Whether we are dealing with the National Electrical Code (U.S.A.) or the Canadian Electrical Code, there is a common emphasis on “Consumer Safety”.
Both of these electrical codes have evolved over several decades into their present forms. Although the two electrical codes are not identical they share a common goal in keeping consumers safe. There are numerous local reasons (such as weather) why certain rules in the code are amended in a particular region. There is usually a sound reason based on practical experience for all of the content in the electrical code. Although the reason for a particular code rule may not be immediately obvious, we should remember that over several decades electrical contractors, electrical inspectors, fire departments, insurance companies, standards associations, engineers and others have provided input in an effort to enhance the safety of electrical wiring.
Considerable time is spent in selecting the correct wording for a code rule. An attempt is made to ensure that a new rule or an amended rule will be interpreted by electrical workers as the group intended.
In some cases, a “directive” is issued to electrical contractors in a particular area telling the contractor “how” to interpret a new rule or an amended rule. Once the directive has been issued, the local inspection authority can remove any ambiguity in the interpretation of the rule.
All of this process is done for your safety. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the most important aspect of electrical safety is the compliance with your locally amended version of “the electrical code”.
The years of training and the ongoing upgrading of skilled electrical workers, together with the integrity of a reputable electrical contractor are your best chance of having a safe electrical installation.
Even on a small project, there may be some aspects that require skilled interpretation of the “code”. An electrical inspector may not catch a code violation, especially if there is concealed wiring or an attempt has been made to hide the violation from the inspector. You may have saved a little money on the installation only to find that it will need to be done again properly at a later date.
The cost of re-doing work is much higher than the cost of doing it correctly, to begin with. It may involve opening walls to expose the wiring and then re-decorating. In the cases where the defective installation causes a fire, the cost could be very high and may include injury or death.
If you have decided to tackle electrical work as a do-it-yourself project, you need to take the time to carefully read your code book.
Do’s and Do not’s
Don’t replace a fuse or circuit breaker with the next size to stop the circuit from tripping. (i.e. replacing a 15 Amp with a 20 Amp). If fuses are blowing or circuit breakers are tripping, this is for your protection. If the breaker or fuse trips or blows instantly, there is either a short circuit or a massive overload. If it takes several minutes in between each tripping or blowing episode, there is a circuit overload.
Don’t use an extension cord on a kitchen countertop. The cables on appliances are designed to be short so that they do not hang where a child can pull them. If you have an appliance placed where it cannot reach a receptacle, you should either move the appliance or have a new receptacle installed.
Don’t ever cut a ground pin from the cord cap of an extension cord or an appliance cord. This is done sometimes to allow the use of a 2-wire extension cord. If your appliance came with a ground pin, this means that it is required. Buy an extension cord that can accept the ground pin.
Don’t use defective or badly worn extension cords. Don’t jam extension cords in windows or doors when using outdoor items. If you have a use for electricity outdoors you should connect to an outdoor GFCI protected receptacle.
Don’t install “used” electrical materials, especially circuit breakers. You have no way of knowing how much wear there has been. The equipment will at best be unreliable and at worst very dangerous.
Do regularly test the GFCI breakers and/or receptacles to make sure that they are working properly.
Do regularly test smoke detectors and if they use batteries, replace the battery. Ensure that you have a sufficient number of detectors and check to make sure that existing detectors are not located in “dead” spots. If you have recently bought a previously owned older home, the smoke detectors will be an upgrade and may have been installed by an amateur. A smoke detector in the wrong location does not offer the intended degree of protection.
Do find the time to identify all of the receptacles, lights, heaters, etc. so that you have “up to date” information at the electrical panel when you need to switch a breaker off. This will also help you to prevent overloads.
Do call a reputable electrical contractor when adding new wiring unless you feel completely sure that you can handle the job.
Do immediately investigate the cause of flickering lights or any smell of burning. These are the early signs of problems and if left unattended could be a serious safety concern. Call your contractor.
Until the next information update, let’s be careful out there.