Topic: Code Enforcement

Temporary/holiday lighting

Holiday lighting: To inspect or not to inspect, that is the question

As the holidays approach us some may wonder, do I need an electrical inspection to hang my holiday decorative lighting? The answer is maybe. I know, probably not the answer you were thinking. The decision to require an inspection often lies with the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) along with any applicable laws. The AHJ will likely consider the type of lighting or wiring that is being installed when making the decision. If you are just hanging a few twinkling decorative lights around the house and on trees an inspection might not be needed, but if you are putting on a holiday lighting extravaganza like Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation, an inspection might be necessary, or probably should be. The 2023 National Electrical Code®, (NEC®), section 590.3(B) permits the installation of temporary holiday decorative lighting and associated wiring, as long as it is not up more than 90-days. This permission has nothing to do with the requirement or wavier of an electrical inspection but does provide the inspector with valuable information. Another question that comes to mind surrounding string lights, the ones that are hung around a patio or along a fence for ambiance, would that require an inspection? Possibly, since the string lights may be considered lampholders by the AHJ and are often left up for longer periods. NEC Article 410, Part VIII, and section 225.24 cover lampholders and their wiring. Because string lights are installed in a more permanent manner, frequently, a fixed and not temporary wiring method is used to supply the power. Section 590.2(B) indicates temporary wiring methods, including lighting, are acceptable only if approved based on conditions of use and any special requirements of the temporary installation. So how is it approved if it is not inspected by a qualified electrical inspector? Simple, it is not approved. So what is the AHJ looking for with temporary wiring or holiday decorative lighting installations? Typically, they are looking for: listing and labeling, sections 590.5, 410.6 wet locations for lampholders, 410.96 Location of outdoor lamps, section 225.25 installation methods, section 225.24, 590.2 So, as the holidays near and we start digging into the boxes in our basements and attics for holiday decor, now is the time to consider your approach to safety. Ensure your holiday decorative lights, string lights, and associated wiring are hung in a safe and code compliant manner and request an inspection where available. By reducing electrical hazards in your home, you can help assure you and your family will enjoy a fun, festive, and safe holiday season. NFPA has free resources to download and share, including a safety tip sheet on outdoor electrical safety, and a safety checklist. For more information, visit nfpa.org/electricalsafety.
Backflow

Backflow Preventer Types

When a fire protection system (non-potable water system) is connected to the public water supply, the systems are said to be cross connected. In some localities, cross connections may be prohibited or closely regulated by health authorities.  Improperly protected water systems have the potential to lead to illness and even in some cases death. Federal regulations require states to provide quality water when it is intended for public consumption. Because of this, states and municipal governments have taken various steps to protect the potable water supply, such as requiring backflow prevention when the fire protection system will be supplied by a potable water source. Backflow preventers are installed to prevent contaminants from traveling from the non-potable source to the potable public drinking supply via back siphonage and back pressure.  Back siphonage is backflow caused by a negative pressure in the supply piping. This negative pressure in the supply piping is similar to drinking water through a straw. The water from the non-potable system is pulled into the supply piping. Backpressure is backflow caused by a pressure in the non-potable water system being greater than the pressure in the potable water supply piping. This higher pressure causes water in the non-potable system to be pushed back into the supply piping.  Its important to note here that the requirement for backflow prevention in a fire protection system comes from the local water authority and not from any NFPA standard. For example, NFPA 13 does not require a backflow preventer for an automatic sprinkler system, however, if one is required, it provides additional requirements to ensure it is installed in a manner that limits its impact on system operation and provides for a means to test the system.  There are a few different types of backflow preventers available, and the type of backflow preventer required by the water authority is going to be based on the degree of hazard posed by the cross connection. The degree of hazard may be classified differently, but the two main degrees include high hazard and low hazard. A high hazard is a system that could introduce waterborne disease organisms, or harmful chemical, physical, or radioactive substances into a public water system, and which presents an unreasonable risk to health. An example of this may be a system that contains an additive, such as a fire protection system with antifreeze, or a foam system. A low hazard is a system that could cause aesthetic problems or have a detrimental secondary effect on the quality of the public potable water supply, an example of this could be a fire sprinkler system that contains stagnant water or contains microbiologically influenced corrosion (MIC). The Double Check Valve Assembly (DCVA) and the Reduced Pressure Zone Assembly (RPZA) are the most used backflow preventers for fire protection systems, but I will discuss all the most common backflow preventers used in plumbing systems. An air gap is the most effective type of backflow prevention. This method utilizes a physical air space between the potable and non-potable systems. The most common example of this would be a faucet and a sink. This may be a backflow prevention method used to fill a water supply tank. Air gaps can be used to protect low and high hazards under both back siphonage and backpressure. An Atmospheric Vacuum Breaker Assembly contains an air inlet valve and a check seat. When water flows through, the air inlet valve closes, but when the water flow stops, the air inlet valve falls against the check seat and stops back siphonage, while at the same time letting air into the system. AVBs can only protect against a low or high hazard under back siphonage. The Pressure Vacuum Breaker Assembly is like an atmospheric vacuum breaker, but it contains a spring-loaded air inlet valve and check valve, two shutoffs, and two test cocks. When water is flowing, the check valve is open and air inlet valve is shut, when water stops flowing, the check valve shuts, and air inlet valve opens. The addition of the shutoff valves and test ports allows for this assembly to be field tested. The PVB only protects against low or high hazards under back siphonage. A Double Check Valve Assembly (DCVA) contains two spring-loaded check valves with two shut off valves and four test cocks. In the event of a backflow the first check valve will close, if that check valve fails then the other check valve will close. The addition of the shutoff valves and test ports allow this assembly to be tested. A DCVA can be used to protect against low hazards under both back siphonage and back pressure.   A double check valve detector assembly is the same as a DCVA, but it also includes a bypass for the installation of a water meter to monitor for incidental water use that is also protected with a smaller DCVA.   A Reduced Pressure Zone Assembly (RPZA) provides the maximum protection and along with the DCVA is the most common type of backflow prevention used in fire protection systems. This assembly contains two spring-loaded check valves with a differential relief valve between them and two shut off valves and four test cocks. The RPZA operates like a DCVA with the addition of a relief valve, if there is a backflow the check valves will close, and the relief valve will open, resulting in a reduced pressure zone and air gap between the check valves. The two shut off valves and four test cocks allow this assembly to be field tested as well. The RPZA can be used to protect high and low hazards under both back siphonage and back pressure.    A reduced pressure zone detector assembly is the same as a RPZA, but it includes a bypass for the installation of a water meter to monitor for incidental water use that is also protected with a smaller RPZA. As you can see, there are a few different types of backflow preventers, and the selection of the right preventer is going to depend on the requirements from the local water authority as well as the hazard. When the design of a fire protection system includes a backflow preventor, the designer must make sure that they account for the backflows impact on the available water supply pressure. If a backflow preventor is installed on a fire protection system, it is also important that proper inspection testing and maintenance (ITM) be performed (such as a forward flow test) to ensure that the backflow remains operational and does not seize up, which could impair the fire protection system.

A level of Safety – NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend The 1st University of Maryland/NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem Symposium, in College Park, Maryland, U.S.A, where fire and life safety experts from across the globe gathered to discuss the principals of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™ and its application to address today’s fire safety issues. For those of you who are not familiar with the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™, it is “a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries and death from fire, electrical and other hazards.” In other words, it identifies the items NFPA feels contribute to achieving the expected level of safety when it comes to fire and electrical hazards. Each component is depicted as a cog, each of which connect to form a circle. Over the two day symposium attendees reviewed case studies on the Ghost Ship Warehouse fire in Oakland, CA (2016); the Grenfell Tower Fire in London, UK (2017); and the Camp Fire, Butt County, CA (2018); and also discussed emerging issues involving residential fires; the safe use of alternative energy; and how to think about fire safety when using new building materials. Each topic was evaluated through the lens of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™.  In many of the case studies multiple components of the ecosystem failed or lacked effectiveness. When discussing the emerging issues, no single component would solve the challenge presented. This seemed to lend to the idea that all the cogs must be working together to ensure the expected level of safety, so what happens if just one isn’t operating at peak performance? Does the ecosystem still provide a level of safety because the cogs remain connected? One example that came up several times was the need to mandate automatic fire sprinkler systems in all new and existing high-rise buildings. According to research done by NFPA, fire Sprinklers have been shown to be an extremely effective of increasing life safety with an 89% reduction in fire deaths in properties with automatic fire sprinklers as compared to those without. So, sprinklers would certainly make an impact on reducing deaths in fires. NFPA 1 Fire Code requires automatic fire sprinklers systems in all new high-rise building and all existing high-rise buildings within 12 years of the code becoming law. Mandating compliance with the most recent edition of this code through legislation falls under government responsibility cog. If the government responsibility cog was effective, this incorporation of NFPA 101 Life Safety Code would be one way they could create laws which prioritizes public safety needs.  However, as is sometimes the case a local government also could incorporate into law a modified NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, one which doesn’t mandate sprinklers in all high-rise buildings, specifically existing buildings. In the second case, one could argue that this cog would not be functioning at its optimal potential. How does this impact the level of safety in existing high-rise buildings? There are many examples of major fires in non-sprinklered or partially sprinklered high-rise buildings including the One Meridian Plaza fire (1991), the Cook County Administration Building fire in Chicago (2003), the Marco Polo Apartment Building Fire in Hawaii (2017) and the Twin Parks Northwest fire in New York City (2022). In all these cases a review of the fire concluded fire sprinklers could have made an impact, however all had multiple challenges; One Meridian Plaza had issues with water supply in the standpipe system; the Cook County Administration Building had locked doors preventing reentry on the floors above the fire; and both the Marco Polo and Twin Parks Northwest fires both had issues with self-closing doors. These challenges touch the Skilled Workforce, Code Compliance, and Investment in Safety cogs, resulting in the entire system failing. As I reflect on the discussion during the first NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem Summit, I can’t help but wonder if another part of the ecosystem concept is the resiliency of the anticipated level of safety in buildings. Each cog is interlaced with the next, adding elements of safety which can work together in an emergency to prevent a major tragedy. When one cog is not functioning at its optimal potential does the circular concept of the ecosystem allow the others to “turn” or function which will provide some level of safety, reducing the likelihood of a significant incident? As we wrap up fire prevention week, let’s think about all the cogs and how they’ll advance the level of safety for the public. Government Responsibility, Development and Use of Current Codes, Reference Standards, Investment in Safety, Skilled Workforce, Code Compliance, Preparedness and Emergency Response, and Informed Public all work together. Buildings which are designed, constructed, and operated with all these in mind really do have a level of safety which works to protect their occupants. Check out the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™page for more on the concept, an assessment tool as well as the 2020 & 2021 Year in Review reports on the state of the ecosystem.
Destroyed monitor

A Better Understanding of NFPA 70E: Setting Up an Electrical Safety Program (Part 7 – Equipment Condition)

NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace® does not detail the policies and procedures that must be in an electrical safety program (ESP). However, it is not possible to comply with NFPA 70E without filling in the details. Section 110.5(C) requires that the condition of maintenance of equipment to be part of the ESP. Condition of maintenance is the state of the electrical equipment considering the manufacturers’ instructions, manufacturers’ recommendations, and applicable industry codes, standards, and recommended practices. Normal operation is permitted when the equipment is properly installed, properly maintained, used in accordance with instructions, equipment doors are closed and secured, all equipment covers are in place and secured, and there is no evidence of impending failure. Operating condition and condition of maintenance are two different things. Maintenance is only part of the operating condition. The ESP will detail what the acceptable condition of maintenance is any piece of equipment. Equipment that is under normal operating conditions is considered to be free from exposed hazards whereas equipment that is not is rightfully considered a risk for electrical injuries. All employees should be able to determine that the equipment they are interacting with is under normal operating conditions. The condition of maintenance is often not within an equipment operator’s knowledge base. With all the variables, NFPA 70E does not specify what is acceptable or how to assess condition of maintenance. There are thousands of pieces of equipment from hundreds of manufacturers with their own maintenance requirements, used in different environments, under different loads, and subject to different types of damage throughout a facility. Determining an appropriate equipment condition is more detailed than many think. It might not be realistic to require that equipment be kept clean. Such a requirement would dictate constant, unnecessary cleaning of a motor designed to safely operate in a dust atmosphere. Equipment might have a different acceptable condition. A grease smudge on a switch might not warrant the same response as a transformer covered in debris. Equipment that has an operator or is used every day could be evaluated by the employee using it. That employee must be trained to determine the equipment condition and know what to do if the condition is unacceptable. There are many pieces of equipment that are not often viewed by someone. An employee might be assigned to inspect that equipment. The interval might vary. For example, equipment in a loading dock might need more frequent inspection and maintenance than equipment in an electrical closet. Maintenance personnel might be solely responsible for assigning the condition of maintenance of all equipment that any employee interacts with or relies on for electrical safety. This takes an understanding of the definition of condition of maintenance and the ESPs definition of an acceptable maintenance condition. NFPA 70E is a safe work practice standard that does not provide the details necessary for assessing the condition of maintenance of equipment. In the United States of America, equipment that is under normal operating conditions is not considered a risk for exposure to electrical hazards. The condition of equipment and an employee’s ability to recognize when it is no longer acceptable are important aspects of the ESP. The ESP policies and procedures must detail the equipment condition assessment method as well as what is an acceptable condition to advance safety in the workplace.

Electrical space: the final frontier where electrical inspectors voyage to explore two of the many requirements of section 110.26(A)

Electrical space: the final frontier. “These are the voyages of the electrical inspector.” This plays on a quote from one of my favorite Star Trek movies. Space, especially electrical equipment space in buildings, can seem like it is a final frontier because it is getting harder to come by. Or is it? Prior to the COVID outbreak, buildings were being built to house hundreds, even thousands of employees, so space for electrical and mechanical rooms was at a premium and in tight quarters. Office space, especially when being rented by the square foot, was made a higher priority. With the way that many of us work shifting due to the pandemic, designs of buildings are likely to also start shifting to accommodate the move to a more remote workforce, which occupies less space within buildings. This may cause office spaces to be consolidated, therefore giving more room for electrical and mechanical rooms. Consolidation of space for offices may be occurring, but the change in how we work appears aimed more at having open spaces being converted to conference rooms for team meetings. But no matter what is occurring in the space designated for offices or meeting rooms, the one area that cannot be compromised is the spaces about electrical equipment. There are two types of spaces around electrical equipment mentioned in the 2023 National Electrical Code® (NEC®): working space and dedicated equipment space. Each one has quite different requirements, but all aid in the safety of the worker and longevity of the installation. Working space within the NEC, in general, is comprised of three parts: Depth of Working Space - found in section 110.26(A)(1). This measurement factors in nominal voltage to ground and if there are grounded parts or exposed live parts across from the equipment. Measurements are taken from live exposed parts or from enclosure if live parts are enclosed, out the front until the minimum distance found in Table 110.26(A)(1) is met. Width of Working Space –in section 110.26(A)(2). This dimension is derived by measuring the width across the front of the equipment. This can be taken from center (15 inches in middle of equipment), from left side of equipment or from right side. No matter the voltage or amperage the width will never be less than 30 inches. Height of working Space – addressed in 110.26(A)(3). This is measured from grade, floor, or platform to a height of 6.5 feet and is the width of the equipment or minimally 30 inches. All these spaces combine to form a box, if you will, that is for the qualified worker to occupy when servicing or working on the equipment. This is intended to provide room to move, which is necessary to keep them from bumping into something and possibly getting shocked or causing an arc flash. This area also allows easy access to equipment should a breaker or disconnect need to be shut off quickly. Working space is not to be used for storage according to 110.26(B). In all my years as an inspector I can’t tell you how many times I have had to write that violation during the electrical inspections. These mostly occurred on remodels where circuits and wiring were added to the existing electrical systems. I would politely remind the building owner/occupant that working space was required to help keep the electrical worker safe from exposure to electrical hazards that may be present. New to the 2023 NEC in section 110.26(A)(6) is the requirement that the grade, floor or platform in the working space be clear and as level or flat as practical for the entire required depth and width. The dedicated equipment space in 110.26(E) is just what you would think it would be; space dedicated solely for the installation of electrical equipment. Indoor dedicated electrical space is found in 110.26(E)(1)(a), which electrical inspectors often refer to as the “thumb print” of the equipment plus six feet above the top of the equipment. For example, a panelboard 20-inches wide x 6-inches deep mounted to the surface of the wall at seven feet to the top would have dedicate electrical space extending up to 13 ft above the finished floor. So the overall dedicated space is 20-inches wide x 6-inches deep up to 13 ft. In general, only electrical items are allowed within that space, which might include: raceways (and associated fittings) wireways junction boxes This list is not all inclusive, but an idea of what may be seen within the vicinity of electrical equipment. One exception to the dedicated space requirement is made for suspended ceilings with removable panels. With design limitations imposed on room size, there may be the occasional foreign system intruding into the dedicated electrical space required by section 110.26(E)(1)(a), typically becoming a violation. So, if the system was installed in accordance with 110.26(E)(1)(b), which addresses foreign systems over the dedicated electrical space, there would not be a problem. Remember our example, the top of the dedicated electrical space was 13 feet above finished floor, so the foreign system would need to be higher than 13 feet. If a foreign system is subject to condensation or leaks, the electrical equipment would require protection from such occurrences, which may also mean the system needs to be higher since the method of protection is not allowed within the dedicated electrical space. This space was put into the code to ensure adequate access to the electrical system for the installation of associated parts and to protect the electrical installation from other systems foreign to the electrical system. Electrical space: the final frontier where the voyages of the electrical inspector have explored two of the many requirements of section 110.26(A). Find more information for electrical inspectors by visiting nfpa.org/electricalinspection. You can explore the 2023 NEC by purchasing a printed copy or have NFPA LiNK® beamed to your computer.

A Closer Look at Some Assembly Occupancy Requirements

The fire at a Thai nightclub in early August 2022 was all too familiar. It started during a live music performance killing 20 people and injuring 25. Many of the details emerging are eerily similar to The Station nightclub fire which claimed the lives of 100 people and injured 230 more in February of 2003. In both instances, flammable interior finish and blocked exits were believed to have played a role in the fast-spreading fires and high number of fatalities. The 2003 tragedy led to a number of changes to NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, while also reiterating the importance of interior finish and means of egress requirements for assembly occupancies. Interior finishes are the interior surfaces of a building that are generally secured in place like wall and ceiling coverings. They have proven to be a contributing factor in how quickly a fire spreads. To minimize the impact interior finish has on fire spread, Chapter 10 of the 2021 edition NFPA 101, Life Safety Code®, establishes basic requirements for interior wall, ceiling, and floor finishes. Chapter 10 outlines two testing options: 1) testing in accordance with NFPA 286, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Evaluating Contribution of Wall and Ceiling Interior Finish to Room Fire Growth; or 2) testing in accordance with ASTM E84 or UL 723.  Paragraph 10.2.3.1.2 of the 2021 edition of NFPA 101, outlines acceptance criteria for materials tested in accordance with NFPA 286. The acceptance criteria includes: limitations on the spread of flames; peak heat release rate less than 800 kW; and for new installations the total smoke released throughout the test cannot exceed 1000 m2. Any material that meets the criteria outlined in 10.2.3.1.2 can be used wherever a Class A material is permitted. The alternative test method (ASTM E84 or UL 723) results in the material being grouped into a class. There are three classes- Class A, Class B, and Class C which are determined by a material’s flame spread index and smoke developed index. Class A materials will have the lowest flame spread index of the three classifications. The smoke developed index is the same range for all three classifications. For newly installed materials both the flame spread index and smoke developed index is considered, whereas for existing materials only flame spread index is considered. Occupancy chapters may further regulate interior finish beyond what is contained in Chapter 10. In both fires, acoustic material is believed to have been a major contributing factor in the rapid spread of fire. Assembly occupancies do further regulate interior finish. The requirements are the same for new and existing assembly occupancies. In general assembly areas with an occupant load of 300 or fewer, ceiling and wall materials must be Class A, B, or C. In general assembly areas with an occupant load of more than 300, and in corridors, and lobbies, interior wall and ceiling finishes must be Class A or B. In enclosed stairs interior finish materials must be Class A. One other contributing factor was the availability of exits. In both the fire in Thailand and at The Station nightclub, one of the doors to the outside was blocked for use by occupants to allow the band performing to have their own separate entrance/exit. One of the fundamental components of the Life Safety Code is the concept of free egress. Prohibiting people from entering the building via a door is one thing, but not allowing occupants to exit the building via the nearest door is unacceptable. Additionally, NFPA 101 prohibits the means of egress for assembly occupancies from going through hazardous areas such as kitchens, storerooms, closets, stages, and platforms. There are also requirements related to the size of a main entrance/exit, where one exists. History has shown that occupants tend to go out the way they came, even if there is an exit closer. The main entrance/exit provisions are intended to prevent crowd crush situations. In existing assembly occupancies, the main entrance/exit needs to be sized to accommodate at least one-half the total occupant load. For new assembly occupancies that are dance halls, discotheques, nightclubs, or that have festival seating, the main entrance/exits must be wide enough to accommodate two-thirds of the total occupant load. The main entrance/exit for all other new assembly occupancies must be sized to accommodate one-half the total occupant load. If the assembly occupancy is more than one level, then each level must have access to the main entrance/exit and that access must be sized to handle two-thirds (for new assembly occupancies) or one-half (for existing) of the occupant load of that level. The main entrance/exit requirements for certain types of new assembly occupancies was increased from one-half to two-thirds the total occupant load due to a crowd crush event during The Station nightclub fire. Another way the Life Safety Code strives to reduce the risk of crowd crush is by requiring trained crowd managers. All assembly occupancies, with the exception of certain ones used exclusively for religious worship, are required to have at least one trained crowd manager. Depending on the total occupant load, additional crowd managers may be required. Typically, there should be one crowd manager for every 250 occupants. Prior to the 2006 Edition, crowd managers were only required for assembly occupancies with occupant loads of more than 1000. After The Station nightclub fire, the Life Safety Code was changed to require at least one crowd manager for all assembly occupancies. Within 2 minutes of the fire starting at The Station nightclub, there was crowd crush at the main entrance/exit. This led to the main entrance/exit being almost completely impassable. The crowd manager’s responsibilities include understanding crowd management, understanding methods of evacuation, being familiar with the facility evacuation plan, being familiar with the emergency response procedures, and understanding procedures for reporting emergencies. While the cause of the recent fire at the Thai nightclub is still under investigation, The Station nightclub fire was caused by pyrotechnics. To reduce the risk of open flames or pyrotechnics starting a fire in an assembly occupancy they are prohibited unless certain conditions are met. In order for pyrotechnics to be used on stage before proximate audiences, precautions to prevent ignition of any combustible material, satisfactory to the authority having jurisdiction must be met and the use of the pyrotechnic device must comply with NFPA 1126, Standard for the Use of Pyrotechnics Before a Proximate Audience. As we have seen countless times, fires in assembly occupancies, and in particular nightclubs, can result in a high number of fatalities. By carefully considering the use of open flames and pyrotechnics we can eliminate potential ignition sources in these types of occupancies. Additionally, ensuring the interior finish requirements for assembly occupancies are met can help slow the spread of fire. Fires in an assembly occupancy have the added risk of leading to a crowd crush event. Compliance with the means of egress and crowd manager requirements will help reduce the risk of crowd crush events during emergency situations. 
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