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Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 5,316
Cat Servant
Another thread, about switch legs, brought up the old issue of 'code minimum' vs. 'design.' Maybe we need to think about that again.

How often does someone tell you they ;just want what the code requires?' How often do you find yourself arguing that something 'meets code?' Or, that 'code allows' something? Why, I ask, is there all this focus on "code?"

That one must follow the law is assumed. Yet, simply not having any electric work done at all will 'meet code.' I don't think we really want our customers to make that choice!

Conversely, we're often cast as the 'bad guy' when our 'customer' isn't the guy who actually has to live with our installation. Receptacle in a bad spot? Well, the GC we were hired by didn't ask / care / know what the homeowner wanted. Or, the 'manager' who hired us didn't have the least interest in the cares of those who would actually sit in the office we remodeled - how were we to know that the file cabinet would go in front of the switch? Or that something would block the occupancy sensor?

Future needs is another concern. Code makes no allowance - does that mean we should also ignore the topic? Are we simply traind chimps with tool belts, doing simply what we're told?

This is not only an academic discussion. It goes to the heart of our jobs, and the role the NEC plays in them. The past several code editions have made many 'design' choices for us - sometimes directly, and sometimes 'steering us' in certain directions. (For example, who ever separated bedroom circuits from the rest of the house, before the NEC mandated AFCI's for bedrooms?)

Let the discussion begin.

Joined: Apr 2002
Posts: 7,283
Likes: 3
I'll start only on this comment...

"That one must follow the law is assumed. Yet, simply not having any electric work done at all will 'meet code.'"

For resi, how can 'not doing any electric work' possibly fly? You can't do an addition (habitable space) without the 'minimum' NEC required receptacles, and a lighting outlet controlled by a switch, and possibly smoke detectors. Can you 'finish' a basement without required wiring?

Receptacle locations are usually installed at 'code' required spacing, and anything 'additional' goes back to design intent, as we see in a 'basic' SFD or in multi family condos/apts/townhouses, etc.

Comm is another issue, as we all know the 'plain vanilla box' routines.

As to office finishes not being compatable with the electrical device locations, that is 100% design.

Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 212
Reno, I'm not sure what your point is. There absolutely are code minimum resi designs out there. I've wired lots of 'em, and while I don't like them I do not consider it my job to change them all once it has been clearly established that they exist on purpose. I don't think that makes me a trained monkey.
Some future capacity is mandated. Everything else that you insist on for the future of unknown owners and tenants is either going to be installed by you for free, or agreed to before you put it in. Thats life, thats business. I didn't become an electrician to save the world.

Joined: Mar 2004
Posts: 947
twh Offline
An engineer explained it like this: An airplane is designed to 110% of expected load. The construction is closely monitored and regular maintenance has to be done. However, buildings are designed to 200% or more of expected load. Then, if the construction crew does half a job, it will still hold up.

The electrical code is well above 100% of expected load. Look at the insulation on wire. It has a temperature rating. I'm certain that I've never felt a conductor anywhere near it's design temperature. Code minimum already provides leeway for poor installation.

Some electrical engineers spec #12 wire for fire alarms. Try pulling a device out of the box with four #12 wires on it! We (Canada) must leave 6 inches of conductor in a box. Why not improve on that and leave a couple feet? More isn't better.

The code is based on engineering and experience. Code isn't minimum. Code is simply correct.

Joined: Apr 2002
Posts: 7,283
Likes: 3

"The code is based on engineering and experience. Code isn't minimum. Code is simply correct."

I agree with your comment, but there are some instances where 'minimum' is code. It all depends on who is reading the 'code' and what that persons definitions for the word 'minimum' are.

And, yes, in some instances, more is definitely not better.

Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 1,803
It sometimes seems to me, when reading things here at ECN from far away across the Atlantic, that in some respects with your Code the tail is waving the dog. I can see that the electrical supply has to be regulated safe, fit for purpose and built to minimise risk. But what logic dictates that receptical numbers, spacing, heights etc. have anything to do protecting consumers, apart from easing their bad backs and maximising the number of appliances they can use all at once? Don't get me wrong, living in a Country with a bad cavalier attitude to risk, [ "You built a house, it fell over, what's that got to do with me?"] I often wish we had more logic thinking applied to building construction.

Last edited by Alan Belson; 10/15/10 09:33 AM. Reason: spelling

Wood work but can't!
Joined: Apr 2002
Posts: 7,283
Likes: 3
Receptacle spacing in resi is 'code' so that no receptacle is greater than 6' from any point on a wall, and any wall 24" or greater has a receptacle. Basis is lamp type cords are 6' in length, and the spacing eliminates (reduces) the use of extension cords.

The counter top in kitchens is 4; spacing, as most appliances have 2' cords, and required recepts on both sides of sinks prevents cords in the sink.

I could go on-and-on as to why, but the 'code' is the code, and we have to enforce it and/or live with it.

Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 5,316
Cat Servant
I'm glad we have a discussion started - that was my desire ... rather than to air any particular gripe.

Alan, I think you hit the nail on the head- when you use the code to determine the design, it's the tail waving the dog.

HotLine, you brought up a good example to make my case: receptacle spacing. Strict adherence to the code rule - using your tape measure to carefully space your receptacles exactly 12-ft from each other - will nearly always result in the receptacle being placed dead-center behind the couch or the bed. For those who remember the introdiction of the AFCI, it was the 'extension cord pinched by furniture' that was the original reason we 'needed' this new technology.

Sure. placing the receptacle behind the bed 'meets code' - but don't you think that, perhaps, we'd be better off placing the receptacles somewhere else?

I can use my screwdriver as a punch or pry bar. Ever notice that Klein ("The best in the world") will not honor their warranty if there's evidence of such use? It's their position that you have abused the tool, used it as it was never intended.

Ditto for the code. Right in the beginning it says it's not a design manual. Why do we let it be used as one? Why do customers tolerate it? After all, the housewife won't tolerate a styrofoam countertop - even if it 'meets code.'

As for the code being 'simply correct:' I'm not sure I understand that response. It has been my observation that while good design invariably meets code, 'code minimum' is rarely good design. Do you disagree?

Joined: Jul 2004
Posts: 9,669
Likes: 6
I don't think anyone here believes code minimum is good design. The problem is we, as a society, have decided price is more important than quality. If you can't turn that corner with your customer, the guy down the street will beat your bid every time but in the end the customer will not be as happy, so your job is to explain the difference.
Believe it or not, I think most customers will spring for the extra bucks if they understand what they are getting for the extra money.
Things like a few extra receptacles or an extra 3 way switch or two are insignificant in the price of a $200,000 house but they make a lot of difference in the enjoyment of living in that house.
The builder should walk the house with the customer before the drywall goes up and talk about each room. (where do you think the furniture will go, how will you use this room etc) That is the last easy chance to fix design flaws or just personalize the home to the home owner. The original plan should have already taken into account door swings and convenient outlet placement. This is just the last easy chance to fix things.

Greg Fretwell
Joined: Jun 2004
Posts: 1,273
My experience is limited to commercial.

For our jobs, Code minimum work is rarely acceptable. The Contract specifies wire sizes beyond the Code, etc.


Out in California, Title 24 supersedes the Code -- and it's growing like cancer.


Ten years ago I had the displeasure to completely renovate a 1927 office tower downtown. My genius boss always stayed with copper and 2" EMT unless otherwise specified for feeders. (200A 3-phase)

This being his first (and only) high-rise it was news to him that copper feeders can only dangle so far until they reach support. Since the verticals had already been installed (and encased in concrete) the solution was Aluminum.

Fortunately his (4) feeder runs to the roof had been mis-calculated. He'd wildly over-sized the neutrals and wildly under-sized the bonding conductors. So the EMT was big enough to tolerate Aluminum.

When the bill came in he was $6,000 UNDER budget on the wire. (Remember what prices were?)

Overnight, he informed all of his foremen to upsize all underground feeders from now on: Aluminum to be used whenever the contract permitted.

(Albertson's accepts Aluminum feeders for all but motor circuits.)

This is but one example of how Code minimum thinking is ruinous.


As for the residential practice of routing the most complexity into the overhead/fan boxes -- I'd hate to have to correct any circuit faults there!

In my world, I attempt to keep high junction boxes as simple as possible. I also favor generous gutters. The labor drain and high danger of working in packed gutters makes them losers. (I've seen guys knocked out by a sweet jolt of 277V -- the can was a nasty ball of connections -- and he had to brace himself against the strut rack to work it. Talk about well grounded, through the heart!)

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