Residential Electrical Safety and the NEC

The need for Vigilance in Inspecting Safe Electrical Systems

I  really enjoyed the articles by Dave Williams and Derek Vigstol in the January/February 2020 issue of IAEI Magazine regarding the justification for the Code change in 210.8(F). Both mentioned a public comment submitted where a child in Chicago was killed by coming into contact with an outside AC condensing unit, which had a fault to the frame. A terrible tragedy in any city, but as I am in my 50th year as a certified electrical safety inspector and IAEI member, I cannot help but ask the questions:

  1. Was this AC condenser wired by a licensed electrical contractor with an electrical permit?
  2. Was this AC condenser frame bonded to an equipment grounding conductor included in the branch circuit?
  3. Was this AC condenser inspected by an electrical inspector and approved?

My best guess is that the answer to all these questions is a resounding no!

In my many experiences in the field, I have found that non-electrically trained persons have long been making final hook-up connections to appliances, HVAC, plumbing, and commercial cooking equipment, etc., etc. If that AC condenser had been wired by a qualified electrician, a permit secured and a hands-on electrical safety inspection performed to assure NEC compliance…that child could be alive today!

Recently I was made aware of an incident involving a built-in oven. The homeowner is an employee of a local NECA-IBEW contractor and purchased the oven for Christmas. Working through the shop, a residential wireman installed an 8/3 with ground NM cable to a grounded metal junction box in the cabinet space below the oven space. The oven was delivered and installed by the “Big Box” store employees. Christmas Eve, the oven was in and operating and in use when they smelled something burning that was not on the menu! A call to the residential service department was quickly answered, and the electrician was at the door. He found that the “Big Box” employees had improperly connected the oven conductors in the J box. Only some of the strands of the stranded conductors were in the wrong size mechanical connectors (wire nuts), and the insulation had melted down about 1 inch out of the connectors. Also, a knockout was out of the box, but there was no connector on the flexible metal conduit tail from the oven, and the open conductors were “poked”  through the KO hole!

This, my fellow inspectors, is the “Real World.” Changing the NEC trying to save lives and property from untrained/unskilled hands will remain an eternal exercise.

Our “Belt and Suspenders” world of qualified electricians and electrical inspectors have served America well. More than one set of eyes and hands and minds checking electrical pieces and parts for a safe system guided by a Code-making process, NRTLs, and like-minded engineers provide a level of professional safety like no other in the world. It is sad but true that these efforts can be defeated by unknowing/untrained hands at the end-use stage, and people can die as a result.

A new motto for IAEI should be “Semper vigilanti,” Latin for always vigilant as we can never quit trying.