The National Electrical Installation Standards (NEIS) are the first quality and performance standards for electrical construction. Since the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) began publishing them in 1998, NEIS have grown into a series of more than 30 installation manuals covering every type of electrical product and system. They are available in three formats: books, on CD-ROM and PDF downloads from the Internet.

NEIS are intended for consulting engineers and facility managers in making their plans and specifications for electrical construction projects. Everything in NECA’s installation practices complies with the National Electrical Code (NEC). Because they are quality standards, NEIS also contain additional performance requirements that go beyond the minimum Code rules.

The primary purpose of NEIS is to define the meaning of workmanlike installation of electrical products and systems. Although this requirement appears in the NEC, it isn’t defined. Because the NEC is a book of safety rules and not a comprehensive wiring code, it doesn’t include many details of how electrical products and systems are installed. Subjects covered by NEIS that don’t appear in the NEC include the following:

°Receiving, unpacking, storing and protecting construction materials

°“Burn in” lamps, testing, commissioning

°Seismic bracing

°Orderly turnover of projects to owners

°Job site cleanup, disposal and recycling of leftover materials

°Maintenance and repairs after initial construction

°Recovering after adverse events (floods, short circuits, ground faults)

NEIS Included in 2005 NEC

The 2005 NEC is the first edition to specifically mention NECA’s NEIS. References appear in the Fine Print Notes to 110.12 (General Rules), 760.8 (Fire Alarms), 770.24 (Fiber Optics), 800.24 (Telephone-Datacom), 820.24 (Television-Radio) and 830.24 (Broadband Systems). Due to a printing error, the NEIS reference for 760.8 doesn’t appear in the very first printing of the 2005 NEC. But it does appear in subsequent versions.

“One good reason for these NEIS is a lack of Code enforcement out in the hinterland,” said Herb Craig, P.E., a consulting engineer in Highland, Ind. “When we build jobs in Chicago, for example, there’s a very strong enforcement component. But in other areas where we do work, especially smaller towns, the enforcement may not be available.

“This has a detrimental effect when you’re bidding jobs because, sometimes, other contractors use that lack of inspections to their advantage. What’s good about NEIS standards is that they reinforce the NEC by providing more details on what’s really needed to do the job.”

Thomas Glavinich, P.E., D.E., is both an electrical engineer in private practice and an assistant professor at the University of Kansas.

“One of the problems we have in the construction industry today is that people aren’t playing on a level field,” said Glavinich. “The specs typically don’t address the level of quality to the extent that the engineer or owner might want. What we engineers do is rely on the professionalism and experience of the installer to flesh out those specs and make the job as good as possible. But that approach doesn’t always work. Especially in a low-bid situation, you may wind up with some contractor who does everything the cheapest way he can get away with.”

Herb Craig also points out another important angle to NECA’s NEIS: “Let’s face it, not all engineers or inspectors are Code experts. P.E. examinations, unlike electrical contractors’ licensing exams, don’t test for knowledge of industry codes and standards. And, while there are certification programs available for electrical inspectors, not all municipalities require them,” Craig said. “When inspectors specialize in a particular kind of installation or a particular industry for a long time, and then get involved on a new type of project, they may have to go back and study to broaden their focus, get the big picture again. The NEIS can help you do that. By adopting these standards, local inspection departments will be able to maintain the safety and quality of electrical installations within their jurisdiction.”

True industry standards

It is important for specifiers and Code officials to understand that NEIS aren’t just NECA publications. Every standard is developed in cooperation with other technical organizations and professional societies.

“Developing standards jointly with the right expert groups is an important strategy for making our NEIS the best they can be, and ensuring that they are widely accepted by architects, engineers, and others in the building industry,” said NECA CEO John Grau.

For example, the three NEIS for lighting installation were all jointly developed with the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (a fourth is currently in progress). Other organizations that NECA develops joint NEIS with include the Aluminum Association, BICSI (telecommunications installers), Electrical Generating Systems Association, the Fiber Optic Association, National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), the Steel Tube Institute (STI) and the Transformer Association.

ANSI and NEC angles make stronger standards

Besides being developed in collaboration with other industry stakeholders, another important fact is that NEIS are approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the same as the NEC, National Fire Alarm Code, Life Safety Code and other regulatory documents. ANSI represents a higher level of approval that improves acceptance by all parties in the building industry, and standards approved by ANSI are generally regarded as the “official” U.S. standard on a particular subject.

As part of the ANSI process, each draft NEIS is reviewed by the NEC-making panel responsible for that subject. This coordination helps ensure that there are no conflicts between the Code and NECA’s installation standards and makes them suitable for regulatory adoption.

Florida counties Miami-Dade and Broward were the first governmental entities in the United States to approve NEIS for regulatory use. They were adopted into the South Florida Building Code in 1999, as official references for construction methods.

Training users about NEIS

“Section 110.12 on workmanship is probably the most quoted—and least understood—single requirement in the whole NEC,” said Billie Zidek, NECA director of standards. “And yet, good workmanship is clearly related to better performance for the customer, and it’s definitely related to safety. That’s why our NEIS concentrate so much on quality and workmanship issues.”

Because improving construction quality also improves Code compliance, electrical inspectors have a strong interest in NECA’s performance standards. For several years now, the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) has put on NEIS training classes for electrical inspectors and contractors around the country. Michael Johnston, IAEI education director, gave his first training class on NEIS in 2003 for a county building department in the Kansas City area.

Since then, Johnston has conducted NEIS training classes for IAEI and NECA chapters around the country. He also did a presentation at the 2004 NFPA annual meeting in Salt Lake City, where the 2005 NEC was approved.

“There seems to be an increasing amount of interest in this type of training, as it definitely fills a need,” said Johnston. “IAEI recognizes the value of the NEIS publications to the electrical industry and is happy to continue working cooperatively with NECA to assist in disseminating this information.”

“The level of participation in this educational seminar reflects the support for NEIS that we’ve received from IAEI and individual electrical inspectors over the past few years,” said chapter manager Andy Porter. “It’s clear that inspectors view the NEIS as a means of defining quality work—a positive development for our industry and particularly for the customers of electrical contractors.”

As previously stated, the primary purpose of National Electrical Installation Standards is to be referenced by specifiers in their contract documents for electrical construction projects. And in a time of increasing cost pressures on building professionals, this may be one of their most important advantages.

As Glavinich said: “NEIS give the engineers a concise way to take the information they need, already packaged together, and insert in into the specs quickly and easily. Let’s face it, most engineers are more focused on the technical aspects of a building or system—how it’s going to perform as opposed to the quality aspects. These National Electrical Installation Standards just make it easier to spec more aspects of the job.”

“NEIS standards level the playing field,” said Greg Massey, P.E., a consulting engineer in the Kansas City area. “They ensure that every electrical contractor has to meet the same level of quality during an installation.

“And because the NEIS are developed by engineers, manufacturers, contractors and Code-making experts, I’m comfortable using these standards on all my projects. National Electrical Installation Standards are like having my own specifications published.” EC

STAUFFER is executive director of standards and safety at the National Electrical Contractors Association, headquartered in Bethesda, MD.  He is a member of the National Electrical Code committee and the NFPA 70E committee, and has written several books.