions are operating on a different version of the NEC. Within the United States, there are currently several versions of the NEC being utilized across all the 50 states.

To this end, electrical inspectors may feel powerless when it comes to timely implementation of the latest NEC. But there are ways to help the process along. Since most codes are incorporated into law by reference through a governmental rule process, electrical inspectors can contact their local government representative to help educate them on timely approval of the newest edition of the NEC. Attending public meetings on the new codes is helpful, as well. Another is to ask government officials to register and answer a number of “yes” and “no” questions in the free NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem Assessment Tool, to see where their community rates overall in fire and life safety. This tool can help shine a light on the fire and life safety health of a community and where improvements can be made, which is important to officials. Electrical inspectors can also get involved by volunteering on electrical boards of appeals, state boards, code committees, or by attending local inspector group meetings.

Local communities that don’t keep the code promulgation process moving towards the latest NEC can easily get left behind, potentially elevating safety risks within their communities. So don’t sit on the sidelines; learn ways to get involved in the process and help stakeholders understand the value of using the latest edition of the NEC.

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Dean Austin
Dean Austin
Senior Electrical Specialist

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