Every electrical inspector has been there, the first time out to approve an electrical installation as the “authority having jurisdiction.” Realizing the importance of his or her role in the safety chain, new electrical inspectors, and for that matter all electrical inspectors, want to perform their duties with a thorough and professional approach. In most cases the electrical inspector is the independent public safety advocate with no stake in a particular project other than to ensure that the end result is a safe installation that complies with all of the applicable NEC requirements. In some cases inspectors may be working as a “clerk of the works” or project inspector for a private concern. The bottom line is, whatever the role of an electrical inspector is for a particular installation, he or she is charged with the responsibility of quality assurance, and the benchmark on which compliance is judged most generally is the requirements of the NEC.
Photo 1. Home under construction
Where to Start?
Electrical inspectors bring varying degrees of background and expertise to their positions. Many have been electricians prior to accepting the role as electrical inspector, but that fact alone does not ensure a seamless transition from installer to inspector. Although they may be well-versed in the NEC requirements from past training and experience, when they are placed in the position of being the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) their electrical world inevitably expands into the full scope of what the NEC covers. Many electricians have a specific focus as an installer. Industrial electricians may never have used and applied the rules for dwelling units or manufactured homes, and residential electricians probably did not perform many installations involving the installation of large separately derived systems or capacitor banks. Now, in the new role as the electrical inspector, this person is expected to be an expert in all facets of the NEC. Electrical inspectors soon realize that their new position has put them in a new learning curve and most experienced electrical inspectors will tell you that this learning curve is on-going and ever-changing throughout their electrical inspection careers. Certainly there are training and certification programs that enable electrical inspectors to enhance their job performance. However, new and seasoned electrical inspectors will inevitably encounter an installation that is new ground.
When put into the position of having to approve an electrical installation that one has not previously encountered, either as an electrician or as an installer, the logical question is where to start? From a very general sense, a logical approach to the inspection and approval process is determined based on the phase of construction a project is at. Certainly the status of the construction project will direct the focus of the inspection. For new building projects, inspections are generally made incrementally as the building is constructed. Depending on the size of the building and more importantly the complexity of the building’s electrical system, the number and focus of electrical inspections will differ.
The major considerations for “rough wiring” inspections differ from the major considerations for a “final inspection.” Putting this all together into a logical and thorough approach is the challenge faced by the electrical inspector. He or she is compelled by the responsibility placed in his or her hands to ensure that the building electrical system is essentially free from fire and shock hazards.
A systematic approach often will involve the use of some kind of written or mental checklist. As inspectors gain experience in the multitude of electrical installations that they are exposed to, there is a natural maturation in how they perform their duties. Experience promotes efficiency and thoroughness. A key component to this increased efficiency and thoroughness is the development of the inspector’s “inspection system.” Many electrical inspectors approach the inspection task using mental checklists. The development and refinement of these checklists evolves with experience. Like any job, one’s proficiency develops with experience and this definitely holds true for electrical inspectors. Tasks that were at one time daunting become routine through the lessons of experience. But the question remains, as a new electrical inspector where does one start in order to develop a polished inspectional procedure?
A Tool for Inspectors
Unlike apprentice programs for training electricians, the training of electrical inspectors is generally far less formal or structured. For those who have entered the inspection field from a background in electrical installations or design, there is generally a thorough understanding of the NEC and how electrical systems are put together. This background provides a solid foundation for an electrical inspector to build on as he or she changes perspective from installer to approver. Organizations such as the IAEI that promote uniform application of the NEC via their educational programs offered by their local chapters and the International office help electrical inspectors make this transition. This type of meeting provides an excellent forum for the dissemination of knowledge regarding the NEC, however there was a need for an inspectional job-aid that could be used by electrical inspectors on a daily basis. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the developer and publisher of the National Electrical Code has developed a tool to meet this need.
First published in 1999 and based on the 1999 edition of the NEC, the Electrical Inspection Manual with Checklists was developed to fit the needs of anyone who installs or inspects electrical installations. Endorsed by the IAEI, the purpose of this manual is to provide inspectors and installers with a compilation of electrical inspection checklists. These checklists range in coverage from general requirements for all electrical installations to more specific checklists based on type of occupancy, type of equipment or type of location. The checklists are an assemblage of electrical installation requirements that pertain to a respective type of occupancy or equipment and are not intended to dictate a specific inspection order or procedure. Electrical inspectors are individuals and need to develop an inspection system they are comfortable with. There is not one inspection template that will be suitable for every inspector. What works for one inspector will not necessarily work for another. The bottom line is that the inspection is performed efficiently and comprehensively. Use of the Inspection Manual checklists will assist the inspector in developing an approach that meets this objective.
The checklists are comprehensive and in most cases provide all of the necessary references to the NEC requirements that apply to a particular installation. In some cases all of the items in the checklist may not be applicable to a given installation. On the other hand, the checklists are not intended to imply that there may not be other NEC requirements that are applicable to a given installation.
How the Manual Works
The foundation of the manual is the checklists. Each checklist contains a number of inspection activity items and there is a cross-reference to the applicable section of the NEC. An important feature of the manual is the brief explanation that is provided for every inspection activity item. This commentary provides insight on the application of the particular NEC requirement that the inspection activity is based on. This commentary material is numerically linked to the number of the inspection activity item in the checklist. Table 1
An important concept in using the Inspection Manual is its structure. Like the hierarchal arrangement of the chapters within the NEC, the chapters in the Inspection Manual are arranged to provide general overall considerations regarding electrical installations in the first five chapters, while Chapters six through twelve contain specific occupancy or equipment checklists. As an example, the checklist in Chapter 2 of the Inspection Manual contains inspection items from Articles 90 and 110 of the NEC. These checklist items are general requirements that will apply to most electrical installations that the inspector will encounter. However, the checklists in the latter chapters are more specific and do not have the broad scope of the up-front chapters. Like the NEC, it is necessary to use more than one part of the book for any given installation. Chapter Six on Dwelling Units and Mobile/Manufactured Homes is the only chapter that for the most part is self-contained and does not require the use of other chapters. The decision to make Chapter Six a “stand-alone” chapter was based on the fact that in most cases electrical inspectors who work for a city or town will inspect a large number of dwelling unit electrical systems.
Additionally, each checklist contains “key questions” that are germane to that particular inspection checklist occupancy or equipment. The purpose of the key questions is to put the inspector “in the mood” for that particular inspection by providing some general considerations and items to be aware as the inspection is being performed. Like the commentary provided for each of the inspection activities, background information is provided for each of the key questions and uses alphabetical links. The checklists have many different applications. An individual electrical inspector can use them as a self-training tool for developing a personal inspection protocol. The checklists can be used as a template for training groups of electrical inspectors or they can be used during the field inspection process where a comprehensive written record of a particular installation is required.
Using the Dwelling Unit Checklists
The inspection checklists for dwelling units in Chapter 6 provide a slightly different approach than the checklists contained in the other chapters. Chapter 6 takes a residential project from start to finish and provides checklists covering “rough” and “finish” inspections. Another feature of this chapter is that it provides a breakdown of specific rooms or areas within or associated with a dwelling based on the specific NEC requirements for those areas. Beginning with some key questions that are intended to give the inspector some general points to focus on as the project proceeds, the checklist next provides some general requirements that apply throughout the dwelling unit, and then it continues with specific NEC requirements for kitchens, dining rooms, bathrooms, other habitable rooms, hallways, stairways, closets, laundry areas, basements and attics, garages, and outdoors. This area approach provides the inspector with the NEC requirements that are unique to that specific area. This reflects the fact that the NEC, particularly in Article 210 provides more requirements for specific locations within a dwelling than for any other type of occupancy. This type of approach is taken in the NEC since in most cases, the electrical system of a dwelling is laid out by the installer.
The dwelling unit checklist then proceeds into the requirements applicable to the installation of the electric service, the installation of any feeders, and the grounding and bonding provisions for the service equipment. This portion of the checklist also provides the requirements for panelboards that are supplied by service or feeder conductors.
The “finish” inspection checklist is arranged similarly to the “rough” wiring checklist. Beginning with a number of general requirements that apply throughout the dwelling, the checklist proceeds with the room-by-room approach, ensuring that the completed installation in each room meets the NEC requirements that are unique to that area. For instance, during the rough wiring inspection of the kitchen the inspector needs to verify the installation and proper use of the minimum two small-appliance branch circuits, while during the final inspection the inspector is verifying that GFCI protection has been provided for the receptacles serving the kitchen counter area. On the same vein, within the dwelling unit bathroom(s) the inspector has verified the presence of the 20-ampere circuit for the bathroom receptacle outlets, while during the finish inspection it can be verified that GFCI protection has been provided for the bathroom receptacles.
As part of the final inspection checklist, there are also requirements for service equipment and panelboards supplied by feeders. Among the items covered in this portion of the checklist are the verification of the completed grounding system and the identification of the circuits within the panelboard(s).
New for the 2002 edition of the manual is a checklist that covers the NEC requirements for manufactured home site supply wiring. For new manufactured home installations, the electrical inspector does not typically inspect the factory-installed wiring, however the site supply installation and any additional branch circuit or feeder installations are subject to field inspection. Also new for this NEC cycle is the Pocket Guide to Residential Electrical Inspections. This abridged version of the Electrical Inspection Manual contains all of the dwelling unit checklists and associated commentary. In addition, the checklists for general wiring requirements, wiring methods, grounding and bonding and swimming pools are also included.
No two electrical inspectors will perform their field inspections exactly alike. Inspection processes and techniques differ and often are dictated by construction conditions. Thus it is often not possible to “package” the inspection of a dwelling as is neatly laid out in the checklists. This was never the purpose of the book. The purpose was to lay out the applicable requirements in a list format that can be used as an aid to inspectors of dwellings and other occupancies and electrical equipment covered in the manual to develop a system for performing thorough, efficient and effective electrical inspections. As was previously stated, experience and an upfront understanding of how electrical systems operate are two of the most important factors to having a strong foundation on which an inspector can grow from. After all, the method by which the inspection is performed is not nearly as important as is how well the inspection is performed.