he National Electrical Code (NEC) was introduced in 1897 before the advent of common home innovations such as vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and refrigerators. When the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) became the sponsor of the NEC in 1911, only about one-quarter of American homes were electrified.
In contrast, the average American home today has more television sets than people. A home built in 1930 had much different electrical needs and demands than one built today, which is why it is so important for consumers to understand their home electrical systems and the demands placed on them by today’s electrical appliances.
Much like consumer electronics magazines highlight the newest gadgets on the market, the National Electrical Code features the latest technologies to make sure that your home’s level of safety also remains on the cutting edge.
The NEC protects the public by incorporating the latest advancements in electrical safety, and is revised every three years to align with the latest technologies. Although the requirements for home safety devices in the NEC only apply to new homes and renovations, these technologies easily can be retrofitted into any existing home electrical system to improve safety. These devices include arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs), ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs).
Every year, more than 2,400 children – seven children a day – are treated at hospital emergency rooms for injuries caused by inserting foreign objects such as keys or hairpins into electrical outlets. Statistics have confirmed that devices such as plastic outlet caps provide inadequate protection for young children, and even can pose a choking hazard. One study conducted by Temple University’s Biokinetics Laboratory reported that 100 percent of children ages 2 to 4 years old were able to remove plastic outlet covers from the sockets in less than 10 seconds.
Fortunately, these injuries easily can be prevented with the installation of TRRs. These devices look like traditional electrical outlets, but feature internal receptacle cover plates that are designed to prevent children from sticking objects into outlet slots while still allowing plugs to be inserted and removed. These advanced electrical safety devices feature an internal shutter mechanism that only opens when pressure is simultaneously and equally applied to both sides of the shutter, such as when a plug is inserted.
Otherwise, the shutter remains closed and cannot be penetrated with objects such as keys, paperclips or hairpins. They have proven so effective that they have been required since the 2008 edition of the NEC in all electrical outlets and receptacles installed in newly constructed homes. Amazingly, official estimates suggest that the associated increased cost per average new home is less than $50.
Though TRRs offer a permanent, reliable and automatic protection for children, many consumers still are unaware of their existence. Adoption of the current edition of the NEC ensures lifesaving technology, such as TRRs, will be included in new homes and consumers will be protected regardless of their familiarity with the device.
Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that AFCIs could prevent roughly 50 percent of the electrical fires that occur every year. An arc fault is a dangerous electrical problem caused by damaged, overheated or stressed electrical wiring or devices. AFCIs offer enhanced fire protection capabilities by recognizing when a hazardous arcing situation occurs in a home’s wiring and immediately cuts power to the circuit before a fire can start. AFCIs save lives and property by preventing fires rather than just mitigating their damage.
First introduced to the NEC in 1999, AFCIs hardly are new technology. Yet, the NEC continuously has sought to further expand the use of AFCIs by encouraging their protection in every room of the house.
The 2014 NEC provides a variety of options through which consumers can provide AFCI protection in accordance with requirements. Stopping a fire before it can start is the best way to save lives and property, and AFCIs offer that preventative protection. Thanks to the NEC, new homes will be more protected than ever before.
Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters
A ground fault is an unintentional electrical path between a power source and a grounded surface. This leakage in current usually occurs when an electrical appliance is damaged or wet, causing electrical current to flow outside of the circuit conductors.
GFCIs are electrical safety devices that are designed to protect people from electric shock and electrocution caused by ground faults. GFCIs prevent this potentially deadly shock by quickly shutting off power to the circuit if the electricity flowing into the circuit differs, even slightly, from that returning, indicating a loss of current.
First mandated in the 1971 edition, the NEC continually has expanded its GFCI requirements to all kitchens, bathrooms, garages, basements, crawlspaces and outdoors. Since their inclusion in the NEC, GFCIs have saved thousands of lives and have helped cut the number of home electrocutions in half.
Any delay in the adoption of the most recent edition of the NEC prevents construction from incorporating new technology and practices that were not available for consideration in the previous edition. Prolonged use of outdated codes also stifles the continuous dialogue and transparency of the process and leaves residents years behind the established minimum requirements for safe electrical installations. This not only puts residents at a heightened risk of electrical hazards, but also hinders the development of future technologies associated with electrical safety and energy efficiency.
As the unbiased authority on electrical safety, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is a firm supporter of the National Electrical Code and its current three-year revision cycle. The process is accountable to the public, both in soliciting public participation in the development process and the resulting protections provided by the Code. ESFI strongly encourages states and jurisdictions to adopt the most recent NEC edition to protect their residents with the latest advancements in electrical safety. The NEC saves lives and its importance should not be minimized; it is the agreed upon minimum standard for safety, as determined by experts, and should be promptly adopted in full.
'Cracking the Code'
To commemorate May as National Electrical Safety Month, ESFI spearheads an annual campaign to educate key audiences about the steps that can be taken to reduce the number of electrically related fires, fatalities, injuries and property loss. ESFI’s National Electrical Safety Month 2014 campaign features the release of Electrical Safety Illustrated, which is a special-edition publication that discusses timely electrical safety issues and equips consumers with the knowledge to protect their homes, families and communities from electrical hazards.
These new National Electrical Safety Month resources shine a spotlight on the National Electrical Code, the importance of timely adoption and the rationale behind the three-year code cycle. Further, in-depth materials also were developed to better educate consumers about the safety benefits of AFCIs, TRRs and GFCIs.
Working together with our many safety partners, ESFI is making a difference in reducing electrically related deaths, injuries and property losses – one home and one workplace at a time.
Brett Brenner is president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International.
For more information on ESFI and National Electrical Safety Month, visit http://www.esfi.org.
About Electrical Safety Foundation International
The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety at home and in the workplace.
Founded in 1994 as a cooperative effort by the National Electrical ManufactureTrs Association, Underwriters Laboratories and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, ESFI depends on the support of community and industry stakeholders to provide funding for the development of new programs and resources throughout the year. ESFI receives funding from electrical manufacturers, distributors, independent testing laboratories, retailers, insurers, utilities, safety organizations and trade and labor associations.
Since its inception, ESFI has led the way in promoting electrical safety across North America. Over the years, ESFI has become highly regarded by industry, media and consumer safety partners alike by constantly reinvigorating the way electrical safety is addressed. ESFI creates unique awareness and educational resources designed to meet the diverse needs of a variety of at-risk groups.