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 standards that govern all the practices and procedures for electrical installation. It is actually part of the National Fire Code Series and is published by the 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 has 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:
Chapters 1-4 cover requirements for installation, wiring and protection, wiring methods and materials, and equipment.
Chapter 5 deals with special occupancies.
Chapters 6 & 7 deal with special occupancies and 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, a electrician apprenticeship will most likely be required to purchase a copy.
What is the Best Way to Learn the NEC?
Be prepared - it's not an easy read. It's very technical and precise.
You don't necessarily "learn" the code. No one knows the whole thing. You do have to learn how to use it.
There are 2 ways to learn code: one is to study it, and the other is to have it explained by an experienced electrician or an inspector when you fail an inspection. I find the latter actually sticks with me longer. But it's not pleasant. The more you know code, the better off you are.
On your first day on a job, your supervisor will start telling you what to do and what not to do. He or she will tell you what the code requires. Retain as much as possible.
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 the information in the code book to answer questions you do not know. There are plenty of tips and aids to help.
Code Update Classes
Since the code is updated every 3 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.