Plugging In

Electrical and low-voltage contractors know interpreting and applying electrical codes and standards can be a challenge. Keeping staff trained on the applicable standards and how to follow them also can be a difficult task.

Contractors should keep on hand a copy of the three telecommunications/structured cabling standards from the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) ANSI/TIA/EIA 568 series. These standards cover a variety of topics from cable construction to performance to testing requirements. They also include details such as pathways and spaces, bonding and grounding, and optical fiber. This is in addition to, of course, the National Electrical Code (NEC), which covers remote-control, signaling, power-limited circuits and communications systems in Chapters 7 and 8.

As most contractors know, the NEC, published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), is designed to protect people and property from the dangers of electrical power by establishing requirements for electrical wiring and equipment. The Code must be properly understood, and contractors need to keep track of changes.

“I get a lot of questions regarding what codes mean, or why do they have this requirement,” said Charlie Trout, NECA Codes & Standards Committee member. He has answered more than a thousand inquiries on his online “Code Question of the Day” column.

Beyond the NEC, keeping up-to-date with standards and following them properly requires knowledge and resources. Phoenix-based electrical and datacom contractor Cannon & Wendt Technologies uses material from IHS Global, which sells the latest standards for electrical and telecom work.

In recent years, other standards options have become industry-accepted, including those from BICSI, an information technology professional association based in Tampa, Fla. This group has recently increased its involvement in the standards-development portion of the telecommunications industry. Prior to that, BICSI spent years developing and distributing training manuals.

Both IHS Global and BICSI also provide codes and standards amendment sheets and errata to their customers.

There is also the National Electrical Installation Standards (NEIS), which go beyond the minimum safety requirements to define what is necessary to install electrical products and systems in what is considered a neat and workmanlike manner. NECA develops and publishes the NEIS standards under procedures accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

If a contractor follows the installation methods and practices the NEIS recommends, the electrical installation the company designs or installs not only meets code, it meets the expectations shared by everyone involved in that installation: the owner, specifying engineer, electrical contractor, and the authority having jurisdiction. More information about the NEIS standards can be found at

Learning about codes and standards
To keep staff up-to-date regarding training, there are a variety of options.

Since the NEC is published on a three-year schedule, it’s necessary for contractors to stay informed. The 2011 NEC, NFPA 70, was just released, so it’s a good time to get up to speed on what changed. Distribution companies, service providers, trade associations and partner companies sponsor informative classes on NEC changes, which makes it easy for contractors to stay current.

“Distribution partners offer to sponsor classes to keep our guys trained and current in their code and standard knowledge,” said Kerry A. Engmark, RCDD, operations manager at Cannon & Wendt Technologies.

Contractors often come to BICSI for answers, said Jeff Silveira, standards director at BICSI. So BICSI schedules training programs for companies.

“We don’t advocate a specific product, and we don’t come in and say ‘run the power a certain way,’ ” Silveira said.

BICSI can, however, help contractors understand the power requirements inside telecom spaces, such as equipment or datacom rooms for storage of servers.

“These days, you need a lot more [receptacle] outlets on the wall to power all this stuff. What was a telecom closet is now a data center,” he said, adding that this may require more work on the part of contractors who could need support on low-voltage requirements.

Silveira expects smart grid installations to open the doors even further for contractors to begin low-voltage installations. He pointed to the greater use of alternative-energy sources—wind turbines and solar panels—and the increased use of telecom systems for organizations such as transportation districts.

Excellence in electrical contracting, services and safe installations are the results of staying current with the NEC, Silveira said. Electrical contractors use the NEC for estimating, designing and installing electrical systems.

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at

About the Author

Claire Swedberg

Freelance Writer
Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at .

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