Illustrated Catastrophes

Illustrated Catastrophes

As usual, never consider the following commentary associated with these photos as a formal interpretation of the National Electrical Code (NEC). Without criticizing anyone or any product, the following scenarios present us with serious safety questions.

The headline for this piece, which was taken from MAD magazine's tagline for its “poster boy,” Alfred E. Neuman, most closely expresses my first reaction to this Photo. I mean someone did this on purpose for real?

The use of flexible lamp cord (aka, zip cord) as a general wiring method is forbidden by a couple of Code rules. First, 310.13 clearly specifies the types of conductors that are permitted by the Code for use as general wiring (i.e., branch circuits, feeder, and service conductors). Needless to say, lamp cord is not an option among the list of approved conductors shown in Table 310.13.

Additionally, there are the requirements given in 310.5 (Minimum Size of Conductors). These rules state that copper conductors must be no smaller than 14 AWG and aluminum conductors no smaller than 12 AWG. The copper conductor in this particular installation was only 16 AWG.

Lack of connectors for the “wiring method” where it enters the box is contrary to the rule in 314.17(C), which says, “In all instances, all permitted wiring methods shall be secured to the box.”

There are also concerns for the requirements given in Art. 400 (Flexible Cords and Cables), which have not been satisfied, one of which states that flexible cords may not be used as was done here (400.8). Part (2) of 400.8 says such cords and cables may not be used, “Where run through holes in walls, structural ceilings, suspended ceilings, dropped ceilings, or floors.”

There are other violations we could cite, but to do so would belabor the point. The salient point is that all Code rules are important. One violation constitutes non-compliance. Your goal on any installation should be zero defects.

This installation photo was contributed by Pierre Belarge, president of Electrical Training Solutions in Elmsford, N.Y. Belarge and an International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) certified inspector.

Although the NEC is to be applied and enforced as written, sometimes compliance with the “letter of the law” is next to impossible. Where a job does not appear to meet the literal wording of a Code rule, one should determine whether or not the installation has satisfied the “spirit of the law.” If there was no practical way to fully meet the literal wording of the NEC — but the safety issue at the heart of the rule has been satisfied — then such an installation generally should be accepted.

In the coming editions of “Illustrated Catastrophes,” a focus will be placed not only on the Code's literal wording, but also on the hazard the rule is meant to address. By developing a clear understanding for the “letter” and “spirit” of the law, one will be better able to evaluate specific installations, especially those that do not seem to be directly addressed in the Code or so-called “gray areas.” This form of analysis will provide a sound basis for safe and effective design and installation.

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