Common Electric Code Violations DIYers Make
Don’t Choose the Wrong Circuit Breaker
To help you understand which electrical protection goes where, consider what each type of breaker was designed to do and make sure to follow the national electric code.
Standard circuit breaker
Circuit breakers protect home electrical wiring and equipment like furnaces, air conditioners, dryers and stoves. Standard circuit breakers are better at protecting wiring and equipment than preventing fires and protecting people. That’s why they have largely been replaced by GFCIs and AFCIs. There are only a few places left where standard circuit breakers can be used, typically for large home electrical appliances.
Ground fault circuit interrupter
Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) protect people in areas where they are likely to be using small appliances and where water is present. GFCI breakers and outlets have been around for a while, and most people know they’re required in bathrooms, kitchens and outdoors, but I am finding home electrical violations in garages, crawl spaces, storage/work areas in unfinished basements, wet bars (within 6 ft. of a sink), and sump pumps. And don’t forget that GFCIs need to be readily accessible in order to be reset. This means they shouldn’t be installed on the ceiling or buried under a tub without an access panel.
Arc fault circuit interrupter
Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) prevent fires in all living areas where appliance cords are prone to be pinched or crimped, or chewed by pets.They used to be required only on bedroom circuits, but the National Electrical Code now requires AFCI protection in all living areas. They’re equipped with sophisticated electronics that can detect an arcing condition (like in a frayed lamp cord), which may not be detected by a standard circuit breaker until after a fire has started. AFCI protection is not just required for new construction; it’s now also required where branch-circuit wiring is modified, replaced or extended into existing homes.
Tamper-resistant receptacles are designed to stop a kid from inserting an object, such as a paper clip. They’re required for all locations, indoors and out.
Don’t Install the Wrong Cover On an Outdoor Receptacle
On outdoor receptacles, flat covers provide protection only when a receptacle isn’t in use, but it’s not uncommon for extension cords to be plugged in for extended periods of time. In-use or “bubble covers” provide protection at all times. The national electrical code defines a “wet location” as an area that is subject to saturation with water or other liquids, and unprotected locations exposed to the weather. The national electric code has another definition for “damp locations” that is more subjective, but if you think the receptacle is going to get wet, use an in-use cover. And don’t forget the weather-resistant receptacle. The national electric code requires that all 15- and 20-amp receptacles be rated as weather-resistant and tamper-resistant when installed in both wet and damp locations.
Don’t Block a Service Panel
A service panel requires a working clearance that’s 30 in. wide, 3 ft. deep and 6 ft. 8 in. high. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you can’t park a refrigerator in front of the panel, you don’t have enough working space. These clearances are designed to protect the person working on the panel. It’s difficult to work safely when your arms are pinned to your sides. Also, the panel needs to be readily accessible meaning the area should not be used as storage space or require a ladder for access.
Don’t Install Too Few Receptacles
The purpose of this national electric code is to reduce the use of extension cords. From any point along a wall line, a receptacle outlet needs to be within reach of a 6-ft. appliance cord, and that 6 ft. cannot be measured across a passageway. The bottom line is that extension cords start fires and create tripping hazards — the fewer extension cords, the better
Don’t Forget Electrical Bonding
Grounding is not the same as bonding. Plumbing, phone lines, coaxial cable and gas piping systems need to be not only grounded but also bonded to one another. Bonding equalizes the voltage potential between conductive systems. This greatly reduces the risk of a person becoming the path for current flow between two conductive systems in case one of the systems becomes energized. Also, in a lightning strike, equalized voltage potential minimizes the risk of a very high current jumping (arcing) between two systems and causing a fire.