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IAEI News provides educational forums, updates on electrical codes and reports of innovative research to facilitate the development and enforcement of practices designed to drive efficiency and compliance with the highest standards of product development and safety—for the public as well as for electrical personnel. The magazine reaches authorities with power of product specification, approval and acceptance. Published six times a year by the International Association of Electrical Inspectors.

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Solar Photovoltaic Rooftop Safety and Structural Issues Addressed in new SPE-900 Guideline

Posted By Muktha Tumkur and Victoria Alleyne, Wednesday, January 15, 2014
The popularity of solar photovoltaic rooftops has created a need for guidance on their installations, given many building codes in Canada do not address relevant photovoltaic safety and structural issues. A lack of guidance in this area can expose installers and first responders, such as firefighters, needing rooftop access to residential and non-residential buildings to unnecessary risks. The new CSA Group SPE-900, Solar Photovoltaic Rooftop-Installation Best Practices Guideline provides guidance and best practices for the design and installation of photovoltaic rooftop systems. SPE-900 addresses the following areas:

Fire Risks

Designers are guided on evaluating how the integration of photovoltaic modules on building affects the roof’s fire performance characteristics. The National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) requires roof coverings regulated under Division B, Part 3, to have a Class A, B or C Classification to protect the roof covering material from ignition in the event of a roof exposure fire originating from sources outside a building. Guidance related to the requirements in ULC 1703, CSA C22.2 No 61730-1 and 61730-2, and CAN/ULC-S107 is included. Pre-cautionary steps related to stand-off mounted photovoltaic systems as they relate to the NBCC classification are also noted.

Lightning Strikes

For direct or indirect lightning strikes, SPE-900 provides precautions for surge arrestors and lightning protection in buildings where there is a critical nature of the power distribution system. Since the design and installation methods used in installing a photovoltaic system can help reduce the level of risk associated with lightning-induced surges, design considerations related to AC wiring, module wiring (string and parallel string) and power cabling are included in the guideline. Precautionary information related to the strength and bonding for the racking is also covered.


SPE-900 recommends best practices for providing safe working conditions for maintenance, inspection and service personnel. A useful log sheet to record the inspection results for the components of a photovoltaic system is included in Annex D. Risks related to climbing and avalanches are also included.


Photo 1. Photovoltaic modules being installed on a building roof; previously there was a lack of comprehensive 
guidance throughout the industry for safe installation.

Structural Guidelines

At the time of publication, based on a scan of Canadian and international building codes and guidelines, the structural clause in SPE-900 resulted because there were few, if any, specific requirements related to roof-mounted photovoltaic modules and racks. Therefore, the largest section of the guideline is related to structural design. The publication’s structural guidelines provide interpretation of existing code provisions and best practices for the structural engineering aspects of roof-mounted solar photovoltaic systems for new and existing construction.

Loading Conditions

When a solar photovoltaic system is installed on a rooftop, it is important that it be designed to resist dead, live, and other loads, and to recognize that it influences the loading conditions that the building would otherwise have been designed for in the absence of the photovoltaic system. SPE-900 helps ensure that a rooftop installation of a solar photovoltaic system be designed to resist dead, live and other loads, and to recognize that it influences the loading conditions that the building would otherwise have been designed for in the absence of the photovoltaic system. Because the NBCC doesn’t explicitly define loads on photovoltaic systems, nor its influence on the building loading defined, detailed consideration for dead loads is included.

Photovoltaic Modules and Racks

The guide includes consideration for the design and structural resistance of photovoltaic modules and racks. Because it was noted that sliding and overturning problems are unique to ballasted racks, a section with best practices for the design of such systems is included. Designers are provided with information for various types of building components including wood frame, prefabricated wood trusses, open web steel joists, steel frames / decks, concrete suspended slabs, hollow core precast slabs, etc.


SPE-900 also discusses waterproofing and the durability of photovoltaic integration on commercial roofs before, during and after installation to minimize any unintentional adverse effects due to the waterproofing functionality of the roof assembly.


Because solar photovoltaic electrical issues are addressed by the Canadian Electrical Code Part I, Section 50 and Section 64, SPE-900 does not duplicate these requirements, but rather points the user to the relevant sections of the Code. Likewise, the guideline does not include aspects covered in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70, Article 690. As always, local authorities having jurisdiction are the touch point for electrical and structural permit requirements for photovoltaic rooftop installations because specific requirements may vary by jurisdiction.

Future Development

As a future development, CSA Group has worked with stakeholders and is evaluating the need to develop the SPE-900 into a standard for photovoltaic installation for rooftop and ground mount. In evaluating this opportunity, CSA Group would look into any existing documents related to fire and building construction so that conflicting requirements are avoided. 

Muktha Tumkur, P. Eng., Program Manager of Renewable Energy.

Victoria Alleyne is project manager, Renewable Energy, CSA Group.

For more information on this guideline contact Victoria Alleyne via email or through the CSA Communities – to purchase this document please visit

Tags:  Featured  January-February 2014 

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Working Safely with Electricity...for the Electrical Inspector?

Posted By Michael Savage, Sr., Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Not too many years ago, I was conversing with a friend of mine, who is also an electrical inspector, about which codes and standards apply to electrical inspectors and, for that matter, any construction inspector during the course of their appointed duties. During our rather lively discussion, he mentioned that his supervisor, who is a building code administrator, believed electrical inspectors were liberated from having to comply with NFPA 70E. One can speculate about the reasons, although many of us can surely see the potential budget expenses of getting all the inspectors on one’s staff certified to inspect equipment "hot.” My friend and I ended our conversation with my promising to commit a future article to these ponderings…. I guess it is never too late!

The 2012 edition of the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace states under Section 90.1 Purpose, "The purpose of this standard is to provide a practical safe working area for employees relative to the hazards arising from the use of electricity.”

Additionally, the document states under Section 90.2 Scope.

"(A) Covered. This standard addresses electrical safety related work practices for employee workplaces that are necessary for the practical safeguarding of employees relative to the hazards associated with electrical energy during activities such as the installation, inspection, operation, maintenance, and demolition of electric conductors, electric equipment, signaling and communications conductors and equipment, and raceways. This standard also includes safe work practices for employees performing other work activities that can expose them to electrical hazards as well as safe work practices for the following:

(1) Installation of conductors and equipment that connect to the supply of electricity

(2) Installations used by the electric utility, such as office buildings, warehouses, garages, machine shops, and recreational buildings that are not an integral part of a generating plant, substation, or control center.”

The 2012 edition added the term inspection in its scope. This will certainly answer the question about whether or not 70E applies to electrical inspectors in the workplace. The next question is what does that mean? Let’s look at the responsibility of the employer versus the employee. Section 105.3 Responsibility, states "the employer shall provide the safety-related work practices and shall train the employee, who shall then implement them.” Therefore, it is the responsibility of the employer to provide the safety-related work practices. As such, 70E provides for a host of training requirements within its text, including training for Qualified Persons, Unqualified Persons, Host Employer Responsibilities, Contract Employer Responsibilities, Documentation and Retraining.

As Jeffrey Sargent said in his article from the NFPA Journal, May/June 2010 entitled, "A glimpse of the proposed changes for the 2012 edition of NFPA 70E”: "The world of workplace electrical safety is rapidly evolving, in large part due to the increased awareness and implementation of NFPA 70E®, Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, in the last decade.” With the introduction of newer technologies and equipment for addressing hazards, as well as, a better understanding and training about electrical hazards, workers can be kept safe (yes, even the electrical inspector). OSHA, under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), is responsible for the provision for working safely with electricity; and NFPA 70E shows you how to do it properly. I, personally, do not want our staff to open any high voltage equipment without it being de-energized first. Without the specific training to recognize those hazards — and I’m not talking about "knowing enough to be dangerous” — I prefer for the system to be de-energized.

So the next time you hear a statement that it "doesn’t apply” to you as an inspector, stop and contemplate that statement a moment. If you are uncertain, then ask yourself one question: Am I Superman? Because as far as I know, he is the only one who can withstand high voltage unharmed!

We’ll save the provisions of CFR 1910 and 1926 for next time. E-mail your comments to



Jeffrey Sargent, NFPA Journal, May/June 2010

James Dollard, IBEW

Read more by Michael Savage, Sr.

Tags:  Featured  November-December 2013 

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Use of the Codes and Standards in electrical design and installations

Posted By Ark Tsisserev, Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No, really: what codes and standards must be used for the electrical design and installation and why?

This is not a trivial question, as it deals with consistency, uniformity and, most important, with the safety of electrical installations.

So, what drives a need to use the CE Code (and not the NEC) for design of electrical installations in Canada, and what forces the designers to specify, for example, an automatic transfer switch to the CSA standard CSA C22.2 No. 178.1 and not to the UL standard UL1008? Why, for instance, is ULC S524 (and not NFPA 72) used by the designers, installers and regulators for the selection of locations of and spacing between the fire alarm system devices?

The answer is based on the provisions of the Canadian Electrical Safety System, the unique entity which integrates development of safety standards for electrical products with the electrical equipment design, construction, testing and certification to these safety standards, and with installation of the "approved” electrical equipment in accordance with the requirements of the installation code — the CE Code, Part I. Such integration is done under the electrical safety regulatory regime that is administered consistently across the country at each provincial or territorial level.


Photo 1. Wiring methods – See section 12 of the CE Code.

Nevertheless, an inquisitive mind might comment that any safety standard for electrical equipment or even the mighty electrical installation code is only a voluntary standard. This observation would be absolutely accurate — until the time when the Code or the specific standard is legally adopted in each jurisdiction for the regulatory enforcement. When this adoption is done, the Code or the standard becomes the law, and use of such code or standard (and compliance with it) becomes mandatory.

In fact, the very first statement in the Code (shown in the rectangular box on the first page of the Code) indicates that, "The Canadian Electrical Code, Part I, is a voluntary code for adoption and enforcement by regulatory authorities.”

This means that until the Code is legally adopted for enforcement purposes, it is not different from any other publication available on the marketplace. A major difference of this document from many other available publications is that this document (and any safety standard for electrical equipment) is being developed via a consensus process by participating experts who represent all areas of the electrical safety (i.e., manufacturers, designers, contractors, educators, power and communication utilities, labour, installation users, etc.) In fact, the CE Code and safety standards for electrical products are specifically intended to be legally adopted for enforcement, as the electrical safety regulators from every provincial and territorial jurisdiction play a major role in the development of these documents. The CE Code development process includes a transparent means by which participating regulators indicate whether they might have regulatory issues with the proposed language of the Code, and whether such legal issues would adversely impact their ability to administer the Code. This process helps to resolve such issues at the code development stage in order to facilitate the future Code adoption process. This explains why only the CE Code is used as the safety standard for electrical installations.

When the Canadian Electrical Code is legally adopted in a specific jurisdiction, only this adopted Code (and not the NEC or any other electrical installation code or standard) must be used by the industry stakeholders. This means that if, for example, C22.2 No. 178.1 is referenced in the body of the legally adopted CE Code(i.e., Rule 24-304), then only this CSA standard must be used for the design, construction, testing and certification of an automatic transfer switch (and not UL 1008 or any other similar standard).


Photo 2. Installation – as per Section 24 of the CE Code, electrical safety in health care facilities – as per Z32

But what about the standard ULC S524 for installation of a fire alarm system devices? Is this ULC standard specifically mandated by the CE Code? Although use of the ULC S524 is only referenced in an explanatory (non-mandatory) Appendix B Note on Section 32 of the Code, compliance with this ULC standard is mandatory, as use of this standard is required by the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC ),which is also legally adopted in each province and territory. Sentence of the NBCC states that "Fire alarm systems, including the voice communication capability where provided, shall be installed in conformance with CAN/ULC-S524, ‘Installation of Fire Alarm Systems.’ ” There are some other cases, when use of a particular standard is only mentioned in Appendix B Notes on the CE Code, but is mandated by specific provisions of the NBCC. One such example is the CSA standard B72 "Installation Code for Lightning Protection System.” While it is not mandated for use by the CE Code (it is only referenced in Appendix B Note on Rule 10-706), its use is required by Article of the NBCC. This means that when a lightning protection system is designed for use in Canada, it must comply with the CSA standard B72.

Similarly, use of the CSA B44 "Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators” is mandated by the NBCC, but is only referenced in a non-mandatory Appendix B Notes on Rules of Section 38 in the CE Code. Sometimes, certain standards are referenced only in explanatory Appendix B of the CE Code and not in the body of the code, and use of these standards is also not required by the NBCC. In these cases, application of such standards is not mandatory under provisions of the CE Code, and their reference is only intended to the code users for informational purpose. For example, Appendix B notes on Rules 2-304 and 2-306 reference CSA standard Z462. However, there is no need for the Code users to apply this standard during design and installation of electrical equipment, as this standard is only intended for safe work practices around energized electrical equipment in conjunction with the local occupational health and safety regulations (if it is legally adopted by these work health and safety jurisdictions). Otherwise, Z462 is a voluntary standard, and use of this standard is a good engineering practice.


 Photo 3.   Installation – as per Section 58 of the CE Code, safety of aerial tramways – as per Z98

Another such example: ANSI standard B77.1 or CSA standard Z98. Compliance with ANSI standard B77.1 "Passenger Ropeways – Aerial Tramways, Aerial Lifts, Surface Lifts, Tows and Conveyors – Safety Requirements” and CSA standard Z98 "Passenger Ropeways and Passenger Conveyors” is not considered to be mandatory, as these standards are only referenced for information purpose in non-mandatory Appendix B Note on Section 58.

It is interesting to note that occasionally legally adopted building and electrical codes reference different editions of certain standards. In this case, the latest edition should be used, as it accurately reflects the latest consensus based revisions to such documents. For example, 2010 edition of the NBCC references C282-05 and Z32-04. However, 2012 edition of the CE Code mandates use of both these standards in the body of the Code and references 2009 editions of each of these standards.


And what about various IEEE or NFPA standards? Are they mandated by the legally adopted CE Code or the NBCC?

IEEE is a purely electrical engineering standard, and it is not referenced by the NBCC. The CE Code, however, mandates use of IEEE 835 (see Rule 4-004) and of IEEE 80 (see Tables 51 and 52 of the CE Code). Other IEEE standards are utilized by many designers as a part of a good engineering practice or as a part of requirements of the system performance, but not as the electrical safety requirement in accordance with the CE Code. Many NFPA standards are mandated by the NBCC, and the electrical professionals involved in design of electrically connected life safety systems in accordance with such standards must use these standards accordingly. Examples of NFPA 13, NFPA 20, NFPA 80, NFPA 96 is a case in point for a need to apply these technical documents by the electrical design professionals.

And, of course, compliance with the CSA engineering standards C22.3 No. 1 and C22.3 No. 7 is mandatory, as use of these standards is required by the CE Code.

There are quite a few examples of a similar nature, but the fundamental principle is based on understanding the difference between mandatory and voluntary standards. If use of the former is required by law, the application of latter is a demonstration of a good engineering practice in order to enhance performance of the designed electrical systems or to meet specific requirements of the owners or operators of the facility subjected to the electrical design.


 Photo 4. Installation of a strobe light – as per ULC S524, wiring methods – as per Section 32 of the CE Code. 

And last, but not least, we need to discuss a compliance with various safety standards for electrical equipment. Quite often electrical design specifications reference NEMA, EEMAC or UL standards for electrical products. However, such practice is not consistent with provisions of Rule 2-024 of the CE Code.

All electrical equipment installed in accordance with the CE Code must be "approved” as required by Rule 2-024 of the CE Code.

Rule 2-024 states the following, "Electrical equipment used in electrical installations within the jurisdiction of the inspection department shall be approved and shall be of a kind or type and rating approved for the specific purpose for which it is to be employed.”

It should be noted that approved is a defined term in the CE Code, and it means that the electrical equipment is certified by an accredited certification organization to the provisions of an applicable CSA safety standard (CSA Part II standard – one of the safety standards for electrical products listed in Appendix A to the CE Code, starting on page 376 of the CE Code 2012). The CE Code defines approvedequipment as follows:

"Approved (as applied to electrical equipment) —

(a) equipment that has been certified by a certification organization accredited by the Standards Council of Canada in accordance with the requirements of

(i) CSA standards; or

(ii) other recognized documents, where such CSA standards do not exist or are not applicable; or

(b) equipment that conforms to the requirements of the regulatory authority (see Appendix B).

Appendix B Note on definition "approved” states:

"It is intended by this definition that electrical equipment installed under provisions of this Code is required to be certified to the applicable CSA product Standards as listed in Appendix A. Where such CSA Standards do not exist or are not applicable, it is intended by this definition that such electrical equipment be certified to other applicable Standards, such as ULC standards. Code users should be aware that fire alarm system equipment is deemed to be approved when it is certified to the applicable product Standards listed in CAN/ULC S524.

"This definition is also intended to reflect the fact that equipment approval could be accomplished via a field evaluation procedure in conformance with the CSA Model Code SPE-1000, where special inspection bodies are recognized by participating provincial and territorial authorities having jurisdiction. For new products that are not available at the time this Code is adopted, the authority having jurisdiction may permit the use of products that comply with the requirements set out by that jurisdiction.

 The Standards Council of Canada has accredited a number of certification organizations (CSA, UL, ULC, ETL, QPS, etc.) to certify electrical products to the CSA (CE Code, Part II) safety standards. When the piece of electrical equipment is certified by the CSA, then "CSA” monogram must be placed on that piece of electrical product in accordance with Rule 2-100 of the CE Code. When the piece of electrical equipment is certified by the UL (US-based certification organization), then the certification monogram by UL must also bear a small "c” at 8 o’clock. This "c” signifies that the piece of electrical equipment is certified by the UL for use in Canada to the CSA standard. For example, if a luminaire is marked "cUL,” it means that the UL certified this luminaire to the CSA standard C22.2 No. 250"Luminaires” (see page 381 of the CE Code 2012). If an automatic transfer switch (see our example above) is certified by UL for use in Canada, the "cUL” monogram will signify that such automatic transfer switch is certified by the UL to the CSA safety standard C22.2 No. 178.1 listed on page 379 of the CE Code 2012 (and not to the standard UL 1008 for the automatic transfer switches).

Certification to a UL, NEMA, EEMAC or IEEE standard does not make such equipment "approved” for use in Canada under Rules of the CE Code.

When a piece of a fire alarm system equipment (a control unit, a smoke detector, a manual station, etc.) is certified to the applicable ULC safety standard listed in the ULC 524, such piece of equipment is deemed to be "approved’ in accordance with the CE Codedefinition, as there are no CSA safety standards available for such products. In this case, a "ULC” monogram on such piece of equipment would manifest the fact that that particular piece of a fire alarm equipment is certified by the ULC to the applicable ULC safety standard for fire alarm systems. For example, if a control unit of a fire alarm system bears the "ULC” monogram, it means that the control unit is certified by the ULC to the ULC standard ULC S527 "Control Units for Fire Alarm Systems.”

It should be noted that in accordance with the CE Code definition of "approved,” a piece of electrical equipment may be also approved by means of a special inspection/field evaluation. This type of approval does not constitute a complete certification to any applicable CSA safety standard referenced in Appendix A of the Code. Such field evaluation represents only testing in accordance with the scope of the CSA Model Code for Field Evaluation of Electrical Equipment SPE 1000.

Specific conditions of every field evaluation should always be discussed with the local electrical safety authority.

Hopefully, this brief article helps in clarifying the subject related to the criteria for use of Codes and standards in electrical design and installations.

Read more by Ark Tsisserev

Tags:  Featured  November-December 2013 

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The Inspector Perspective

Posted By Pete Jackson, Tuesday, November 19, 2013

We all have a unique perspective based upon our life experience. No two people have lived the same life and, therefore, do not have the same perspective. Your perspective is what sets you apart from all others and will define the value you add to the industry. Our knowledge, both technical and code, gained through formal education, work experience, and training is extremely valuable; but there is more: there is the human element. Your perspective is shaped by life experiences beyond the technical.

How do we interact with people? What does the NEC say? What does it mean? How do we convey its objective to others? Communication and enforcement of code requirements in a way that others will understand and appreciate are the challenge. Meeting that challenge defines our value to the industry.

Knowing the reason for a code requirement is key to understanding it. As I type this article, I cannot help but remember the required typing class that I took as a senior (I put it off as long as I could do so.) in high school — the one that seemed to serve no purpose at the time! We often do not appreciate the importance of knowledge or a skill without the benefit of future experience.

We have all come from different backgrounds. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses both technical and personal. We should strive to use our strengths (and share them with others) and improve in the areas where needed. No one knows it all. No one has done it all. Arrogance is the greatest weakness!

Some of us have worked for, or as, contractors and bring that perspective to work as inspectors. We have lived through the fears and concerns of the installer/small business owner and learned to appreciate the value of code-compliant installations for both the owner and installer. We know, firsthand, the importance of the level playing field that fair consistent inspections provide for the marketplace. We know that correct installations do not have to cost more or take longer than incorrect installations. The opposite is usually the case.

As inspectors, we know the political and practical pressures faced by jurisdictions. We are aware of the conflicting interests involved. We have also had to face the challenge of the most recent economic downturn. The economy may slow and new construction fall off, but the code must still be enforced. We end up with fewer resources, but we do not necessarily have fewer code violations. So we learn to do more inspections with less. The cost of new code rules must always be appreciated, but we cannot forget that burning buildings are not good for business either.

Although there is no substitute for proper code/technical knowledge there are other qualities that, as inspectors, we must value:


Credibility is our most valuable asset and the essence of what we do for a living. Our "yes” must be "yes,” and our "no” should mean "no.” When we do not know something, we should say so, and then find the answer. If we are dealing with a grey code area, we must not forget the big picture and seek consistency. Our decisions will have life safety and financial consequences. The truth will always come out at some point, so why not start with it? Without integrity, our performance, no matter how well it may be, is meaningless. With integrity, even our mistakes are not a weakness because there is no intent to conceal.


Consistency is a key element of quality. Perfection can be the enemy. It is better to aim for a consistent, attainable standard than to accept an unrealistic standard that is never met. Can perfection be defined to the satisfaction of all in any realm of life or work? We are never perfect, and there is always a better way to perform a task. We only fail when we do not seek a better way or learn from a mistake. Mistakes are only failures when we choose to ignore the lesson. Something will be missed at every inspection by even the best inspector. There is so much to inspect and so little time available. Combination inspectors, in particular, have a heavy load. The perfect inspection should not be the goal; due diligence should be the goal. Do we know the key code requirements in play for the phase of the project? Are we calling something at final inspection that should have been found during the rough inspection, such as an incorrect wiring method? Are we measuring the distance between conduit straps without realizing that the wiring method used was not permitted for the occupancy? We can be limited by our abilities or by the limitations imposed on us through the political realities of life; but whatever our limitations, we must always seek to provide knowledgeable consistent inspections.


Good judgment is the most important quality for an inspector. Training and experience are the prerequisites for a mature approach. Applying judgment to the infinite situations encountered is what I enjoy the most about the inspection process. We are often dealing with a very grey world and attempting to make it as black and white as possible. The purpose of the NEC is the practical safeguarding of persons/property from hazards arising from the use of electricity (NEC 90.1). Applying the code correctly with the proper balance for all concerned is the greatest challenge and the most rewarding part of the job.


Disagreement and conflict are a normal part of an inspector’s job. How we handle conflict will define our ability as an inspector. We should never seek to cause conflict, but we must be aware that conflict is a natural component of the inspection process. Conflict should be a healthy constructive element of life. Conflict should not equate to anger or loss of control. Honest confrontation of differing opinions or competing ideas will result in a stronger product. Often, more damage is done when people seek to avoid conflict. The result of sticking our head in the sand is worse than facing the actual conflict itself. I like to use this example; if your car has a flat tire, it does not help to change the fan belt. The tire must be changed! Quite often, in work situations, I see people (or committees) avoid conflict by changing the fan belt, when it is the tire that is flat. The other destructive approach to conflict is the assumption of only two solutions to a problem. There are always multiple solutions to every problem, and we must find the best solution for a given situation. How to handle conflict? Embrace it!


As inspectors we may have come from different backgrounds; yet, as IAEI members, we are all in the same place now. IAEI membership provides a forum for sharing our strengths and improving our abilities. More importantly, IAEI is our voice for sharing the collective inspector perspective with the industry we serve. As inspectors, we know that proper electrical connections are vital to the long-term success of every electrical system. The IAEI connection to each other and to industry is just as beneficial to the long-term success of all.

Read more by Pete Jackson

Tags:  Featured  November-December 2013 

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Why are you an IAEI member?

Posted By Steve Douglas, Tuesday, November 19, 2013
You attend great meetings? For opportunities to meet other inspectors? For networking? For excellent technical training opportunities? These are great reasons, but there may be more to consider.

I was surprised to learn how much more IAEI had to offer.

In my second year as a wiring inspector, I was introduced to IAEI; the year was 1991 and the event was the Canadian Section meeting held in Kingston, Ontario. I was able to meet inspectors from all over Ontario, Canada, and the United States. The training offered by leading experts was second to none, and the social programs for both the delegates and partners were very impressive. My thought was…… WOW, I need to be a part of this! I left the meeting with an idea of what I thought IAEI was. It was not until years later and after being involved in codes and standards development that I got a better appreciation of the important role IAEI plays in the electrical safety infrastructure for both our great nations.

IAEI and the National Electrical Code

IAEI was established in 1928, and in the same year was represented on the National Electrical Code. Involvement in code development evolved in the following 85 years. IAEI was first represented on all the National Electrical Code (NEC) code-making panels (CMP) in the 1971 edition. Prior to IAEI’s involvement in the NECdevelopment process, enforcers did not have a common voice on the development of the NEC. With the large number of authorities having jurisdiction in the United States and the limited number of enforcer positions on the code-making panels, it is impossible for all authorities having jurisdiction individually to have a voice on the development of the NEC. IAEI provides this voice for authorities having jurisdiction with a focus on:

Enforceability. Will an electrical inspector be able to enforce the requirement if it is adopted by the authority having jurisdiction?

Reasonability.The object of the Code is "to establish safety standards for the installation and maintenance of electrical equipment…” While the cost of complying with the Code is not a criterion for an inspector to decide upon support of a concept, the Coderequirement should be practical.

Understandability. Complex and lengthy sentences and paragraphs are difficult to read, understand, and enforce. Making the Code clearer is an objective of IAEI code panel members.

Members of the code-making panels also provide the vital information to IAEI International for development of great technical books such as the Analysis of Change. Now that I am on that topic, I would like to thank the international office and in particular Keith Lofland for the outstanding work in development of this world class publication.

IAEI and the Canadian Electrical Code

In the early 1980s Roy Hicks the Chief Inspector of Ontario Hydro Electrical Inspection recognized a need for front line involvement in the development of the CE Code. Roy had seen the IAEI as the vehicle to achieve this.

IAEI involvement in the Canadian Electrical Code began during the development of the 1986 edition with members on several subcommittees. By the 1998 edition, IAEI had representation on nine subcommittees and an associate member on the CE Code Part I. The associate member position on Part I evolved into a full voting member of the CE Code Part I during the development of the 2006 edition. At the publication of the 2009 CE Code, IAEI had representation on all 43 sections, being the first organization to have representation on all sections of the CE Code since the first edition dated 1927.

Where would the electrical industry be without IAEI?

Codes and standards committees would not have a common voice representing authorities having jurisdictions, and would be relying on individuals providing inspector input without a national or international focus.

We would not have an organization watching for initiatives that may erode our present electrical safety infrastructure.

Installation standards

As an example, an installation standard developed in Canada known as the Objective Based Industrial Electrical Code mayhave had a significant impact on authority having jurisdiction involvement on installations and facilities utilizing the Objective Based Industrial Electrical Code. The original intent of the Objective Based Industrial Electrical Code was to allow designers to develop their own installation and product requirements. This would mean no nationally developed electrical code or product standards, resulting in installations not meeting the minimum safety objectives of the electrical code, and the use of electrical products that are not certified. As a direct result of involvement of IAEI and the International Public Affairs Committee, the Objective Based Industrial Electrical Code ended up as a completely different document. Installations following the Objective Based Industrial Electrical Code are first required to meet the minimum requirements of the Canadian Electrical Code Part I. If the CE Code does not cover the particular installation, the designer can utilize the NEC. If the NEC does not cover the particular installation, the designer can utilize a recognized world standard; and if none of these cover the particular installation, the designer can develop his own installation requirements, provided the fundamental safety objectives of the code are not compromised.

Electrical products

Electrical products following the Objective Based Industrial Electrical Code are first required to be certified or approved to a recognized Canadian Standard. If a recognized Canadian Standard does not exist for the particular electrical product, the designer can utilize a recognized standard from the United States. If a recognized standard from the United States does not exist for the particular electrical equipment, the designer can utilize a recognized world standard, and if none of these cover the particular electrical equipment, the designer can develop his own product requirements.

As you can see, IAEI involvement on this one installation document alone has had a significant impact on the final requirements. If IAEI were not involved and the standards were developed as originally intended, the next step would have been to use the Objective Based Industrial Electrical Code as a seed document to develop similar requirements in the United States, resulting in a potential erosion of existing electrical safety infrastructure and the need for many authority having jurisdiction inspectors.

New technologies

Another example IAEI is watching closely is inspection involvement with new technologies, such as photovoltaic, wind turbines and electric vehicles.

In total, IAEI presently has 156 member positions filled on codes and standards committees in the United States and Canada.

We have tremendous talent representing IAEI on codes and standards committees, but we need more. We need more inspectors just like you to step forward and get involved with theNEC and product standards development. Your experience and knowledge are invaluable on these committees. If you are interested in being part of a code or standards committee, please send your application in as soon as possible. Application forms are available online at under the "About Us” and "Code Panel Representatives” tab.

Now, back to the original question: Why are you an IAEI member?

I am an IAEI member because I want to be part of an organization that has such a positive impact on the electrical safety infrastructure in North America, providing premier education, certification of inspectors, and expert leadership in Electrical Codes and Standards development.

Read more by Steve Douglas

Tags:  Featured  November-December 2013 

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Article 310, Conductors for General Wiring

Posted By Randy Hunter, Tuesday, November 19, 2013

We have finally reached the portion of the code that deals with conductors. Conductors are used on every electrical installation, so naturally we have a variety of installation conditions and a wide range of applications. Again, keeping to the scope of work for combination inspections, I will discuss only the most common installations that may be experienced by a fellow combination inspector.

Article 310 experienced a significant reorganization in the 2011 NEC. The code-making panel made the changes in order to comply with the requirements in the NEC Style Manual. These changes included renumbering and relocating many requirements and tables, so take a moment to compare the 2008 and 2011 codes.

In NEC 310.1, the scope states that this article covers general requirements for conductors, type designations, insulation, markings, mechanical strengths, ampacity ratings and uses. This is followed by a disclaimer that this article does not apply to conductors that are an integral part of equipment. This may be the case for motors, controllers or other equipment assembled in a factory.


Photo 1.  Example of a wire manufacturer multi-listing conductors

At this point, we need to jump over to Part III of Article 310, which is 310.104 Conductor Constructions and Applications. This is, basically, an introductory paragraph and Tables 310.104(A) through (E). Of these, the most often used is Table 310.104(A) titled "Conductor Applications and Insulations Rated 600 Volts.” Wire is generally referred to by a letter designation, such as: TW, THW, XHHW, MTW, and so on. Please open the code book and follow along on this table. The columns will give you the maximum operating temperature, application for dry, wet and damp locations, the material of the insulations, and wire size ranges, along with other information.

For an example, let’s look at RHW and RHW-2. In the first column, you will notice that RHW is a flame-retardant, moisture-resistant thermoset insulation. It is rated for use at 75 degrees C and approved for dry and wet locations. RHW-2 is rated for use at 90 degrees C, but otherwise has the same properties as RHW. Next, let’s review XHHW-2, which is also a flame-retardant, moisture-resistant thermoset rated for use at 90 degrees C in wet or dry locations. So what is the difference? There are two differences in the table. The first is the thickness: RHW-2 has a much thicker insulation. The second is the use of a covering: RHW-2 may have an outer covering, while XHHW-2 does not. That is one reason you will never see an "XHHN”; "N” stands for a nylon covering, but XHH (or XHHW or XHHW-2) does not have an outer covering.

There is another condition that we need to cover and that is dual-rated wire, which is commonly found in the field. One of the most common is THHN/THWN-2; you will notice that these are both thermoplastic insulations; however, one is for dry and damp locations and the other is for dry and wet locations, both rated for 90 degrees C. Manufacturers will dual mark conductors which meet both standards so that they can produce one item for multiple applications. This saves them from having to run several different products and constantly changing the process from one to the other.

The letters in the wire designations represent insulation characteristics. A "T” generally means thermoplastic insulation, while X stands for thermoset insulation. One "H” means that the conductor is one level higher on the heat rating above the beginning point of 60 degrees, so one H would signify 75 degrees. A double "H” ("HH”) moves you up to the 90-degree range. The "W” in the legend gives us the approval for wet locations, and the "N” usually means a nylon outer coating. So let’s see if we can figure out what XHHW means, using these general rules. First, the "X” stands for thermoset; second, the "HH” means it is rated for use at 90 degrees C; and last, the "W” means it is approved for wet locations. Notice, however, that the Table indicates that XHHW can only be used at 75 degrees C in wet locations, so you have to be careful about using only the letters printed on the conductor. The lesson here is the letters may get you close, but you cannot assume they tell the whole story; take the time and double-check them against Table 310.104(A). Additionally, UL has a Wire and Cable Marking Guide that explains the letter designations and insulation types in depth.


Photo 2.  Conductors installation found by an inspector. For those who have been following our articles, please do some review and see what code violations you can identify.

In several references above, we have mentioned temperature ratings; these temperatures are the maximum temperature that a conductor insulation will reach under full load at a stated ambient temperature. All the values stated above are in Celsius, so to put it into something we are more familiar with, a 90 degree C conductor is good for 194 degrees F. If a conductor is exposed to a temperature higher than that for a prolonged period of time, the insulation cannot be depended on to protect the conductor and will, in all likelihood, start to breakdown.

Jumping back to Part II of Article 310, we cover Installation of conductors. First, we have Uses Permitted in 310.10, which is divided into eight sections lettered (A)– (H). These include dry, dry and damp, and then wet locations. As we have mentioned above, the properties of certain insulations are made to withstand exposures to various conditions; for descriptions of these locations, please refer back to the Article 100 definitions under "Locations.”

In 310.10(E), the code covers the application of shielding. This is usually not in the scope of the work that is performed by the everyday combination inspector. Shielding is applicable to voltages over 600 volts, and we have mostly kept this series of articles to 600 volts and below.

The next two sections cover direct burial and corrosive locations. This is simple, you must have conductors that are identified and suitable for the conditions under which they are installed. If there is an unusual condition, you may have to ask the installer, engineer or manufacturer for information indicating that the conductor or insulation is suitable for the installation conditions.

Conductors in Parallel is covered in 310.10(H). Often when working with higher ampacities, we find it to be cumbersome and expensive to keep increasing the size of the wire and conduit. The solution is often to use multiple runs that are connected to a common location on each end. Notice in the 2011 edition of the code that much of this section is highlighted gray, indicating new or revised text. The change here was that the previous code stated that you were permitted to parallel conductors 1/0 AWG and larger; however, it didn’t specifically prohibit you from paralleling smaller conductors, which was the intent and the way it was enforced in all my years of enforcement. However, that’s not what the actual language said, and ambiguous language can cause enforcement issues; therefore, in the 2011 code it was made clear that you are only allowed to parallel conductors 1/0 AWG and larger.

There are some very critical and specific requirements to be followed for parallel runs. These are covered in 310.10(H)(1) through (6). We will cover these in detail. Each conductor for the same phase, polarity, neutral, grounded or grounding conductor must be of equal length, consist of the same metal, be the same size in circular mil area, have the same insulation type and be terminated in the same manner. These items are required and should be on the top of every inspector’s mind when encountering parallel installations.

I have seen or had calls on installations where these conditions were not followed, and the issues that result are unequal loading on the conductors and overheating causing damaged equipment and conductors. Keep in mind that when we say terminated in the same manner, we mean exactly the same lugs, number of bolts and size of the lugs, etc.


Photo 3.  After reading 310.15, how would you derate the conductors in this wiring gutter? Hint,  also see 366.22.

Continuing with parallel installations, if the conductors are run in separate cables or raceways, the cables or raceways shall have the same number of conductors and shall have the same electrical characteristics. This means that you cannot have one run in PVC conduit and the other in rigid galvanized conduit as these have very different electrical properties. Parallel runs are also subject to any derating conditions found in 310.15(B)(3)(a), which we will cover shortly.

In 310.10(H)(5) and (6), we cover the equipment grounding conductors and equipment bonding jumpers. The equipment grounding conductors (where used) shall be sized according to 250.122, which is based on the overcurrent device which is feeding the conductors. The equipment bonding jumper shall be sized according to 250.102, which is based on 250.66 according to the size of the conductors used.

Before we jump into temperature limitations, we need to start with the tables related to 310.15(B). There are six tables here starting with 310.15(B)(16). I know some of you may wonder why we start with the first table numbered 16; this is for ease of use, because this table was previously known as 310.16. It was changed to comply with requirements in the NEC Style Manual, which requires tables referenced within an article to have the same number identification as the article. There never has been a clause numbered 310.16, so for us long-time code users, the code-making panel decided to keep the 16 present in the table designation. This also helps to facilitate the thousands of references in other materials within the industry that reference ampacities.

Please read the differences between the headings of each of the tables found in 310.15(B); you will notice that one table may apply to conductors in a raceway; another may give values related to conductors run in free air. Some tables may refer to different conductors rated for a higher temperature. The table that you will use the majority of the time is 310.15(B)(16). So, you might as well tab that page or dog-ear it so you can find it quickly. This table covers the common conductors used in construction; you will notice that it is split down the middle, with copper conductors on the left, and aluminum and copper-clad aluminum on the right side. For those who have never heard of copper-clad aluminum, it is aluminum conductor that has an outer coating of copper.

The last part of 310 we are going to cover and the most laborious part is temperature limitations of conductors. These factors take into account the number of conductors within a raceway, the location of the conductors, and what they are exposed to that may increase the ambient temperature around them.

So let’s start in 310.15(B)(3)(a), where we cover the number of current-carrying conductors in a raceway or cable. You will notice in the title of Table 310.15(B)(16) that it is based on three current-carrying conductors, so if we exceed that number we have to do an ampacity adjustment. The idea here is that when conductors carry electricity, they heat up according to the load. Since our table has only taken into account three conductors, we have to lower the values allowed when we use additional current-carrying conductors. The table to reference is Table 310.15(B)(3)(a), where we find that if we use 5 current-carrying conductors, we would have to apply an 80% correction factor to the values given in 310.15(B)(16). So, a 2 AWG aluminum XHHW-2 conductor would be good for 80 amps instead of 100 amps if there were only 3 conductors. A note that has to be covered here is found in the second paragraph of 310.15(B), which states the adjustment or correction of a conductor is allowed to be applied to the rated temperature value of that conductor. So if you have a conductor which falls in the 90 degree column, then you can start with that ampacity value, as long as the final calculated ampacity value does not exceed the temperature limitations of the termination points. If your conductor starts in the 90-degree column and you derate it to a value that exceeds the temperature rating of the equipment (which is generally rated at 60 or 75 degrees C), you are not allowed to use that conductor at a value above the termination ampacity. So for the example of 2 AWG XHHW-2, if you derated it from 100 amps to 80 amps, but we were terminating it onto equipment that was only rated for 60 degrees C, we wouldn’t be allowed to run it at an ampacity higher than 75 amps. This works throughout the ampacity adjustment portion of the code; however, because you can start at the actual conductor temperature rating, it frequently allows us to run smaller conductors overall due to the improved insulation properties of the higher rated conductors.

Now that we have the number of conductors in a raceway out of the way, we can jump back to the Ambient Temperature Correction Factors found in 310.15(B)(2). You will notice that at the top of each of the ampacity tables, in the heading it states that the ampacities are based on a certain ambient temperature, either 30 degrees C or 40 degrees C. If the conductors are exposed to temperatures other than the stated ambient temperatures that the tables are based on, we must adjust the ampacities accordingly. The code has two temperature adjustment tables, one based on 30 degrees C and the other based on 40 degrees C, and these are Tables 310.15(B)(2)(a) and (b). When you look at these tables, you will notice that the column headings are conductor temperature ratings. After you find the conductor temperature rating, you go down that column to the row that applies to your ambient temperature exposure. This can go both ways; if we look at the 30 degree C table and your installation is in an environment that is between 11 and 15 degrees, the wire will be able to handle 22% higher current than it would at 30 degrees C. Conversely, if you have your installation in 100 degrees F (which is equal to 38 degrees C), then you have to adjust the allowed ampacity by a factor of 82%.

Some interesting items regarding these factors are covered in 310.15(B)(3)(3). One item states that the adjustment factors do not apply to underground conductors entering or leaving an outdoor trench if they have physical protection in the form of various conduit types listed, as long as the length of the conduit does not exceed 10 feet. There are other modifications in this section, be sure to read through the entire text of 310.15(B)(3)(b).

Another consideration relates to having different portions of the conductor run though different temperature environments. For example, if you have a raceway that is run inside a facility that has a controlled temperature and then it penetrates the roof to feed a piece of equipment, we have to take the higher of the two ambient temperatures for derating, unless the higher temperature exposure is not more than 10% of the total run or 10 feet, whichever is less. So if we have an 80 foot run, only 8 feet can be exposed to the higher temperature, or we would have to apply a temperature correction. If the run is 100 feet or longer, the maximum exposure before temperature correction would be 10 feet. This is covered in 310.15(A)(2) Exception.

There are several other items regarding temperature correction of conductors within Article 310; however, in the interest of time and recognition of the situations that are most commonly found during combination inspections, I have just touched on the most significant items. Please take the time to crack open your code book and review some of these other applications that may apply in your specific inspection areas.

The last item for this article is 310.15(B)(7), which is a special table related just to dwelling services that are 120/240-volt single-phase. The table related to this article allows a specific wire size based on the rating of the service or feeder. This is a very special allowance which is based on the fact that in dwelling units we have very conservative load calculations versus the actual demand at any time in a dwelling. As such, we know that the actual loads on dwellings are much lower than the calculated load, and this table takes that into account. For instance, a 3/0 AWG copper conductor could be used for a 200-amp load based on the 75 degree C column of Table 310.15(B)(16), and in the dwelling table you will find it is allowed to be used for a 225-amp service.

As I said earlier, this part of the code is the most frequently used due to the fact that every installation has conductors. As we install these conductors, we have to follow the various code requirements from Article 310 that apply based on our unique installation conditions. Thanks for taking the time to read this article, and I hope this helps to improve your code knowledge and inspection ability.

Read more by Randy Hunter

Tags:  Featured  November-December 2013 

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Energy Storage Systems

Posted By David Conover, Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Energy storage has been in use for centuries, as evidenced by dams and the use of the stored water to drive mechanical devices associated with grain milling. Energy storage provides the ability to balance the energy capabilities and resultant outputs of variable energy sources with the needed energy inputs of differing and variable loads. For example, if the availability of the sun’s energy could be directly matched continuously over time with the electrical lighting loads in a building, then there would be no need to store the sun’s energy as converted into electrical power through a photovoltaic (PV) system; the electrical energy would go directly to the lighting system, and demand and PV capacity would be in total agreement. The variability associated with building operations, climate, and the lack of 24-hour sunlight necessitates some way to store the electrical energy generated by the PV system for future use. In this case, the storage technology is a battery to store the electrical energy.


  Courtesy of Portland General Electric

Electrical storage today is not fundamentally different—in concept—than it was 100 years or more ago; just the range and type of technologies used, the size of the systems, their location and ownership/operational situations (grid or customer side of the meter), their interconnection with other systems, and their intended applications are increasing in depth and breadth. Due to factors spurring market demand for energy storage technology, North America is expected to see the most growth in energy storage over the next five years. Grid-scale storage will increase globally upwards of 10 gigawatts over that same period. This includes not just grid or commercial size systems but residentially focused systems in the 5 to 25 kW range.1 The projected US market for energy storage in 2015 is estimated at $10 billion annually.2

What might have involved the assessment of some wiring, conduit and electrical connections, and a determination of the safe installation of one or more lead-acid batteries just over 100 years ago is changing. This necessitates the need for those responsible for ensuring the safety and performance of electrical systems to understand what is coming. Principles that are applied to any electrical system are no different; it is just that the application may not look as familiar as more traditional electrical technology.

The purpose of this article is to provide an update on energy storage technology, making electrical inspectors less likely to be surprised when seeing new energy storage system technologies and better positioned to foster the acceptance of new storage technology.


Energy storage has been used in a number of ways for centuries; not necessarily in the manner in which we would think of it within the context of today’s built environment. More contemporary applications storing electricity have been around for about 200 years, beginning with the invention of the modern battery by Volta in 1799. Building on that initial work, lead-acid batteries were applied in the 19th century for a number of applications, most notably to store generated power during the day. Then, that storage for example could supply overnight lighting loads as was done in New York City when they first started to use electricity to light the city using dc current.With the first applications of electric power in the US, including storage batteries, the first National Electrical Code (NEC or NFPA 70) was published in 1887.

Other than for emergency electrical backup, and for time-shift from coal to replace natural gas during non-peak periods in electrical generation, and the increasing use of pumped hydro to generate power, there was little change until about 30 years ago. By the mid-1980s there was increasing interest by utilities to develop batteries and other storage technologies to support the electrical grid. During this time, there was increased emphasis on demand side management that fostered increased use of renewable energy and the application of combined heat and power systems in and around buildings. These and other factors have created a demand for energy storage systems; a demand that is fostering significant growth in storage technology research, development, availability, application and use, not only on the grid side of the meter but on the customer side of the meter where both stationary and vehicular systems are in play.


Courtesy of  Green Energy Futures

Market drivers

Energy, environmental and economic challenges here in the US and globally are spurring activity associated with new energy-related technology. Electric power plays a critical role here in the US and globally. It is something we cannot do without, but with increases in energy demand, the need to improve power reliability, flexibility and to reduce costs associated with electric power delivery there is an increasing need to be smarter about what we do and how we do it. Electrical storage has a more important and critical role to play; a role much larger than providing backup power or helping utilities effectively use energy sources in generating electric power as it has in the past. This is driving the investment in storage technology development and deployment, even to the point of looking at how vehicular systems can also serve stationary energy needs. Certainly, there is an increasing need for utilities to upgrade their investments in generation, transmission and distribution services. Customers also have an increased emphasis on power quality, reliability, and the ability to time-shift and manage demand charges. In addition, movement toward a Smart Grid that seeks through automation the improvement of the grid to address the above challenges is heavily dependent on the availability of energy storage technology and is helping to drive technology development. Efforts to deploy renewable technologies such as solar PV are also driving demand for energy storage. Of note, the biggest challenges hindering adoption of this storage technology are cost, deployability, and lack of standards.1


Figure 1. Energy Storage Technologies1 

One could argue that standards (and codes)—or the lack thereof—have a direct impact on cost and the ability to deploy the technology. The absence of criteria upon which to evaluate technology performance and safety leaves advocates and granters of technology approval with little to go on other than evaluating the technology on the basis that it is "no more hazardous nor less safe and it performs at least as well as other technologies that are specifically covered by existing standards and codes.” For instance the increased deployment of PV systems and energy storage are driving the need for revisions to the NEC with respect to criteria for dc systems; something new in buildings and to many of the NEC code-making panels. As covered above, the technology is here now and is likely to enjoy increased deployment in the future. Electrical inspectors can benefit from having a basic familiarity with energy storage technology. More importantly, they need to know that standards and codes and the infrastructure that supports the use of those documents are being addressed now with the goal of having the necessary criteria and programs in place and upon which system approvals can be readily considered when the availability of systems begins to fully address these increasing energy, environmental and economic challenges.

Energy storage technologies

There are a myriad of energy storage technologies in terms of design, capacity and function. They include batteries, pumped hydro, electrochemical capacitors, compressed air, flywheels and thermal storage. Essentially anything that can store energy (electrical, thermal, kinetic) for future use can be considered energy storage. Within battery storage there are lithium-ion, fuel cell, lead-acid, nickel metal hydride, alkaline and potassium-ion types.

The Department of Energy (DOE) International Energy Storage Database provides considerable information on the energy storage projects operating or planned in the US, North America and globally (i Further information on energy storage technologies is available in the DOE/EPRI 2012 Energy Storage Handbook in Collaboration with NRECA that was released June 2013.

Currently available storage technologies include batteries and other non-battery technologies such as pumped hydro, thermal storage, flywheels and compressed air, as shown in figure 1.

Battery story technologies, which will be of primary interest to electrical inspectors, include the following:

Sodium-sulfur (NaS), which have a discharge period of about six hours, can provide prompt and precise response, and operate at 300 to 350°C. They use metallic sodium that is combustible if exposed to water, hence they are constructed in airtight, double-walled stainless-steel enclosures. Where cells are combined, they are surrounded by sand to mitigate fire.

Sodium-nickel-chloride (NaNICl2) are high-temperature devices like NaS with cells hermetically sealed and packaged into 20 kWh+/- modules.

Vanadium redox batteries (redox) are a type of flow battery in which at least one of the active materials associated with the battery is in solution in the electrolyte at all times. The electrolytes are stored in external tanks and pumped to the cells as needed. Each cell has an open-circuit voltage on the order of 1.4 V with higher voltages achieved by connecting cells in series to create cell stacks. Useful life is estimated at about 10 years.

Iron-chromium (Fe-Cr) redox batteries are another type of flow battery, but are in the R&D stage and just entering field demonstration.

Zinc-bromine (ZnBr2) are also flow batteries in the 5 kW to 1000 kW range that are in the early stages of field-testing and have a storage duration from two to six hours. Each cell has two electrode surfaces and two flow streams; noting that the bromine is extremely corrosive. During normal operation they are not unusually environmentally hazardous, but the materials they contain can become contaminants.

Zinc-air batteries are metal to air electrochemical cells where oxygen in the surrounding environment serves as an electrode.

Lead-acid batteries, originally invented over 150 years ago, are widely used and comprised of carbon-based and advanced technologies, the latter using enhancements such as granular silica electrolyte retention systems.

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) are most common now in electric vehicles and for portable power applications. Field demonstrations are underway in the 5 to 10 kW/20 kWh for distributed system and 1 MW/15 minute fast responding systems for frequency regulation. Some are able to provide backup power for up to three hours during a grid outage.

Figure 2 provides a number of data associated with energy storage systems used for frequency regulation. Data for other system applications such as bulk storage and residential applications are also shown in the cited reference.


Figure 2. Battery Storage System Type, Size and Cost Data.1

Beyond the battery chemistry and "what is happening inside” individual cells, cell stacks and pre-packaged battery systems there are a number of other components that include switching systems, power conversion and conditioning systems, transformers, motors, controls and communications systems, and related software. For some of these systems there will also be fluid piping, tanks and associated pumps, motors and controls. Within the boundary that defines the system, electrical safety and other health and life safety issues will need to be addressed. In addition, across that system boundary there will be electrical, and possibly also thermal, fluid and gaseous inputs and outputs to consider; not just with respect to how the system could impact its surroundings but how an event associated with the surrounding (such as a fire) could impact the system. Some will focus specifically on electrical safety and others will also require consideration of other health and life safety issues.

The Electrical Inspector’s role in energy storage

The goal of an electrical inspector is to ensure the safety of the built environment as well as the public to the degree that they can be directly or indirectly affected by electrical systems or equipment, products and components associated with those systems. With respect to energy storage systems that involve electrical energy as inputs and/or outputs there are a few conditions to consider in framing a discussion on the role of the electrical inspector; noting that as with other types of equipment and systems there may be as much emphasis on protecting the storage technology from the surrounding environment than the other way around.

System size – is the system unitary in nature, composed of a matched set of components or simply designed, assembled and installed from a number of different "parts”?

System complexity – is the system simply a "box of battery cells” and some wiring and controls or are there also fluid and/or gas storage, piping, and controls involved?

System installation and location – what is the proximity of the system to buildings, facilities and the general public and is it stationary or mobile?

System relation to the grid – is the system on the customer or grid side of the meter and if on the customer side how is it interconnected with the grid?

System ownership and operation – is the system owned and/or operated by a utility (e.g., under PUC jurisdiction), a federal, state or local governmental agency, a contracted third-party energy provider, or a building owner/facility manager?

One way to get a handle on this issue is to contrast the extremes and how the electrical inspector would likely address them. Those extremes are a pre-packaged singular unitary system (kW size) that is installed in, on, or adjacent to a building that is accessible to the general public. Then, a much larger system (Mw size) is assembled and installed on site, from a number of separate "parts”; both are on the customer side of the meter and are owned and operated by the building owner. To frame another set of extremes, consider those above, but on, the utility side, and not necessarily located in, on, or adjacent to buildings accessible to the general public. Simply stated, the former NOT latter in this case could be residential in size, pre-packaged (unitary) and simply be "delivered and hooked up.” The latter could be grid-size and located adjacent to a utility transmission station or a large utility-owned PV farm.

With those extremes, it is also important to recognize any key differences from more traditional electrical equipment and systems. One of those is that storage systems, or at least certain components of the system, will always be energized and cannot be simply turned off. This affects commissioning and operation of systems, but may also necessitate treating the installation differently than more traditional "off/on/off” equipment. Another difference is that the storage systems can contain exotic materials that may be affected by fire, water/flooding, seismic events, and other external factors. In this instance, the electrical inspector would be focused more on the location and installation of the system to protect the system from its environment as opposed to the opposite condition. As noted above, they can also involve stored and/or moving fluids and/or gases as inputs and outputs from the system.


Transformers of the new Salem Smart Power Center that houses a 5-megawatt battery and is operated by Portland General Electric, a research partner of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Courtesy of Portland General Electric

In the simplest of situations, the electrical inspector would verify that the system (e.g., unitary pre-packaged) had been "tested and listed” by an approved third-party agency thereby validating that the system and its components satisfied a particular standard or number of standards where conformance with those standards supports that the system is "safe”. Then the inspector would determine that the system was installed in accordance with the terms of its listing and any adopted codes that are relevant (e.g., the NEC). Wiring methods, circuits, disconnecting means, grounding, clearances, ventilation of interior spaces, marking/signage, the existence of live parts, current limiting/overcurrent protection, etc., would essentially be conducted no differently than if the device was an electric furnace instead of an electrical storage system.

As the system increases in size and capacity, its installation and location scenarios change, and its relationship to the grid and the ownership and operation conditions can also vary. The role of the electrical inspector may become more challenging; however, the fundamentals will remain the same as with the simplest of situations. Building on the information above for unitary-type systems, there would be virtually little difference in the roles and responsibilities of the electrical inspector if the system was composed of matched "tested and listed” components. The only additional effort is to ensure that each component of the system is connected in conformance with the terms and conditions of the listing and adopted codes as to clearances, ventilation, signage, etc. When those components are not a matched "package” but instead the system is essentially assembled on site from various "parts” then all of the above items (acceptability of the components, their proper connection and compliant installation) must still be addressed. The challenge is that the criteria for doing so are not likely to be provided by a single entity (e.g., a manufacturer of the system). Instead, the criteria will come from each component manufacturer and the guidance on the assembly of the components and their individual and collective assembly will be guided by adopted codes such as the NEC or from other standards that may be written specifically to address the installation of such systems; as is the case for instance for NFPA 853 for stationary fuel cells.

There are also the same exact scenarios above on the customer side of the meter but with a utility actually owning a system that is located in, on, or adjacent to a private or public sector building or facility. In those instances, even though the utility is involved, the same considerations above would be applicable, although the inspector would be more likely to also be dealing with utility personnel in the review, inspection and approval process. There is a similar issue with utilities, utility property, and part of the utility systems and equipment that make up and support the business of generating, transmitting, and/or distributing electric power to customers. In those situations, the same general concerns would apply but the criteria used as a basis for acceptance would be those adopted by the utility and are likely to be based on the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC).

One additional consideration is the system life after initial inspection and approval. Typically, once a certificate of occupancy is issued the electrical inspector’s role with a building or facility is completed unless there is an addition, repair, renovation, etc., associated with the building or its systems or system components. Where existing and previously inspected and approved batteries are replaced, renewed, rehabilitated, etc., an electrical permit and subsequent review of the construction documents and inspection of the work may be necessary. For grid-side systems, this review would likely be addressed by the system owner (the utility). For customer-side systems, the notification of pending work on the system should occur through a permit application by the building owner, facility manager or electrical contractor.

ES system performance

Beyond the specific health and life safety aspects associated with an energy storage system is the performance of a system with respect to its intended function (i.e., peak shaving, frequency regulation, renewables smoothing). The availability of uniform, reliable, consistent and comparable information on system performance fosters market acceptance of such systems and eliminates the need for potential customers of such systems to develop their own separate criteria. Some performance information, such as system capacity and rating, is relevant to electrical inspectors, even if minimum performance thresholds are not within the scope of the electrical inspector’s function based on adopted codes and standards.

To address the lack of uniform, consistent and singularly acceptable criteria for measuring and expressing energy storage system performance, the US DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) Energy Storage Systems Program, through the support of PNNL and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), fostered an industry wide collaboration to develop a protocol for measuring and expressing the performance characteristics for energy storage systems. The protocol was published in late 2012 and currently provides criteria for all-electric systems intended for either peak shaving or frequency regulation applications. For those applications, the protocol addresses the definition of the system boundaries, what measurements are to be taken, the duty cycle to be applied to the system, and the methods for determining and reporting system performance from the resultant operational data. Both applications are evaluated as to capacity, round trip energy efficiency, response time and duty cycle round trip efficiency. The frequency regulation application also is evaluated for ramp rate and reference signal tracking.

Most recently a user’s group applied the protocol to a number of system installations and based on their experiences further refinements were suggested to the protocol. Those suggestions are being communicated to both US and International standards developers who are using the protocol as a basis for more traditional standards on system performance. In addition, work is concluding on enhancements to the protocol to cover applications of systems for microgrids and frequency smoothing of renewable energy systems. The core format of the protocol and the process for its development and enhancement serves as a foundation for future standards development and deployment, which in turn assists the industry at large. More importantly this model for criteria development and availability of underlying supporting documentation fosters the more timely availability of specific criteria in standards and codes that electrical inspectors can use in assessing and approving new technology.

What’s next?

The market drivers discussed above will continue to provide an opportunity for and encourage technology development and deployment. This statement holds true no matter the time frame in which it is considered. Just as a market driver for energy storage in the late 1800s might have been "we need to store the electricity we generate during the day to light the lights at night” and the business opportunity associated with artificial lighting at that time, storage technology has evolved since then, is evolving now, and will continue to evolve in the future.

For electrical inspectors some things will remain the same, others will change – more likely they will be new. What will remain the same is the physics associated with electricity. While what is "inside the box” may change and necessitate different considerations, the connections to that box, the associated controls, and what is flowing through the wires and conduit to/from the box will not fundamentally change. Beyond that, as evidenced by some of the storage technologies noted above, there may be an increased need to coordinate with those involved in building, fire, plumbing and mechanical code enforcement to address the integration of the system with the remainder of the built environment in, on, or around buildings. Clearly if the system is of a particular size and/or type those responsible for zoning may also need to become involved with respect to setbacks and emergency vehicle access.

As the technology evolves it will be incumbent for the storage industry to engage all stakeholders, including those involved in electrical and related code development, adoption and enforcement. Concurrently it is appropriate for those same stakeholders to proactively become more engaged with the storage industry at the individual level or through associations and organizations such as IAEI. This article is an example of that outreach.

Beyond the technical, there is also the non-technical or administrative environment. The clear distinction between what is and is not covered by the utility is changing. This will impact who is responsible for the adoption and enforcement of codes, standards and other criteria to govern system installation, commissioning and use. Training, licensing of electrical contractors, and a number of other issues will also have to evolve to keep pace with and to facilitate the acceptance of storage technology.

Electrical inspectors – now more than ever– play an important role in addressing our energy, environmental and economic challenges by fostering the acceptance of energy storage technology. The key overriding factor is to ensure the safety of not only the public at large but of those who are intimately involved with such systems in a thorough and timely manner. The infrastructure that has been in place to ensure that safety and foster new technology acceptance can and will, with your help and dedication, grow and evolve to address new technology; in this case, electrical storage systems.


1DOE/EPRI 2013 Electricity Storage Handbook in Collaboration with NRECA, SAND2013-5131, July 2013 (

2Power Systems of the Future: The Case for Energy Storage, Distributed Generation, and Microgrids, IEEE Smart Grid, November 2012 (

3Protocol for Measuring and Expressing the Performance of Energy Storage Systems, November 2012, PNNL-22010 (

About Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, located in southeastern Washington State, is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security, and the environment, and advances scientific frontiers in the chemical, biological, materials, environmental, and computational sciences. The Laboratory employs about 4,400 staff members, has an annual budget of about $1 billion, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since 1965.

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Tamper-Resistant Receptacles

Posted By Thomas A. Domitrovich, Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In the last edition of this column, we reviewed the incredible receptacle and the standards requirements around these products. Well, I left out one important piece of the puzzle: the tamper-resistant receptacle (TRR). These devices deserve to be put on a pedestal, so to speak as they work every day to protect our future — those little bundles of joy who at times become intrigued by those tiny slots in walls that seem to demand the insertion of paper clips or just about any other object that may seem to fit. Tamper-resistant receptacles are a direct response to statistics of children who tried to do just that and ended up in the hospital.

Just as with any new requirement in our industry, many people question new technology and resist adoption of these types of requirements. The fact is that many new code changes are supported by statistics and data at their core; the TRR requirements are no different. This is why the TRR requirements have fared so well in those jurisdictions adopting the National Electrical Code (NEC). The data behind the requirements for these devices include U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data over a 10-year period that found more than 24,000 children under 10 years of age were treated in emergency rooms for receptacle-related incidents, and more than 10% of those children suffered severe shock and burns. An average of seven children a day suffered from some type of injury from electrical receptacles. Eighty-nine percent (89%) of those injured were under six years of age. Fifty percent (50%) of those injured were toddlers. It was very interesting to learn that the vast majority of these incidents occur in the home where, more than likely, children are under adult supervision.

These devices may be relatively new to residential structures but, the fact is, they have been around for decades; mandated in hospital pediatric wards since NEC 1981 as part of Section 517-90(b) "Pediatric Locations.” The language in this section required, "Fifteen- or 20-ampere, 125-volt receptacles intended to supply areas designated by the governing body of the health care facility as pediatric wards and/or rooms shall be tamperproof. For the purposes of this section, a tamperproof receptacle is a receptacle which by its construction, or with the use of an attached accessory, limits improper access to its energized contacts.” Over time, this section has changed including the removal of the "tamperproof” terminology. These devices are resistant to tampering, not impervious to the act.

It was NEC 2008, as a part of Section 406.11, that introduced these devices as requirements for new and renovated dwelling units. As with every code change and it seems like every new safety provision, some resist local adoption of these types of new requirements. Even in light of opposition, the adoption of this provision has progressed quite well from state to state with approximately four states amending their requirement.

It’s All about the Shutters

The main goal of a TRR is to provide a level of protection to help prevent a child from inserting an object into one of the blade openings of the receptacle. When you look at the face of a TRR, you will notice that the two blade openings have what appears to be a barrier. The round hole, the one that received the grounding pin of the plug, does not have a shutter. Touching or inserting an object into the round hole of a properly wired device is not advised, but because it is the ground reference point should not result in harm to the inserter, more than likely a very curious child. In a NEMA 5-15, 15-A 125-V device the two slots that have barriers are, of course, the hot and neutral (grounded) parts. The object of the design is to ensure that the act of probing with an object, let’s say a bobby pin, safety pin or other similar object, in any single slot does not successfully let it penetrate to the energized components internal to the device.

Insertion is permitted when both slots receive a blade at the same time. In a typical mechanism, inserting a plug compresses a spring, simultaneously opening both shutters. While insertion of an object in any single shutter will not open the device such that the shutter slides out of the way. This sophisticated approach to the shutters ensures that curious George does not successfully hit "pay dirt” and end up in the emergency room. Because these devices have a very important goal and are a bit more complex than the standard receptacle, the UL standard for receptacles was modified to include new requirements. Additional tests for the TRR are included in UL 498, "Standard for Safety Attachment Plugs and Receptacles.”

A Standards Perspective

So let’s peek under the hood and look at the standard requirements behind the products that entered the receptacle world of heavily used and often abused electrical devices.

UL defines this device as "A receptacle which by its construction is intended to limit improper access to its energized contacts in accordance with the National Electrical Code, ANSI/NFPA-70.” In true form for UL 498, "Standard for Safety Attachment Plugs and Receptacles,” tamper-resistant receptacles are subjected to performance requirements that go above and beyond those performance requirements for standard receptacles. The following performance criteria are additional items to those discussed in the last edition of this column.

1. Probe Test: This test starts fresh with twelve untested devices. A probe of specific dimensions, similar to that of a paper clip, is applied to each of the receptacle’s slot openings, at a force of 8 ounces. The test attempts to bypass the tamper-resistance mechanism by manipulation in the slots in any orientation. An indicator is wired to the probe and the wiring terminal of the outlet slot being tested to announce if contact is made. In addition, these devices are subjected to another set of probes for a period of 5 seconds at a force of 10 lbs., looking for a way to bypass the tamper-resistance mechanism.

2. Impact Test: This test uses six of the twelve devices used in the previous test and subjects them to either a ball-pendulum impact or a vertical-ball impact test which strikes the receptacle face or tamper-resistance mechanism or other. The test is trying to determine the ability of the tamper-resistant mechanism to withstand an impact and continue to function. The receptacle cannot crack and the tamper-resistant functionality cannot be compromised. The sphere used is 2 inches in diameter and weighs in at 1.18 lbs. For the pendulum test, the sphere is suspended by a cord and swung like a pendulum. It is dropped 51 inches and the impact is of a 5.0 ft-lb force. In the vertical impact test, the sphere drops from a height of 51 inches and impacts the center of each receptacle.

3. Mechanical Endurance Test: This test uses six devices that previously were subjected to the above probe test. In this test, a machine continuously inserts and withdraws — 5,000 times — an attachment plug having secured solid brass blades. The machine controls the velocity of the withdrawal and insertion; the blades, contacts and tamper-resistant mechanisms must not be adjusted, lubricated, or conditioned in any way before or during this test. After this test, these devices are tested again to ensure attachment plugs can be mated; probes cannot compromise the tamper-resistance ability, and it can perform for the dielectric voltage withstand test.

4. Dielectric Voltage Withstand Test: A TRR must withstand without breakdown, for a period of one minute, the application of a 60 Hz voltage of 1000 V plus twice the rated voltage rating of the receptacle. The devices used again are those previously used in the above tests.

As can be seen here, these devices are given no relief from a standards perspective; they must perform when called to do so.


This is an internal view of how both shutters must be acted upon to permit the blades of the plug to be inserted.

Field Performance

A question that often graces code adoption hearings and other similar venues is the question of insertion force. Inevitably, you hear about concerns of someone having difficulties inserting a plug into the receptacle. The presence of shutters and the lack of familiarity will understandably generate these types of concerns. As shown above, these receptacles do not undergo any additional testing beyond the standard receptacle with regard to insertion forces. If you recall from our last article on the receptacle, insertion force is covered as part of section 117.8 of the standard. This section performs conditioning on the receptacle and requires that the standard blade, which the Standard calls a "gauge,” assembled without the grounding pin and with the line blades without holes, be inserted into each outlet of the receptacle. The insertion forces are measured and must meet specified criteria. As per this requirement, forces must not exceed 40 lbf required to seat a standard gauge against the receptacle face. Again, this is the same requirement for a standard receptacle.

Insertion of plugs in the case of TRRs is physically achieved in the same manner as that for standard receptacles. There is no getting around the fact that some additional frictional forces are present when inserting plugs into these receptacles; the shutters do provide some additional resistance during the processes of insertion. The additional forces are not significant. Problems may arise, though, due to application issues due to various situations contributable to the misuse or abuse of these products. One good example of arguably a less obvious abuse is drywall sanding. There have been reported cases where receptacles present during the process of sanding by drywall finishers have experienced plugging of their shutters. These devices are no different from many other electrical devices and care should be taken during construction. Another example of where insertion may be impacted includes those times when plug blades have been bent and so abused that they are barely recognizable as plug blades. A standard receptacle can be quite forgiving for the insertion of these abused objects. A TRR is much less forgiving than the standard receptacle. Hand tools such as drills and similar are infamous for this in venues where I have personally been involved. Irons, hair dryers, and we cannot leave out the vacuum sweeper, are also guilty offenders. I have had to take pliers to a plug or two to enable its insertion into a standard receptacle as well as the TRR. Another very abusive habit for plugs is the rapid yank to remove from an angle instead of walking up and removing it in the correct manner. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. There are always opportunities to explain the correct way to remove plugs from receptacles and outlet strips and to demonstrate the proper use of these types of devices. There have also been reports of new plugs that are very sharp at the tip of the blades and catch on the shutter, digging into the shutter’s plastic, making it difficult to insert. Those burrs may be the result of a manufacturing process issue or for other post manufacture reasons, but are easily enough dealt with all the same.

Industry References and Resources

The industry has some very helpful resources for additional information on the tamper-resistant receptacle. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) has put together a web site resource to answer all of your questions and to give you enough information to ask additional ones. This resource can be found at

As always, keep safety at the top of your list and ensure you and those around you live to see another day.

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Make Safety a Tradition

Posted By ESFI, Wednesday, November 13, 2013
The fifteen days from December 22 through January 5 are the most dangerous of the year in terms of home Christmas tree structure fires, according to NFPA. Defective holiday lights and line voltage cause approximately 160 home structure fires; Christmas trees account for an additional 230 fires each year. Together, fires beginning with holiday lighting or Christmas trees result in an average of 13 civilian deaths, 34 civilian injuries, and $26.3 million in direct property damage per year.

Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) has prepared a toolkit of holiday safety tips to help counteract these statistics in local communities. A summary of these tips follow.

Pre-Holiday Tips

Test all smoke alarms. Replace the batteries or smoke alarm if the alarm is not working properly.

Inspect all electrical decorations and replace any strands that have broken lights, frayed wires, or insulation breaks.

Do not connect more than three strands of holiday lights, unless you are using LEDs.

Outdoor lights and decorations should be plugged into ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). If the circuits are not protected by GFCIs, purchase a portable outdoor GFCI where electrical supplies are sold. No specific knowledge or equipment are required to operate a portable GFCI.

Check product labels or packaging to determine whether a product is intended for indoor or outdoor use.

Do not overload circuits. Do not place cords under furniture or rugs.

Give a three-foot buffer from any decorations and an open flame (candles, fireplace, etc.).

Purchasing Tips


Check the labels of electrical equipment! Buy equipment only if the label indicated is has undergone independent testing by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL), or Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

  • Buy from trusted retailers to avoid the risk of purchasing counterfeit products.
  • Buy decorations according to their intended use: indoors or outdoors.
  • Send warranty and product registrations forms to manufacturers in order to receive any product recalls promptly.

Natural and Artificial Trees

In natural trees look for the following:

1) well-hydrated with vibrant green needles;

2) needles hard to pluck and don’t break easily from the branches;

3) trunk sticky with sap. Place in a tree stand with plenty of water to keep the tree hydrated and to reduce the risk of fire.

In artificial trees, choose one that is tested and labeled as fire-resistant.

Lights: LEDs vs. Incandescent

Incandescent lights burn more brightly than LEDs.

  • LEDs last up to 20 times longer than incandescent lights.
  • LEDs generate less heat, which translates to greater energy-efficiency.
  • LEDs are made of epoxy lenses, not glass, and are much more durable.
  • LEDs are initially more expensive, but recover cost through energy savings.

Lighting Safety Tips

When planning and implementing the lighting design, follow these safety tips to reduce the risk of property damage, injury or death.

  • When hanging lights outdoors, you should use a wooden or fiberglass ladder to avoid residual shock.
  • Turn off all indoor and outdoor holiday lighting before leaving the house or going to bed.
  • Never drape anything over a light bulb or lampshade.
  • Avoid using candles when possible. Consider using battery-operated candles instead.
  • If you must use candles, place them three feet away from combustible material and in areas where they will not be overturned.
  • Never leave an open flame unattended; extinguish it before you leave the room.

Cord Safety Tips

When using an extension cord, select a cord that is long enough to meet your needs. Never attempt to extend the length of a cord by connecting it to another cord.

  • Check that all electrical items, including extension cords, are certified by a nationally recognized independent testing lab, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL), or Canadian Standards Association (CSA).
  • Extension cords are for temporary use only.
  • Extension cord placement: 1) not in high traffic areas or under carpets, rugs, or furniture; 2) not at sharp angles or in pinched positions; 3) never stapled to wall or baseboard; 4) never run through walls or ceilings.
  • Extension cords usage: 1) never remove the third prong to make a three-prong plug fit a two-prong outlet. 2) Insert plugs fully so that no part of the prongs is exposed when the extension cord is in use. 3) Make sure cords are rated properly for their intended use: indoor or outdoor. 4) Make sure cords meet or exceed the power needs of the item being energized.

Space Heater Safety Tips

Space heaters are one of the leading causes of home fire deaths, responsible for an estimated 412 in 2010, according to a report by NFPA. In addition, it is estimated that heating equipment was involved in 57,100 reported U.S. home structure fires resulting in 1.062 civilian injuries and over $477.7 million in direct property damage.

The leading factors contributing to ignition in home heating equipment fires were failure to clean the device, the heat source being too close to combustibles, and mechanical failure or malfunction of the equipment. Proper installation, use, and maintenance will reduce the risk of property loss, injury, or death resulting from the use of heating equipment.

Gas-fueled heating devices pose additional danger, as they are the primary heating source responsible for non-fire carbon monoxide poisonings. Carbon monoxide is odorless, invisible, and potentially deadly. Test carbon monoxide and smoke alarms each month to keep the family safe and before using additional heating equipment.

All heaters need space. Keep things that can burn at least three feet away from heating equipment.

Plug portable space heaters directly into an outlet; do not use an extension cord.

Vent all fuel-burning equipment to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Also, remove snow or fallen leaves from around the outlet to the outside to ensure proper venting of the exhaust.

Childproofing Tips

Holiday celebrations also present additional safety hazards for children. If you have not already done so, install tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs) or use safety covers on all unused electrical outlets, including those on extension cords. TRRs include a built-in shutter system that prevents foreign objects from being inserted. When equal pressure is applied simultaneously to both sides, the receptacle cover plates open, allowing a standard plug to make contact with the receptacle contact points. Without this synchronized pressure, the cover plates remain closed, preventing the insertion of foreign objects.

Avoid putting Christmas tree lights, ornaments, metal hooks, and other small, "mouth-sized” decorations near the floor or on lower limbs of the tree where young children may reach them. Avoid using sharp or breakable decorations within reach of children. Never allow children to play with lights, electrical decorations, or cords.

Avoid toys with small, detachable pieces that can present choking hazards. Avoid also gifts that require small button batteries; these pose choking risk if children are able to open the battery covers.

Watch children closely in the kitchen. They must be supervised at all times when an electric or gas stove is within reach. Actually, keep them at least three feet away from all cooking and heating equipment. Never hold a child while cooking or removing hot food from the microwave, oven or stove.

Wrapping Up the Season

Holiday decorations are for temporary use. Leaving electrical decorations up for extended periods leaves wires unnecessarily exposed to the elements, which can decrease the product’s shelf life and increase the risk of electrical hazards.

Always unplug decorations by using the gripping area. Pulling on the cord could damage the wire and present a shock or fire hazard. Inspect the wiring and discard any cracked, frayed, or that appear to have damaged wire insulation. Label, box, and store indoor decorations separate from outdoor decorations. Remember to store all electrical decorations in a dry area that is not accessible to children or pets.

Natural Christmas trees continue to dry out, making them increasingly flammable. Check with your local community to find a recycling program through which to dispose of your tree early in the New Year.

For more information on how to wrap up the holidays safely and on other electrical safety resources for use throughout the year, visit or contact them at or (703) 841-3229.


Electrical Safety Foundation International (EFSI), Make Safety a Tradition community outreach kit. Available from

CEO David Clements represents IAEI on the ESFi board of directors.

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Holiday Lighting Requirements and the NEC

Posted By Joseph Wages, Jr., Wednesday, November 06, 2013

I was in a very nice restaurant the other evening, and I noticed something while pondering the electrical code that got me to thinking: Those are really cool "Christmas Lights” they have strung all around the restaurant. It made me think of the holiday season. The only problem was it was July! 

Holiday lighting has existed for centuries. Early lighting consisted of bringing in an evergreen tree and adorning it with candles. It did not take long for an open flame and a drying out tree to produce unfavorable results.

With the development and use of electricity came the desire to make things safer. Out went the unsafe candles and in came the strands of holiday lighting. Early versions of holiday lighting were seen annually during the Christian celebrations of the birth of Jesus. Millions of homes were decorated with various forms of holiday lighting strands and ornaments. Children were mesmerized by the beautiful lights and with the hopes that Santa would be visiting soon.


Photo 1. Cool icy treats available from this holiday lights ship.  Photos by J. Wages, Jr.

Who can forget the movie Christmas Vacation and Clark Griswold’s obsession with having the brightest house on the block? Clark Griswold’s installation had electrical inspectors cringing all over the world, but the local utility was happily benefiting from the use of more electricity.

Unfortunately, there are people that take things a little too far. The NEC addresses holiday lighting in Article 410 and Article 590 and limits the use of this product. We will also be referencing UL standards in this article.


Photo 2. Can you find the opossum in the sea of lights? This photo demonstrates that not all holiday lighting is temporary; some is left in place year-round.  Photo by J. Wages, Jr. 

One of the requirements is that holiday lighting shall be listed. Another one limits the installation and use to 90 days as seen below for your review:

410.160 Listing of Decorative Lighting. Decorative lighting and similar accessories used for holiday lighting and similar purposes, in accordance with 590.3(B), shall be listed. (2011 NEC)

590.3 Time Constraints.

(B) 90 Days. Temporary electric power and lighting installations shall be permitted for a period not to exceed 90 days for holiday decorative lighting and similar purposes. (2011 NEC)

590.5 also contains lighting requirements for holiday lighting.

A Little History

A wise man asked me a series of questions concerning these installations. Since I did not know all the answers, I visited our library to find a few more answers.

From my research results, requirements for these installations first appeared in the 1971 NEC. At that time, these requirements were located in a new article, entitled "Temporary Wiring,” and were found in Chapter 3, Article 305. Code-Making Panel 6 made the proposal in hopes of generating enough comments to establish an adequate section for temporary wiring in the NEC. The panel vote was unanimous for this new article.

The language was similar to that now located in Article 590. The language in 305-1(b) stated that temporary electrical power and lighting installations may be used for a period not to exceed 90 days for Christmas decorative lighting, carnivals, and similar purposes, and for experimental and development work. It is interesting that the word "Christmas” was specifically mentioned at that time.

The 1999 NEC was the last edition to contain Article 305. For the 2002 NEC, Article 305 was deleted and Article 527 became the location for finding a new term holiday lighting; but this article was to be short-lived. In the 2005 NEC, Article 527 vanished, and Temporary Wiring Installations was moved to Article 590 where it remains today.


Photo 3.  Old-fashioned Christmas lights. Courtesy of David Dini, Underwriters Laboratories

It is interesting to ponder another question. We often see trees within parks adorned with holiday lighting. Is this permitted by the NEC? Let’s visit 590.4 (J) in the 2011 NEC concerning support. The language here reads:

590.4 General

(J) Support. Cable assemblies and flexible cords and cables shall be supported in place at intervals that ensure that they will be protected from physical damage. Support shall be in the form of staples, cable ties, straps, or similar type fittings installed so as not to cause damage.

Vegetation shall not be used for support of overhead spans of branch circuits or feeders.

However, we find an exception to this main rule, which states:

590.4 General

(J) Support.

Exception. For holiday lighting in accordance with 590.3(B), where the conductors or cables are arranged with strain relief devices, tension take-up devices, or other approved means to avoid damage from the movement of the live vegetation, trees shall be permitted to be used for support of overhead spans of branch-circuit conductors or cables.

Articles 225 and 230 still prohibit feeders and services from being supported by vegetation. By exception in Article 590, branch-circuit conductors and cables are allowed to be supported by vegetation and trees if appropriate strain relief devices and/or take-up devices are used.

Unintended Consequences

Unfortunately, needless loss of life and property result from the use of these products. Every year there are news reports of families losing their homes or loved ones due to careless use of holiday lighting. Placement of these products on once live trees that have a tendency to dry out has resulted in many fires. Improper use of extension cords is another contributing factor. Again, revisiting the movie Christmas Vacation helps drive home this point. In this scene, a family member who is a careless smoker ignites the tree at their Christmas celebration.

Interestingly, nationally recognized testing laboratories such as Underwriters Laboratories conduct investigations on the flammability of some of these products. This author was fortunate enough to be able to witness one of these tests. The tests were conducted with two Christmas trees. One had a fire rating and the other did not. It does not take long for a once beautifully adorned tree to become a raging tower of inferno. Viewing this testing procedure drove home for me the simple point that things like this could become truly dangerous if not treated properly.

UL Standard 588

UL 588 addresses the use of Seasonal and Holiday Decorative Products. This standard was developed due to testing of these various seasonal and holiday products. The UL 588 document is included for your review:

Seasonal and Holiday Decorative Products

UL 588

1 Scope

1.1 These requirements cover temporary-use, seasonal decorative-lighting products and accessories with a maximum input voltage rating of 120 V to be used in accordance with the National Electrical Code, ANSI/NFPA 70. Temporary-use is considered to be a period of installation and use not exceeding 90 days.

1.2 These requirements cover factory-assembled seasonal lighting strings with push-in, midget-screw, or miniature-screw lampholders connected in series for across-the-line use or with candelabra- or intermediate-screw lampholders connected in parallel for direct-connection use. These requirements also cover factory-assembled seasonal decorative outfits such as wreaths, stars, light sculptures, crosses, candles or candle sets without lamp shades, products in the shape of, or in resemblance to, a Christmas tree not exceeding 30 inches (762 mm) in height as measured from the top of the tree to the bottom of the base of the tree and provided with simulated branches and needles, products in the shape of, or in resemblance to, a wreath not exceeding 48 inches (1219 mm) in outer diameter and provided with simulated branches and needles, blow-molded figures or objects, animated figures, tree tops, controllers, tree stands, and motorized decorative displays. These requirements cover products which are portable and not permanently connected to a power source.

1.3 These requirements additionally cover ornaments which are provided with an adapter for connection to a push-in lampholder and are intended to replace a push-in lamp in a series-connected decorative-lighting string or decorative outfit.

1.4 These requirements do not cover strings employing lampholders larger than intermediate-screw, non-seasonal lighting, non-seasonal products, permanently connected products, non-decorative lighting intended for illumination only, cord sets, or temporary power taps. These requirements also do not cover nightlights which are covered under the Standard for Direct Plug-In Nightlights, UL 1786, or flexible lighting products that are not part of a decorative outfit which are covered under the Standard for Flexible Lighting Products, UL 2388.

1.6 These requirements do not cover portable electric lamps intended for general illumination with a seasonal decoration and a typical lamp shade construction open at the top and bottom, which are covered under the Standard for Portable Electric Luminaires, UL 153.

One can also find useful information within the 2013 UL White book. See Categories DGVT, DGWU, DGXU, DGXO, DGXW and DGZZ. Category DGVT does not cover nonseasonal lighting, nonseasonal products, permanently connected products, nondecorative lighting intended for general illumination only, cord sets (extension cords) or relocatable power taps.

UL 588 has language at 1.6 to clarify that a Portable Lamp (intended for general illumination) is not covered under UL 588, even if it has a seasonal theme. An example would be a portable lamp with a lampshade and a Santa Claus on its stand. This would still be covered under UL 153, the Standard for Portable Lamps.


Photo 4. Christmas lighting to the extreme. 

UL 153, states at 1.4 that these requirements do not cover Christmas trees and decorative lighting outfits, electric candles and candelabras without lampshades, or portable luminaires with a seasonal decoration and a lampshade of other than the open top and bottom construction. It directs us to the Standard for Seasonal and Holiday Decorative Products, UL 588.

In Conclusion

The holidays are a time for celebration with family and loved ones. The anticipation of Santa and his reindeer is broadcast annually by many weather stations throughout the country. Technological advances have allowed us to track Santa with great detail and success, but holiday lighting has a purpose and a time frame for use. It is fun and enjoyable, but all good things must come to an end. For the safety of the user, this lighting has been deemed as temporary and has a 90-day limit of use.


Photo 5. UL testing procedures help assure safety with these products.

Take a look around and see how much of this lighting is being used on a non-temporary basis. There may be a need for manufacturers to produce a similar item that can be tested and listed for year-round use. A review of fire statistics might suggest that this product could be safely used more than the Code currently allows. It is evident that demand exists for such items. The Code may need to look further at these installations and offer additional guidance.

Some homes and businesses elect to leave these lights installed yearly so as not to have to put them up and take them back down. Even though these items are not energized for a vast amount of the year, is this acceptable and in line with the intended use of this product? Let’s take a few moments to think about the consequences of this situation. It is never our intent for someone to get hurt. This is not the season for something that is unavoidable to take place. Happy Holidays to all and please celebrate safely!


National Electrical Code, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2011

Copyright © Underwriters Laboratories Inc. Standard for Seasonal and Holiday Decorative Products, UL 588, 18th edition, 2000

Copyright © Underwriters Laboratories Inc. Standard for Portable Electrical Luminaires, UL153, 12th edition, 2002

Copyright © Underwriters Laboratories Inc. Guide Information for Electrical Equipment , White Book, 2013. Categories DGVT, DGWU, DGXU, DGXO, DGXW and DGZZ.

Tags:  Featured  holiday lighting  November-December 2013 

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