National Electrical Installation Standards (NEIS) are the first quality and performance standards for electrical construction. Since the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) began publishing them in 1998, NEIS have grown into a series of 28 installation manuals covering every type of electrical product and system (see sidebar 1). They are available in three formats: as paper books, on CD-ROM, and as pdf downloads from the Internet.
NEIS are intended to be used by consulting engineers and facility managers in their plans and specifications for electrical construction projects. Everything in NECA’s installation practices complies with the National Electrical Code. But because they are quality standards, NEIS also contain additional performance requirements that go beyond, and extend, the minimum Code safety rules.
The primary purpose of NEIS is to define what is meant by installing electrical products and systems in a neat and workmanlike manner. Although this requirement appears a number of places in the National Electrical Code, it isn’t defined anywhere.
NEIS Included in 2005 National Electrical Code
The 2005 NEC is the first edition to specifically mention NECA’s National Electrical Installation Standards. References to the NEIS appear in the fine print notes to 110.12 (General Rules), 760.8 (Fire Alarms), 770.24 (Fiber Optics), 800.24 (Telephone-Datacom), and 830.24 (Broadband Systems). NECA hopes to greatly expand the number of NEIS references in the next edition of the National Electrical Code, scheduled for 2008. [Note: Due to a printing error, the NEIS reference for 760.8 does not appear in the very first printing of the 2005 NEC, but it does appear in subsequent versions.]
"One good reason for these National Electrical Installation Standards is a lack of code enforcement out in the hinterland,” observes Herb Craig, PE, a consulting engineer in Highland, Indiana. "When we build jobs in Chicago, for example, there’s a very strong enforcement component. But in other areas where we do work, especially smaller towns, the enforcement may not be available.
"This has a detrimental effect when you’re bidding jobs. Because sometimes other contractors use that lack of inspections to their advantage. What’s good about NEIS standards is that they reinforce the NEC by providing more details on what’s really needed to do the job.”
Tom Glavinich, PE, DE, is both an electrical engineer in private practice and an assistant professor at the University of Kansas. He concurs with Craig’s assessment.
"We need installation standards in general, because one of the problems we have in the construction industry today is that people aren’t playing on a level field. The specs typically don’t address the level of quality to the extent that the engineer or owner might want. What we engineers do is rely on the professionalism and experience of the installer to flesh out those specs and make the job as good as possible. But that approach doesn’t always work, and sometimes we’re unpleasantly surprised,” Glavinich concedes. "”Especially in a low-bid situation, you may wind up with some contractor who does everything the cheapest way he can get away with.
"And the job doesn’t turn out as well as everybody wants.”
Herb Craig also points out another important angle to NECA’s NEIS: "Let’s face it, not all engineers or inspectors are Code experts. P.E. examinations, unlike electrical contractors’ licensing exams, don’t test for knowledge of industry codes and standards. And while there are certification programs available for electrical inspectors, not all municipalities require them.
"Also, people can sometimes become narrow in their focus,” he continues. "When inspectors and engineers too, for that matter — specialize in a particular kind of installation, or a particular industry for a long time, and then get involved on a new type of project, they may have to go back and study to broaden their focus, get the big picture again. The National Electrical Installation Standards can help you do that. By adopting these standards, local inspection departments will be able to maintain the safety and quality of electrical installations within their jurisdiction.”
True Industry Standards
It’s important for electrical inspectors and code officials to understand that National Electrical Installation Standards aren’t just NECA publications. Every standard is developed in cooperation with other technical organizations and professional societies.
"Developing standards jointly with the right expert groups is an important strategy for making our NEIS standards the best they can be, and insuring that they are widely accepted by architects, engineers, and others in the building industry,” observes NECA CEO John Grau.
For example, the three NEIS lighting installation standards were all jointly developed with the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (a fourth is currently in progress). Other organizations with which NECA develops joint NEIS include:
- The Aluminum Association
- BICSI (telecommunications installers)
- Electrical Generating Systems Association
- Fiber Optic Association
- National Electrical Manufacturing Association (NEMA)
- Steel Tube Institute (STI)
- The Transformer Association
ANSI and NEC Angles Make Stronger Standards
Besides being developed in collaboration with other industry stakeholders, another important fact is that National Electrical Installation Standards are approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the same as the National Electrical Code, National Fire Alarm Code, Life Safety Code, and other regulatory documents that AHJs rely on. ANSI represents a higher level of approval that improves acceptance by all parties in the building industry, and standards approved by ANSI are generally regarded as the "official” U.S. standard on a particular subject.
As part of the ANSI process, each draft NEIS is reviewed by the National Electrical Code code-making panel responsible for that subject. This coordination helps insure that there are no conflicts between the Code and NECA’s installation standards, and makes them suitable for regulatory adoption.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties were the first governmental entities in the United States to approve NEIS for regulatory use, back in 1999. They were adopted into the South Florida Building Code as official references for construction methods.
More recently, National Electrical Installation Standards were adopted by the state of Alabama in 2002. IAEI member, David Carpenter, chief electrical inspector of the city of Florence, was a leading force behind Alabama’s state-wide adoption of NECA’s construction standards.
IAEI Now Conducts NEIS Training
Because improving construction quality also improves compliance with the National Electrical Code, electrical inspector interest in NECA’s performance standards has been growing strongly over the past several years. IAEI has now conducted NEIS training for electrical inspectors at several locations around the country.
"Construction quality is a critical issue,” commented NECA’s John Grau. "Section 110.12 on workmanship is probably the most quoted — and least understood — single requirement in the whole National Electrical Code. And yet, good workmanship is clearly related to better performance for the customer, and it’s definitely related to safety. That’s why our National Electrical Installation Standards concentrate so much on quality and workmanship issues.”
Education has long been a major priority for IAEI; but teaching electrical inspectors about NEIS is a relatively new direction for the inspectors’ group. Education Director Michael Johnston gave his first training class on National Electrical Installation Standards in 2003 for a county building department in the Kansas City area.
"They called me up and asked whether I could come do a joint presentation that covered both the National Electrical Code and a couple of the NECA installation standards,” Johnston explained. "We’d always just done Code classes before that, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. Because after all, the NEIS are all about installing electrical products and systems in a ‘neat and workmanlike manner,’ as required by NEC 110.12.”
Since then, Mike Johnston has conducted National Electrical Installation Standards training classes for IAEI and NECA chapters around the country. He also did a presentation on NFPA 1-2000, "Standard Practices for Good Workmanship in Electrical Contracting” at the 2004 NFPA annual meeting in Salt Lake City, where the 2005 NEC was approved.
"There seems to be an increasing amount of interest in this type of training, as it definitely fills a need,” Johnston observed. "IAEI recognizes the value of the NEIS publications to the electrical industry and is happy to continue working cooperatively with NECA where possible to assist in disseminating this information.”
Some are sponsored by local chapters of the National Electrical Contractors Association, to educate their local inspectors about workmanship issues. The Washington, DC NECA chapter put on a day-long seminar at a local community college in November 2004.
"The level of participation in this educational seminar reflects the support for NEIS that we’ve received from IAEI and individual electrical inspectors over the past few years,” commented chapter manager Andy Porter. "It’s clear that AHJs view the NEIS as a means of defining quality work — a positive development for our industry, and particularly for the customers of electrical contractors.”
As previously stated, the primary purpose of National Electrical Installations Standards is to be referenced by specifiers in their contract documents for electrical construction projects. And in a time of increasing cost pressures on building professionals, this may be one of their most important advantages.
As Tom Glavinich puts it, "NEIS give the engineers a concise way to take the information they need, already packaged together, and insert in into the specs quickly and easily. Let’s face it, most engineers are more focused on the technical aspects of a building or system — how it’s going to perform as opposed to the quality aspects. These National Electrical Installation Standards just make it easier to spec more aspects of the job.”
"NEIS standards level the playing field,” observes Greg Massey, PE, a consulting engineer in the Kansas City area. "They ensure that every electrical contractor has to meet the same level of quality during an installation.
"And because the NEIS are developed by engineers, manufacturers, contractors, and Code-making experts, I’m comfortable using these standards on all my projects. National Electrical Installation Standards are like having my own specifications published.”
NEIS in Print
There are currently 28 National Electrical Installation Standards (NEIS) in print, with many others under development. For more information, visitwww.neca-neis.org.
NECA 1, Good Workmanship
NECA 90, Commissioning Electrical Systems
NECA 100, Electrical Symbols
NECA 101, Steel Conduits
NECA 102, Aluminum Rigid Metal Conduit
NECA 104, Aluminum Wire and Cable
NECA 105, Metal Cable Tray Systems
NECA 111, Nonmetallic Raceways
NECA 200, Temporary Power
NECA 202, Industrial Heat Tracing
NECA 230, Motors and Controllers
NECA 301, Fiber Optics
NECA 305, Fire Alarm Systems
NECA 331, Grounding and Bonding
NECA 400, Switchboards
NECA 402, Motor Control Centers
NECA 404, Generators
NECA 405, Co-Generation Systems
NECA 406, Residential Generators
NECA 407, Panelboards
NECA 408, Busways
NECA 409, Dry-Type Transformers
NECA 500, Indoor Lighting
NECA 501, Exterior Lighting
NECA 502, Industrial Lighting
NECA 568, Telecommunications
NECA 600, Medium-Voltage Cable
NECA 605, Underground Nonmetallic Utility Duct
Read more by Brooke Stauffer