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Illustrated Catastrophes

Illustrated Catastrophes

Illustrated National Electrical Code (NEC) Catastrophes

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the infamous Darwin Awards, let me start by giving you a quick summary of this tongue-in-cheek honor. Loosely based on Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, these awards are given to people who “do a service to humanity by removing themselves from the gene pool.” Looking at this installation made me think we might have a future winner on our hands.

John L. of Loveland, Ohio, recently sent me this photo. He received it from an unknown source over the Internet. Serving as an electrician for nearly 60 years, he felt compelled to “share the laughter,” so to speak. John facetiously comments that the receptacle in the shower is not nearly as much of a problem as the toilet paper holder. From a practical standpoint, I fully agree!

All kidding aside, it should be noted that the NEC clearly prohibits such an installation in 408.6(C). This section of the Code, titled “Bathtub Shower Space,” states that “Receptacles shall not be installed within or directly over a bathtub or shower stall.”

It's amazing what some people do, isn't it? When this rule was first instituted, I thought to myself, “Is this rule really necessary?” I mean, seriously, who is going to actually install a receptacle in a shower stall? Are they planning on plugging a radio into it so they can listen to music while showering? Or maybe they plan on plugging a line-voltage electric shaver in? Are you kidding me? Shows you what I know. As crazy as it seems, apparently there are people out there who are willing to do this.

In some instances, it seems the Code is trying to make the document not only “foolproof,” but “damn foolproof,” which is nearly impossible. This type of effort not only makes the Code more cumbersome to deal with, but it also increases the details we must all abide by. But inasmuch as people are actually installing receptacles in shower spaces, it seems that this Code rule is justified and needed — at least in this specific case. The only way an electrical inspector can prevent this type of installation from being allowed to stand is by having such a rule in place.

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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