What is The National Electrical Code?

If you hang around electricians long enough, especially if you’re an apprentice electrician, then you’ve probably heard about the National Electrical Code (NEC).

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what it is, and why electricians learn this code on their way to becoming a licensed electrician.

What is the NEC?

The National Electrical Code, or NEC, is the standard that governs all the practices and procedures for electrical installation. Surprisingly it’s part of the National Fire Code series and is published by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Contrary to popular belief, the code is not federal law. Nor was it written by electricians!

It is, however, typically adopted by states and municipalities to establish a standard and enforce safe practices of electrical installations.

The code was introduced way back in 1897 to protect people and property from the dangers associated with electricity.

Since that time it’s been continuously updated with the latest volume published for 2017. Even though the code is now updated every 3 years, not all jurisdictions immediately adopt the new edition.

You can see where the newest code has already been adopted on this state map.

How is the NEC Code Book Organized?

The code book has 4 sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. Nine Chapters
  3. A-J Annexes
  4. Index

Chapters 1-4 cover requirements for installation, wiring and protection, wiring methods and materials, and equipment.

Chapter 5 deals with special occupancies.

Chapters 6 and 7 detail special occupancies with conditions.

Chapter 8 includes communication systems like radio and television.

Chapter 9 provides tables and practice questions.

You will want to have your own copy of the code book. In fact, an electrician apprentice will most likely be required to purchase a copy.

What is the Best Way to Learn the NEC?

Be prepared – this is not an easy read! The code book is very technical and and precise.

You don’t necessarily “learn” the code. No one knows it entirely. (Well – maybe those with a photographic memory.) You do need to learn how to use it.

For example, there are two ways to learn code. One is to study it. The other is to have it explained by an experienced electrician or inspector when you fail an inspection. I find the latter actually sticks longer. But it’s not pleasant.

Bottom line is – the more you know code, the better off you are.

On your first day on a job, your supervisor will tell you what to do and not do. He or she will tell you what the code requires. Retain as much as possible.

What is the NEC?

How to Study the NEC for your Exam

After 4-5 years of training, an electrician apprentice should have completed requirements to sit for the journeyman’s license exam.

The exam consists mostly of where to find the appropriate code in the code book, and how to apply that code. Since the code is massive, you will not be able to memorize or know the entire contents.

My advise is to practice how to find information in the code book. There are plenty of tips and aids to help.

Code Update Classes

Since the code is updated every three years, most states require Journeyman electricians to complete a class and take a test to show they understand the new requirements.

Many choose to take an online class and test.