Approval Factors: Working to Get the Two Magic Words

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“Installation approved!” It’s what those involved in construction strive for as they build their projects. Obtaining approvals involves multiple steps, many of which are related to the communication and relation with inspectors. The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) has significant responsibilities. This article looks at approval factors that inspectors and contractors alike must understand and applies beyond the electrical construction discipline. The focus here is specifically on electrical installation and equipment approvals.

Article 90 of the National Electrical Code (NEC) provides information related to its scope, how the NEC is arranged, how it is intended to be applied and enforced, how units of measurement are indicated, wiring and planning, examination for safety, and so forth. Sections 90.2(C) and 90.4 contain two provisions related specifically to inspection approval factors.

Let’s review each of these. Section 90.2(C) indicates an inspector can grant special permission during the approval process. The AHJ does not often use this, but it is essential when dealing with situations that involve unique installations, equipment, methods or procedures that the current edition of the NEC does not address. The definition of the term “Special Permission” indicates this is the “written consent of the authority having jurisdiction,” meaning special permission from the AHJ must be in writing.

Both contractors and inspectors alike must understand Section 90.4, Enforcement. The AHJ has three significant responsibilities according to this rule. The first is interpreting the rules of the NEC . The inspector must interpret the minimum requirements and apply them accordingly to electrical installations and systems. The second responsibility is deciding on equipment and material approvals, and the third is related to situations where “special permission” could be granted, as discussed above.

Definitions are important in applying any code or standard. There are key definitions in play specific to AHJ approvals. The first of these is the definition of the word “approved.” This is defined in Article 100 as “acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction.”

The second definition is of “authority having jurisdiction,” defined by the NEC as “an organization, office, or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure.”

Notice the definition indicates the AHJ could be an individual or office in addition to an organization, meaning this entity could be an individual assigned to a facility. More often than not, the AHJ is the state or local organization responsible for issuing permits for construction projects, providing inspections as required and requested, and issuing approvals.

Section 110.2 indicates conductors and equipment required or permitted by the NEC are acceptable only if approved. This requirement aligns directly with the definition of approved, which triggers the AHJ’s direct involvement. Section 110.3 outlines three very important approval factors for the AHJ. They are, in sequence, examination, installation and use, and listing (product certification). Under examination in subdivision (A), there are multiple factors that an inspector uses to carry out approving responsibilities, including suitability related to conformance, mechanical strength, wire bending space, electrical insulation heating effects, and other factors related to practical safeguarding of persons and property.

In subdivision (B), the rules are about installation instructions that are included with equipment and following them. In subdivision (C) covering listing, the approving factors include product testing, evaluation and product certification (listing) must be performed by qualified electrical testing laboratories. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) carries a list of qualified electrical testing laboratories OSHA recognizes. It can be found at osha.gov/dts/otpca/nrtl/nrtllist.html. AHJs usually refer to this list when asked which qualified electrical testing laboratories they recognize. Inspection jurisdictions rely heavily on the use of listed equipment as a basis for issuing approvals.

As many new technologies are being utilized in the electrical industry, the NEC is incorporating requirements to specifically address them. Examples are rules that apply to energy storage systems, large-scale photovoltaic systems, DC microgrids, energy management systems, inductive and conductive electric vehicle charging equipment, power over ethernet rules, and so forth.

AHJs can rest easier knowing the NEC has the appropriate requirements that can be applied to installations involving new technologies and systems. Jurisdictions that do not adopt the latest edition are actually handicapping inspectors that have to apply electrical codes to new technologies. Serious consideration should be given to this when jurisdictions are engaged in processes of NEC legal adoption. It is the right thing to do not only in the best interest of inspectors to assist with approval processes but also in the interest of public safety.

About the Author

Michael Johnston

Executive Director of Standards and Safety, NECA

Michael Johnston is NECA’s executive director of standards and safety. He is chair of the NEC Correlating Committee; chair of the NFPA Electrical Section; and a member of the IBEW, NFPA Education Section and the UL Electrical Council. Reach him at mj...

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