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Electrical Systems in Schools and Training Facilities

Electrical systems used in schools are designed to provide a safe and reliable power supply to support various activities and functions within the school premises. These systems typically consist of several components and subsystems working together to distribute electricity efficiently.

  • Power supply. Schools are typically connected to the local electrical grid, which provides the primary source of power. The power supply is delivered through transformers, which step down the voltage to a suitable level for distribution within the school.
  • Main distribution panel: The main distribution panel, also known as the switchboard, receives power from the transformer and distributes it to various areas within the school. It contains circuit breakers or fuses to protect against overloads and short circuits.
  • Sub-distribution panels. These panels are located throughout the school building and receive power from the main distribution panel. Sub-distribution panels further divide the electrical load and distribute power to specific areas or zones, such as classrooms, laboratories, administrative offices, gymnasiums, and auditoriums.
  • Lighting systems. Schools have extensive lighting systems to provide adequate illumination in classrooms, corridors, libraries, and other areas. These systems include light fixtures, switches, and sometimes dimmers to control lighting levels.
  • Branch Circuits and Outlets. The NEC provides guidance toward the number and placement of electrical outlets and branch circuits in various areas of the school, including classrooms, offices, hallways, and specialty spaces. The installer will need to determine outlet spacing, outlet types, and required circuits to accommodate the anticipated electrical loads and usage within each area. Power outlets are installed in classrooms, computer labs, staff rooms, and other areas to provide electrical connections for devices such as computers, projectors, printers, and other electrical equipment.
  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Schools often have HVAC systems to regulate indoor temperature and maintain a comfortable environment. These systems include electrical components such as air conditioners, heaters, fans, and control panels.
  • Emergency power supply. Schools and other training institutions are required to have emergency electrical systems in place to ensure the safety of students, teachers, and staff during power outages or emergencies. The NEC provides guidelines for emergency lighting, exit signs, standby power sources, and transfer switches. In the event of a power outage, schools may have backup power systems, such as generators or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) units, to provide temporary power for critical functions like emergency lighting, fire alarms, security systems, and essential equipment.
  • Safety systems. Schools have various safety systems, including fire alarm systems, smoke detectors, and emergency lighting. These systems are designed to ensure the safety of students, staff, and visitors in case of emergencies.
  • Data and communication infrastructure. Schools rely on electrical systems to support their data and communication needs. This includes wiring for network connections, telecommunications equipment, intercom systems, and public address (PA) systems.
  • Specialized Spaces. Elementary schools may have specialized spaces that require specific electrical considerations, such as computer labs, science labs, gymnasiums, and kitchens. The NEC provides requirements for electrical installations in these spaces, including electrical equipment, wiring methods, and safety measures.

Schools and the NEC

The National Electrical Code (NEC) is a set of electrical standards and regulations developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in the United States. While the NEC does not specifically focus on schools, it provides guidelines and requirements for electrical installations in all types of buildings, including schools.

When it comes to schools, the NEC outlines various provisions that must be followed to ensure the safety of students, staff, and visitors. These provisions cover a wide range of electrical aspects, including wiring methods, equipment installation, grounding, circuit protection, and emergency systems.

  • Wiring methods and materials: The NEC specifies the appropriate wiring methods and materials to be used in different areas of the school, considering factors such as the environment, occupancy, and electrical load. It provides guidelines for proper installation practices to minimize the risk of electrical hazards.  Equipment installed that is being installed in a dry, damp, or wet environment will need to be listed for such environments.
  • Electrical equipment installation: The NEC provides requirements for the installation of electrical equipment, such as switches, receptacles, light fixtures, and panelboards. It covers aspects like proper mounting, clearances, accessibility, and working space to ensure safe installation and maintenance.
  • Grounding and bonding: The NEC emphasizes the importance of grounding and bonding systems to protect against electric shock and reduce the risk of electrical fires. It specifies the requirements for grounding electrodes, grounding conductors, bonding jumpers, and other related components.
  • Circuit protection: The NEC addresses the selection and installation of overcurrent protective devices, such as circuit breakers and fuses. It establishes rules for sizing the protective devices based on the electrical load and conductor size to prevent overloading and short circuits.
  • Emergency systems: The NEC provides guidelines for emergency electrical systems, including backup power supplies, emergency lighting, and fire alarm systems. These provisions ensure that schools have reliable and functional emergency systems in case of power outages or other emergencies.

It’s important to note that while the NEC provides comprehensive guidelines, but many states and local jurisdictions may adopt and modify the Code to meet their specific needs. Therefore, it’s crucial for schools to consult with local authorities and electrical professionals to ensure compliance with the applicable electrical codes and regulations in their specific area.

Wiring Methods

Wiring methods in schools are an essential aspect of electrical installations, ensuring safe and reliable power distribution throughout the premises. Proper wiring methods are crucial to prevent electrical hazards, maintain system integrity, and comply with electrical codes and regulations.

  • Nonmetallic sheathed cable (NM): Nonmetallic sheathed cable, commonly known as Romex, is a wiring method that may be acceptable in some schools.  Most of the time the wiring will be installed in a raceway system.  It consists of insulated conductors (typically two or three) and a non-metallic outer sheath. NM cable is commonly used for general power and lighting circuits in walls, ceilings, and floors.
  • Metal-clad cable (MC): Metal-clad cable consists of insulated conductors enclosed in a flexible metallic sheath. It provides enhanced protection against physical damage and can be used in exposed or concealed locations. MC cable is often used for branch circuits, feeders, and other applications requiring increased durability.
  • Conduit wiring: Conduit wiring involves running electrical conductors through metal or non-metallic conduits. Conduits provide mechanical protection, shielding against moisture and other environmental factors. Common types of conduits used in schools include rigid metal conduit (RMC), intermediate metal conduit (IMC), and electrical metallic tubing (EMT). Conduit wiring is commonly used in areas where the wiring is exposed or subject to physical damage.
  • Wireways: Wireways are enclosed channels or troughs that house and protect electrical conductors. They are commonly used to organize and route cables in a neat and orderly manner. Wireways can be surface-mounted or recessed and are often used in areas where multiple conductors need to be contained and protected.
  • Flexible cords: Flexible cords, such as extension cords or cords used for equipment connections, are employed in schools for temporary power needs. It’s important to use flexible cords appropriately, ensuring they are rated for the intended purpose and following safety guidelines to prevent overloading or hazards.
  • Data and communication wiring: Schools require structured cabling systems to support data and communication needs. This involves using structured cabling techniques such as Category 5e (Cat 5e) or Category 6 (Cat 6) cables for Ethernet connections, fiber optic cables for high-speed data transfer, and appropriate wiring methods for telecommunication systems.

When implementing wiring methods in schools, it is essential to adhere to the local electrical codes and standards, such as the National Electrical Code (NEC) in the United States. Compliance with these codes ensures that wiring installations are safe, efficient, and meet the necessary electrical requirements. It is recommended to involve qualified electricians or electrical professionals who are knowledgeable about the applicable regulations and have expertise in electrical installations.

Power Outlets

Power outlets in schools are a crucial component of the electrical infrastructure, providing electrical connections for various devices and equipment used by students, teachers, and staff.

  • Location and Quantity: Power outlets are strategically placed throughout the school to ensure convenient access to electrical power. They are commonly found in classrooms, computer labs, libraries, administrative offices, gymnasiums, auditoriums, and other areas where electrical devices are used. The number of power outlets in each area is typically determined based on the anticipated electrical load and the specific needs of that space.
  • Types of Outlets: Schools usually have a mix of standard power outlets and specialized outlets to accommodate different types of electrical plugs. Standard power outlets in the United States typically have a configuration of two vertical slots (hot and neutral) and a grounding prong. In certain areas, schools may also install outlets with additional features like USB charging ports or data connectivity for devices such as computers or interactive whiteboards.
  • Power Outlet Safety: Power outlets in schools must adhere to safety standards and guidelines to minimize the risk of electrical hazards. It’s important to use outlets that are rated appropriately for the expected electrical load and designed for durability. Outlets should be properly installed and maintained to ensure they are secure and free from damage, loose connections, or exposed wiring.
  • Outlet Covers and Safety Caps: In areas where young children may be present, such as elementary schools or preschools, additional safety measures may be taken. Outlet covers or safety caps can be used to block access to the electrical contacts, reducing the risk of accidental contact or insertion of foreign objects into the outlets. These safety devices are designed to be child-resistant and provide an extra layer of protection.  A tamper-resistant (TR) rated receptacle is typically required to be installed in many locations within a school.
  • Code Compliance: Schools must comply with electrical codes and regulations pertaining to power outlets. In the United States, the National Electrical Code (NEC) outlines the requirements for outlet installation, including spacing, grounding, and overcurrent protection. Local jurisdictions may also have additional regulations that need to be followed. It is important for design professionals working on a school project to consult the applicable electrical codes and work with qualified electricians or electrical professionals to ensure compliance.

Maintaining an adequate number of properly functioning power outlets is essential in schools to support educational activities, technological advancements, and the safe use of electrical devices. Regular inspections, testing, and maintenance of power outlets should be conducted to ensure they are in good working condition and meet safety requirements.


Grounding involves establishing an electrical connection between the electrical system and the Earth. It provides a low-impedance path for electrical current to flow safely to the ground in the event of a fault or electrical surge. Grounding helps prevent electric shocks, reduces the risk of equipment damage, and ensures electrical systems operate effectively. In schools, grounding is essential for power distribution systems, electrical panels, equipment, and other electrical components.

The main electrical service for a school, including the electrical service entrance, distribution panels, and transformers, should be properly grounded. This ensures that the electrical system has a safe path to dissipate fault currents and provides a reference point for the grounding of other electrical components.

  • Electrical Service Grounding: The main electrical service for the school, including the electrical service entrance, transformers, and distribution panels, should be properly grounded. This involves connecting the grounding electrode system to the grounded conductor (usually the neutral conductor) of the electrical system. It ensures a safe path for fault currents to flow, preventing electrical hazards and promoting system stability.
  • Grounding Electrode System: Schools should have an effective grounding electrode system, which typically includes grounding electrodes such as grounding rods, ground plates, or ground rings. These electrodes establish a connection with the Earth and provide a low-resistance path for fault currents to dissipate. The grounding electrode system should be installed and maintained in accordance with local codes and regulations.

    Grounding electrodes are used to establish the connection between the electrical system and the Earth. Common grounding electrodes in schools include the concrete-encased electrode, a qualifying underground metal water pipe, ground rods, ground plates, and ground rings.

    These electrodes are installed in the ground outside the school building and are typically made of copper, aluminum, or other conductive materials. They provide a path for electrical current to dissipate into the Earth safely.

  • Equipment Grounding: All electrical equipment in the school, such as outlets, switches, light fixtures, appliances, and machinery, should be properly grounded. Equipment grounding involves connecting the metal parts of the equipment to the grounding system using equipment grounding conductors or ground wires. This is done through equipment grounding conductors or ground wires. Equipment grounding helps prevent electrical shock by providing a path for fault current to flow to the ground, tripping the circuit breaker or fuse and disconnecting power. Equipment grounding helps prevent electric shock and ensures the safe operation of electrical devices.
  • Bonding of Metal Components: Metal components of the electrical system, such as conduits, enclosures, raceways, and structural elements, should be effectively bonded. Bonding ensures that all metal parts are at the same electrical potential, reducing the risk of electric shock and promoting electrical continuity. Bonding jumpers or conductors are used to establish a low-resistance path between metal components.
  • Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs): GFCIs should be installed in areas where there is a higher risk of electric shock, such as bathrooms, kitchens, outdoor areas, and wet locations. GFCIs monitor the flow of electrical current and quickly shut off power if an imbalance or ground fault is detected. They provide enhanced protection against electric shocks and are an important safety feature in schools.
  • Lightning Protection: Schools may require additional grounding measures for lightning protection systems. These systems help divert lightning strikes safely into the ground, protecting the building and its occupants. Lightning protection systems typically involve grounding conductors, grounding electrodes, and bonding of metal components.  Usually, a specialized electrical professional that is familiar with the requirements of NFPA 780, Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protections Systems, will install these systems.  At this time, Underwriters Laboratories (UL Solutions) is the only organization that is OSHA accredited and a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) offering Master Label® Certificate inspections for lightning protection systems.


Bonding is the process of connecting metal objects and conducting materials to ensure they are at the same electrical potential. It eliminates differences in voltage potential between metallic components and reduces the risk of electrical shock and electrical fires. In schools, bonding is important for metallic piping systems, structural components, and other conductive elements.

While specific bonding requirements may vary based on local codes and regulations, here are some common considerations.

  • Equipment Bonding. Metal components of electrical equipment, such as electrical panels, enclosures, raceways, and junction boxes, should be effectively bonded. This is typically achieved by using bonding jumpers or conductors that establish a low-resistance path between the metal components. Equipment bonding helps ensure that metal parts remain at the same electrical potential, reducing the risk of electric shock and promoting safe operation.
  • Grounding Electrode Bonding. The grounding electrode system, which includes grounding rods, ground plates, or ground rings, should be properly bonded. Bonding jumpers or conductors are used to establish a connection between the grounding electrode system and the electrical system’s grounded conductor (typically the neutral conductor). This bonding helps maintain the electrical system’s integrity and ensures that fault currents are properly directed to the grounding system.
  • Bonding of Metal Piping. Metal piping systems, such as water supply pipes or gas piping, should be effectively bonded. Bonding jumpers or conductors connect metal piping to the grounding system, which helps prevent differences in electrical potential between different metal parts and minimizes the risk of electric shock.
  • Bonding of Structural Components. Metal structural components, such as steel frames or reinforcing bars, should be bonded to the grounding system. This bonding ensures that these components are at the same electrical potential as other metal parts, reducing the risk of electrical shocks and providing a safe environment.
  • Bonding of Supplementary Systems. In some cases, supplementary systems within the school, such as lightning protection systems or grounding for communication systems, may require specific bonding requirements. These systems should be appropriately bonded to ensure their effective operation and to maintain electrical continuity throughout the school.  The NEC or other electrical standards should be referenced regarding requirements for bonding these systems.

GFCIs in School Environments

Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets are an important safety feature in schools and other educational facilities. GFCIs are designed to protect against electrical shock by quickly detecting imbalances in electrical currents and shutting off power to the circuit. Here’s how GFCIs work and their significance in schools.

  • Functionality: GFCIs monitor the flow of electrical current between the hot and neutral conductors of a circuit. If there is an imbalance, such as current leakage due to a ground fault (when current flows through an unintended path, such as a person), the GFCI rapidly shuts off the power, typically within milliseconds. This quick response helps prevent electrical shocks and potential injuries.
  • Locations: GFCIs are typically installed in areas where there is a higher risk of electrical hazards or water exposure. In schools, GFCIs are commonly found in areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, science labs, outdoor spaces, gymnasiums, and any location where water is present or where students may come into contact with electrical equipment.\
  • Protection against electrical shock: Schools have a duty to ensure the safety of students, staff, and visitors. GFCIs provide an added layer of protection against electrical shock incidents, especially in areas where water and electricity may come into contact. They help minimize the risk of electric shock accidents that could occur due to damaged or faulty electrical equipment, wet conditions, or other hazardous situations.
  • Testing and maintenance: Regular testing and maintenance of GFCIs are crucial to ensure their proper functioning. GFCIs typically have a test button that allows users to verify their operation by simulating a ground fault condition. Schools should establish maintenance protocols that include periodic testing of GFCIs and prompt replacement or repair of any malfunctioning units.  GFCI devices contain requirements (typically on the face of the device) that they be tested on a monthly basis.
  • By incorporating GFCIs in key areas of a school, administrators, and facility managers can significantly enhance electrical safety and reduce the risk of electrical accidents. Working alongside qualified electricians or electrical professionals can help ensure that GFCIs are installed correctly, comply with electrical codes, and provide optimal protection for the school community.

HVAC Requirements in Schools

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems in schools are designed to provide a comfortable and healthy indoor environment for students, teachers, and staff. These systems play a crucial role in maintaining appropriate temperature, humidity levels, and air quality within school buildings.

  • Heating: HVAC systems in schools include heating components to provide warmth during colder months. Common heating methods include boilers, furnaces, heat pumps, or electric heating systems. The heating system is typically distributed through forced air systems, but radiators and baseboard heaters can also be encountered in older structures.
  • Ventilation: Adequate ventilation is essential for maintaining good indoor air quality in schools. Ventilation systems in HVAC help remove stale air and introduce fresh outdoor air. Ventilation components may include mechanical fans, ductwork, and air supply/exhaust systems. Proper ventilation helps control odors, dilute contaminants, and prevent the buildup of carbon dioxide, which can affect concentration and overall air quality.
  • Air Conditioning: Cooling systems are essential for maintaining comfortable temperatures in schools, particularly during warmer months. Air conditioning units, such as central air systems, split systems, or rooftop units, are used to cool classrooms, hallways, administrative areas, and other spaces within the school. Cooling is typically achieved through refrigeration cycles that remove heat from the indoor air and release it outdoors.
  • Zoning: Schools often have multiple zones or areas with different temperature and occupancy requirements. Zoning allows for customized temperature control in various parts of the building. It helps optimize energy efficiency by directing heating or cooling to specific zones based on occupancy patterns and individual comfort needs. Zoning is typically achieved through separate HVAC controls, dampers, and thermostats for different areas.
  • Control Systems: HVAC control systems are used to monitor and regulate the operation of heating, ventilation, and cooling systems. These systems can include programmable thermostats, sensors, and building automation systems that allow for centralized control and scheduling of HVAC operations. Advanced control systems can optimize energy consumption, monitor air quality, and provide remote access for maintenance and troubleshooting.
  • Maintenance and Energy Efficiency: Proper maintenance is crucial for HVAC systems in schools to ensure optimal performance, energy efficiency, and longevity. Regular preventative maintenance, inspections, filter changes, cleaning, and equipment servicing help identify and address issues promptly. Schools can also prioritize energy efficiency by using energy-saving HVAC equipment, optimizing system controls, and implementing energy management strategies.

It’s important for schools to collaborate with HVAC professionals or mechanical engineers to design, install, and maintain HVAC systems that meet the specific needs of the school, comply with local codes and regulations, and prioritize energy efficiency and indoor air quality. Effective HVAC systems contribute to a conducive learning environment, student health, and overall comfort for the school community.

Lighting Systems

Lighting systems in schools play a crucial role in creating a safe and conducive learning environment for students and teachers. These systems are designed to provide adequate illumination in classrooms, corridors, libraries, gymnasiums, and other areas within the school premises.

  • General lighting: General lighting provides overall illumination in classrooms and common areas. It typically consists of ceiling-mounted fixtures, such as fluorescent or LED troffers, that evenly distribute light throughout the space. These fixtures are often designed to provide a balance of brightness and minimize glare to ensure comfortable visibility.
  • Task lighting: Task lighting is used to provide focused and localized illumination for specific activities. In classrooms, it may include adjustable desk lamps or overhead spotlights that can be directed towards individual work areas or instructional spaces like whiteboards or projectors. Task lighting helps students and teachers to perform tasks that require more focused attention.
  • Natural lighting: The integration of natural lighting through windows, skylights, or light tubes is highly beneficial in schools. Natural light not only reduces energy consumption but also provides a pleasant and stimulating environment. It has been shown to positively impact students’ mood, concentration, and overall well-being. Proper window placement, shading systems, and light control measures are important considerations to manage natural lighting effectively.
  • Lighting controls: Lighting controls enable schools to optimize energy usage and create comfortable lighting conditions. These controls include light switches, occupancy sensors, dimmers, and timers. Occupancy sensors can automatically turn off lights when a room is unoccupied, while dimmers provide flexibility to adjust lighting levels based on specific needs. Timers can be programmed to schedule lighting operation, ensuring lights are turned on and off at appropriate times.
  • Emergency lighting: Emergency lighting is a critical component of school lighting systems to ensure safe evacuation during power outages or emergencies. It includes illuminated exit signs, emergency lighting fixtures, and backup power systems, such as generators or battery-powered systems. These lighting elements are designed to provide sufficient illumination along exit routes and emergency assembly areas.
  • Specialty lighting: There will be other types of lighting installed at schools such as for theater and stage performance areas, aquatic pool areas, gymnasiums for basketball and volleyball, and baseball and football stadiums.  A design professional will work with lighting manufacturers and school administrators to design the lighting packages specific to the needs of these above-mentioned locations.
  • Energy efficiency: Energy-efficient lighting technologies, such as LED (light-emitting diode) fixtures, are widely used in schools. LED lighting offers several advantages, including long lifespans, reduced energy consumption, and lower maintenance costs compared to traditional lighting options. Upgrading to energy-efficient lighting not only saves energy and reduces utility costs but also promotes sustainability and environmental responsibility.

It’s important for schools to consider lighting design that balances energy efficiency, visual comfort, and the specific needs of different spaces within the school. Consulting with lighting professionals and adhering to relevant lighting standards and codes, such as those outlined in the National Electrical Code (NEC), can ensure that the lighting systems in schools are safe, efficient, and conducive to learning.


It’s important to note that electrical systems in schools must adhere to state and local building codes, safety regulations, and standards to ensure the well-being of occupants and comply with electrical safety requirements. Qualified electricians and various other electrical professionals typically handle the design, installation, and maintenance of these systems to ensure they meet the necessary standards.  The state and local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) will conduct plan reviews, issue permits, require corrective measures when needed, and ultimately approve the building for occupancy based on adherence to the NEC and other safety standards.  The IAEI is proud to be a part of this process which continues to help keep you and your family electrically safe.