National Electrical Code

A publication by the National Fire Protection Association, which establishes the requirements for fireproof electrical installations.

The National Electrical Code (NEC), or NFPA 70, is a regionally adoptable standard for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment in the United States. It is part of the National Fire Code series published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a private trade association. Despite the use of the term "national", it is not federal law. It is typically adopted by states and municipalities in an effort to standardize their enforcement of safe electrical practices. In some cases, the NEC is amended, altered and may even be rejected in lieu of regional regulations as voted on by local governing bodies.

The "authority having jurisdiction" inspects for compliance with these minimum standards.

The NEC is developed by NFPA's Committee on the National Electrical Code, which consists of twenty code-making panels and a technical correlating committee. Work on the NEC is sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association. The NEC is approved as an American national standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It is formally identified as ANSI/NFPA 70.

First published in 1897, the NEC is updated and published every three years, with the 2017 edition being the most current. Most states adopt the most recent edition within a few years of its publication. As with any "uniform" code, jurisdictions may regularly omit or modify some sections, or add their own requirements (sometimes based upon earlier versions of the NEC, or locally accepted practices). However, no court has faulted anyone for using the latest version of the NEC, even when the local code was not updated.

In the United States, anyone, including the city issuing building permits, may face a civil liability lawsuit for negligently creating a situation that results in loss of life or property. Those who fail to adhere to well known best practices for safety have been held negligent. This liability and the desire to protect residents have motivated cities to adopt and enforce building codes that specify standards and practices for electrical systems (as well as other departments such as water and fuel-gas systems). This creates a system whereby a city can best avoid lawsuits by adopting a single, standard set of building code laws. This has led to the NEC becoming the de facto standard set of electrical requirements. A licensed electrician will have spent years of apprenticeship studying and practicing the NEC requirements prior to obtaining their license.

The Deactivation and Decommissioning (D&D) customized extension of the electrical code standard defined by National Electrical Code was developed since current engineering standards and code requirements do not adequately address the unique situations arising during D&D activities at U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facilities. The additional guidance is needed to clarify the current electrical code for these situations. The guidance document provides guidance on how to interpret selected articles of NFPA 70, “National Electrical Code” (NEC), in particular, certain articles within Article 590, “Temporary Power,” for D&D electrical activities at DOE sites.

The NEC also contains information about the official definition of HAZLOC and the related standards given by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and dealing with hazardous locations such as explosive atmospheres.

Public access

The NEC is available as a bound book containing approximately 1000 pages. It has been available in electronic form since the 1993 edition. Although the code is updated every three years, some jurisdictions do not immediately adopt the new edition.

The NEC is also available as a restricted, digitized coding model that can be read online but not saved, copied and pasted, or printed, free of charge on certain computing platforms that support the restricted viewer software.

In the United States, statutory law cannot be copyrighted and is freely accessible and copyable by anyone. When a standards organization develops a new coding model and it is not yet accepted by any jurisdiction as law, it is still the private property of the standards organization and the reader may be restricted from downloading or printing the text for offline viewing. For that privilege, the coding model must still be purchased as either printed media or electronic format (e.g. PDF.) Once the coding model has been accepted as law, it loses copyright protection and may be freely obtained at no cost.


The NEC is composed of an introduction, nine chapters, annexes A through J, and the index. The introduction sets forth the purpose, scope, enforcement and rules or information that are general in nature. The first four chapters cover definitions and rules for installations (voltages, connections, markings, etc.), circuits and circuit protection, methods and materials for wiring (wiring devices, conductors, cables, etc.), and general-purpose equipment (cords, receptacles, switches, heaters, etc.). The next three chapters deal with special occupancies (high risk to multiple persons), special equipment (signs, machinery, etc.) and special conditions (emergency systems, alarms, etc.). Chapter 8 is specific to additional requirements for communications systems (telephone, radio/TV, etc.) and chapter 9 is composed of tables regarding conductor, cable and conduit properties, among other things. Annexes A-J relates to referenced standards, calculations, examples, additional tables for proper implementation of various code articles (for example, how many wires fit in a conduit) and a model adoption ordinance.

The introduction and the first 8 chapters contain numbered articles, parts, sections (or lists or tables) italicized exceptions, and Informational notes – explanations that are not part of the rules. Articles are coded with numerals and letters, as ###.###(A)(#)(a). For example, 804.22(C)(3)(b) would be read as "section 804 point 22(C)(3)(b)." and would be found in chapter 8. For internal references, some lengthy articles are further broken into "parts" with Roman-numerals (parts I, II, III, etc.).

Each code article is numbered based on the chapter it is in. Those wiring methods acceptable by the NEC are found in chapter 3, thus all approved wiring method code articles are in the 300s. Efforts have been a way for some time to make the code easier to use. Some of those efforts include using the same extension in those code articles for the support of wiring methods.

The NFPA also publishes a 1,497-page NEC Handbook (for each new NEC edition) that contains the entire code, plus additional illustrations and explanations, and helpful cross-references within the code and to earlier versions of the code. The explanations are only for reference and are not enforceable.

Many NEC requirements refer to "listed" or "labeled" devices and appliances, and this means that the item has been designed, manufactured, tested or inspected, and marked in accordance with the requirements of the listing agent. To be listed, the device must meet testing and other requirements set by a listing agency such as writers Laboratories (UL), SGS North America, Intertek (Formerly ETL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA), or FM Approvals (FM). These are examples of "nationally recognized testing laboratories" (NRTL) approved by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.7. Only a listed device can carry the listing brand (or "mark") of the listing agent. Upon payment of an investigation fee to determine suitability, an investigation is started. To be labeled as fit for a particular purpose (for example "wet locations", "domestic range") a device must be tested for that specific use by the listing agent and then the appropriate label applied to the device. A fee is paid to the listing agency for each item so labeled, that is, for each label. Most NRTLs will also require that the manufacturer's facilities and processes be inspected as evidence that a product will be manufactured reliably and with the same qualities as the sample or samples submitted for evaluation. An NRTL may also conduct periodic sample testing of off-the-shelf products to confirm that safety design criteria are being upheld during production. Because of the reputation of these listing agencies, the "authority having jurisdiction" ( or "AHJ" – as they are commonly known) usually will quickly accept any device, appliance, or piece of equipment having such a label, provided that an end-user or installer uses the product in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and the limitations of the listing standard. However, an AHJ, the National Electrical Code provisions, has the authority to deny approval for even listed and labeled products. Likewise, an AHJ may make a written approval of installation or product that does not meet either NEC or listing requirements, although this is normally done only after an appropriate review of the specific conditions of a particular case or location.

Key Terms

national electrical code
united states

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Last modified on December 10 2019
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