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The Electrical Code

The new electrical code editions and their importance



In January 2002, the National Fire Protection Assn. (NFPA), Quincy, MA, published (for field use) an updated set of standards by which the electrical industry must operate. As a subset of the electrical industry, the electric-sign industry needs to understand and abide by these changes.

Many in our industry believe that permits apply only to zoning or a proposed display’s aesthetics. Unfortunately, this is a sad scenario. In reality, obtaining electrical permits and installing those displays per the electrical-code standards are issues of paramount importance. Doing so protects both the safety and liability of all concerned parties.

In fact, if you design, sell, coordinate, erect, install, maintain or inspect electrical signs, these code books should not only be on your desk, but also on the dashboard of any vehicle you drive to jobs that involve wiring. How it affects our industry Sadly, many signmakers have little, if any, knowledge of the electrical code.

Many years ago, this point was driven home to me when an electrical inspector in Burlington, VT, asked us to oversee two out-of-state sign installers working at a mall. At the mall, we found two men installing high-voltage (HV) cable for neon border tubing using 30- and 40-ft. lengths of silvery-metallic, telephone-receiver raceway.

Upon further examination, we discovered that the lads, while having secured grounding conductors to their transformers, didn’t tie the wires off to anything. Instead, the conductors’ ends just hung loosely from the transformer boxes. We asked the installers, who had assembled neon projects throughout New England, if they had a code book.

They responded, "What is ‘the code?’" and "What kind of code book do we need?" Despite the installers’ ignorance, their company had, miraculously, only caused three minor neon fires. And fortunately, no one was hurt in those mishaps.


What is the electrical code?

The National Electrical Code® (NEC) is published by the NFPA. The Canadian Electrical Code® (CEC) is published by the Canadian Standards Assn. (CSA), Rexdale, Ontario, Canada.

These books present facts and safety directives regarding electrical practices that initially went into effect after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. As living documents, the two publications are constantly being revised. The NEC is revised every three years; recent revisions took place in 1993, 1996, 1999 and 2002, and will take place again in 2005. The CEC is revised every four years — 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006.

These publications are the dogma ("the Electrical Bibles") of the electrical and electrical-inspection entities, so any installation contrary to these documents isn’t allowable.

I think of the CEC as the "10 Commandments" (because there are no exceptions), while the NEC is more of a Bible.

Where are we now?


In the United States, we are currently in the 2002 cycle of the NEC. However, many states and territories operate on different code cycles.

The U.S. sign industry is directly affected by the NEC’s Article 600, Electric Signs and Outline Lighting. However, other articles are equally, if not more, important, such as Article 250, Grounding; Chapter 3, Wiring Methods; and Article 410-80, Special Provisions for Electric-Discharge Lighting Systems (which relates to cold-cathode issues).

If possible, enroll yourself in electrical-code courses. They’re often available at local community colleges or high schools that offer continuing-education programs. Although these courses initially may seem to contain some irrelevant material, in the long run, all electrical information is applicable and important to our profession. Just attending a class, and working through various code articles, can provide great insight. Investing 32 hours and $40 is a small price to pay for such knowledge.

The 2002 NEC code book contains many changes from the 1999 edition. For example, the book has been reformatted to metric designations to foster development of an international set of electrical-installation rules. Even before the addition of the metric measurements, however, the codes for the United States and Canada had used much of the same wording.

Versions of NEC Adopted for Field Use
AL 2002, adopted July 2002 MO 1999, changeover to 2002 unknown
AK 2002, adopted July 1, 2002 MT 1999, changeover to occur summer 2002
AZ Adopted on local levels NE 2002, adopted May 2002
AR 2002, adopted Jan. 1, 2002 NV Adopted on local levels
CA Adopted on local levels NH 2002, adopted July 1, 2002
CO 2002, reportedly adopted July 2002 NJ 1999, changeover date unknown
CT 1999, changeover in late 2003/early 2004 NM 2002, adopted June 1, 2002
DE 2002, reportedly adopted mid-summer 2002 NY 1999, changeover date unknown
D.C. 1996, changeover date/cycle unknown NC 2002, adopted Jan. 1, 2002
FL 2002, reportedly adopted July 2003 ND 2002, adopted April 1, 2002
GA 1999, changeover date reportedly will occur Jan. 1, 2003 OH 2002, adopted Jan. 1,2002
HI 2002, adopted September 2002 OK 2002, adopted July 1, 2002
ID 2002, adopted July 1, 2002 OR 1999, changeover to occur Oct. 1, 2002
IL Adopted on local levels PA 1996 or 1999, adopted on local levels
IN 1999, changeover reportedly to occur October/November 2002 PR 2002, adopted Jan. 1, 2002
IA 2002 used in most areas. Adopted on local levels RI 1996, changeover date/cycle unknown
KA Adopted on local levels. 1999 for field use in most areas SC 2002, adopted July 1, 2002
KY 2002, adopted Jan. 3, 2002 SD 2002, adopted July 2002
LA 1993, changeover date/cycle unknown TN 1999, changeover date unknown
ME 2002, adopted July 1, 2002 TX Adopted at local levels
MD 2002 UT 1999, changeover to occur in January 2003
MA 2002, adopted Jan. 1, 2002 VT 1999, changeover date unknown
MI 1996, changeover to 1999 unknown VA 1996, changeover date/cycle unknown
MN 2002, adopted July 2002 VI 2002, adopted Jan. 1, 2002
MS 1999, changeover date unknown WA 1999, changeover to occur January 2003
WI 1999, changeover to occur October 2002 WV 2002, adopted July 2002
WY 2002, adopted July 2002

Changes to 2002 Article 600


Broken into six sub sections, Article 600.7, Grounding, now addresses bonding nonmetallic conduit in more understandable terms. Also, mid-point wiring terminations to the metal framing have been more emphatically outlawed.

Article 600.21(F) states that no power supplies housed in suspended ceilings may have flexible cords to the branch circuits.

600.32, Wording for Neon Secondary Circuit Conductors, is now more understandable. Also, the issue of raceway sizing (flexible metal conduit, electrical mechanical tubing [EMT], etc.) for secondary conductors has been firmly addressed in 600.32 (A)(4): Half-inch conduit is the minimum.

Per the code, half-inch conduit has always been the minimum, but with the new edition, maybe many will acknowledge that anything smaller just won’t fly. Let’s hope. It surely will save a lot of burned-up GTO cable.

Article 600 includes 11 revisions, and I’ve touched on only three. Again, many changes simply convert inches and feet to metric equivalents. Now, for our Canadian brethren, let’s turn our attention north of our border.

CEC Section 34 improvements

This is a must-read for us Yanks. I’ve handled some work under the CEC, and it couldn’t hold a candle to the NEC, especially regarding electric signs. It never really addressed the serious problems that continually plagued our industry.

Well, friends, all of that has changed. Worldwide efforts seek to join electrical codes into one universal document. Along those standardization lines, the CEC has committed some serious changes to type, so let’s take heart.

According to 34-000, Scope, light sources now include "(e) other light emitting sources, such as LED." This dynamic addition proves that LEDs have been legitimized in Canada’s signage section. This is a giant step forward. However, as forward thinking as this addition is, the term "LED" is somewhat limiting. Given the other dynamic types of displays that exist, or are being developed, "solid-state lighting" would be a more appropriate term.

Rule 34-002, Special Terminology, states, "GTO sleeving must be installed within an approved raceway." This change references the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories’ (NRTL) non-evaluation of GTO sleeving as a standalone raceway. In the NEC, this foggy issue refers back to wiring, as noted in Chapter 3. In the CEC, the sleeving issue is brought to the forefront.

Existing rule 34-012 is being changed to 34-100, Disconnecting Means. This is a good change. To standardize with the NEC, the CEC, in part (c), now says the disconnecting apparatus, where out of sight of the sign, shall be capable of being locked in the open position. Any subcontracting installer knows this lockable disconnect saves time and headaches if you must shut the job down safely.

Because it’s covered in Section 8-104, Existing Rule 34-018, Branch Circuit Capacity, is being removed.

Existing Rule 34-204, Transformer and Power Supply Voltage, is being changed to 34-300, Secondary-Circuit Ground-Fault Protection, in conformance with the international code.

However, the NEC and the new CEC still greatly differ regarding isolated power supplies. The NEC restricts open-circuit voltage to 7,500 volts or less, while the CEC lowers that threshold to 6,000 volts. This is an unfortunate development with respect to isolateds. With one fell swoop, Canada has eliminated the equivalent of the isolated’s 15,000- volt transformer — the 7,500/7,500.

34-212, Transformer Overcurrent Protection, has been changed to 34-308 and mandates that (excluding exemptions) all neon circuits shall be rated at a maximum of 30 amps. In last month’s column (see ST, July, page 64), we noted that #10 (not #12) wire must be utilized with a 30-amp circuit.

The 34-216 Rule, High-Voltage Wiring Methods, has been changed to 34-400. It mandates the 1/2-in. conduit rule in its signage section, as reflected in the 2002 NEC. Again, this rule now outlaws the use of anything smaller than a half inch. It truly forces our industry to monitor more closely any deviation to these criteria.

Finally, the CEC has changed 34-222, Connections of High-Voltage Cables, to 34-406. This change beautifully states, "At no place along the GTO run shall the GTO cable insulation be visible."

The new CEC includes approximately 30 new changes and, as with the NEC, I have only touched on a few.

Version of CEC Adopted for Field Use
AB 1998, changeover to occur Sept. 1, 2002
BC 1998, changeover to occur October 2002
MB 1998, changeover to occur 2003
NB 1998, changeover to occur summer 2002
NF 2002, adopted June 2002
NT 2002, adopted April 1, 2002
NS 2002, adopted May 1, 2002
NU (Nunavut Territory) 1998, changeover to occur May 1, 2002
ON 2002, adopted April 25, 2002
PE 1998, changeover to occur early fall, 2002
QC 1998, changeover to occur spring 2003
SK 1998, changeover to occur spring 2003
YT 2002, adopted July 1, 2002

Writing on the wall

Electrical codes, and the documents that support those codes, synthesize and define our electric-sign industry. If you derive anything from this article, at least know that these code books exist and what they look like.

In summary, here are the critical points all electric-sign personnel must understand:

* Our international electric (sign) codes are being unified. In the near future, these codes will hopefully exist as one worldwide standard.

* Article 600 of the NEC and Section 34 of the CEC specifically address our signage industry.

* Under no circumstances is 3/8-in. conduit allowable in the United States and Canada in conjunction with high-voltage neon transformer conductors. It never has been, and now this issue is specified in our own section/article of the code with the hopes that we’ll all get the picture.

* Solid-state lighting is now part of our electrical signage codes, CEC 34-000 (e). The handwriting is on the wall in big, black paint.

* Not knowing our electrical codes would be tantamount to practicing medicine without the most basic understanding of anatomy.

At every turn, code standards and your understanding of these rules will direct your endeavors. In upcoming columns, we will discuss problems and special installations, along with new technological concepts.

This article has been reviewed by state and provincial electrical inspectors, manufacturers, electrical safety associations and corporate/industrial safety officers. Special thanks to Les Boros, Code Enforcement SakPower (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada); Telford Dorr, Microtron (Encinitas, CA); Gary Nutting, neon consultant (Bartlett, IL); and Mike Pennington, chief electrical inspector (Indianapolis).



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