I enjoy working in the field. Providing construction oversight services for our clients gives me the opportunity to see the results of our designs and evaluate whether the contractors clearly understood our specifications. At other times, I assist the owner as a liaison between the contractors and the code-enforcement officials during the final approval stages of a project.

During one of the projects where I acted as a liaison, I had the opportunity to work with a relatively large electrical contractor. This large project required the electrical contractor to provide a project supervisor and two project foremen, as well as a “special” foreman for the fire alarm system installation.

While walking with the electrical inspector and foremen as we inspected the fire alarm system, I listened to the inspector’s comments regarding other electrical issues. The inspector had graciously agreed to provide a “courtesy” pre-inspection to give the foremen a heads-up on what he saw as code violations.

The inspector’s diligence impressed me. He tried to offer comments that would make the final electrical inspection run smoothly when he made the “official” visit. To put this in perspective, in addition to inspecting each floor of the buildings, we crawled around a series of attics that connected four large buildings. The temperature hovered at 110°F!

I took notes on some of the issues the inspector brought up and reported these to the owner because the issues could become “showstoppers,” preventing the buildings from opening as planned.

The next morning, while meeting with the general contractor and owner to discuss these showstopping issues, the owner asked me to meet with the electrical contractor project supervisor.

“You know we are really having a tough time meeting the project schedule because they changed inspectors on us,” he said.

I asked how that could possibly impact the schedule, and he replied, “You know, once you get used to an inspector and what he’s looking for, you just make sure you take care of those issues. This new inspector is finding violations the other inspector never discussed.”

I responded that his observation may be true, but to the best of my knowledge, the National Electrical Code (NEC) hadn’t changed, so what was his point? It seems true that the previous electrical inspector had overlooked the Code issues found by the new inspector. But that does not exonerate the contractor from Code compliance.

Some of the Code issues pointed out to the electrical foremen included:

1. Unidentified fire alarm system junction boxes

NEC Article 760-10. Fire Alarm Circuit Identification. Fire alarm circuits shall be identified at terminal and junction locations, in a manner that will prevent unintentional interference with the signaling circuit during testing and servicing.

2. Electrical wiring draped over the automatic sprinkler piping

NFPA 13-1999 Section 6-1.1.5. Sprinkler piping or hangers shall not be used to support non-system components.

3. Electrical MC cables attached to the suspended ceiling suspension system

NEC Article 300-11 (1). Wiring located within the cavity of a fire-rated floor-ceiling or roof-ceiling assembly shall not be secured to, or supported by, the ceiling assembly, including the ceiling support wires. An independent means of secure support shall be provided. Where independent support wires are used, they shall be distinguishable by color, tagging, or other effective means from those that are part of the fire-rated design.

4. Cables and raceways not supported in accordance with the NEC

NEC Article 300-11. Securing and Supporting. (a) Secured in Place. Raceways, cable assemblies, boxes, cabinets, and fittings shall be securely fastened in place. Support wires that do not provide secure support shall not be permitted as the sole support. Support wires and associated fittings that provide secure support and that are installed in addition to the ceiling grid support wires, shall be permitted as the sole support. Where independent support wires are used, they shall be secured at both ends. Cables and raceways shall not be supported by ceiling grids.

In addition to the supervisor’s concern with a new inspector, he felt that I had misrepresented the results of the walkthrough. His foremen told him the inspector found a couple of items, but “nothing serious.”

He wanted to know my take on the meeting, and I offered a honest reply. His foremen had failed to take one note while the inspector walked them through the Code violations. I admitted that even I did not have a complete list. I had only recorded the items that seemed important to me.

“Starting today they will take notes,” he replied.

And what is the moral of my story? The contractor has the responsibility to both know and follow related codes at the time of installation, regardless of who inspects. And finally, when an inspector offers help, for goodness sake, take notes! EC

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.