The National Electrical Code (NEC) sets the minimum standards for safe electrical installation. However, many homes in Texas – and the rest of the U.S. – are not up to code. And homes that are not up to code are subject to electrical failures and malfunctions.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency, residential fires caused by electrical failure or malfunction can occur in almost any room of the house. However, 20 percent originate in the kitchen, followed by 12 percent that occur in the bedroom, and 10 percent that start in an attic, ceiling, or roof assembly.
More troubling, the fires most likely to lead to injuries or death tend to start in the living room, family room, or den (14 percent injuries and 27 percent deaths), followed by the bedroom (25 percent injuries and 14 percent deaths).
If your home meets the NEC’s 2020 home code requirements, it’s less likely to be a fire hazard.
The NEC is updated on a regular basis. In fact, if your house was built before 1975, there have been over a dozen revisions to the NEC since then.
“To determine if your home meets the NEC electrical code compliance, you first need to know when the home was built,” said Mark Dawson, COO of Mister Sparky, an electrical repair, installation, and maintenance company. “Electrical codes are updated every three or four years, so cross-checking the year a home was built with residential building codes correlating with the most recently updated year is a smart thing to do.”
Also, Dawson explained you can look up the home’s builder. “Hopefully the builder’s business is still open, and if so, you may request records of construction dates, permits, or contracts, which will likely give information about the home’s electrical system materials and configuration,” he advised.
If you have an older home that was built 40 years ago – or if you’ve had a major appliance installed, Brett Brenner, president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International, recommended contacting a qualified electrician to inspect your home. “The electrician will be able to assist homeowners with what needs to be updated and the safety devices that should be installed,” Brenner said.
To get you started, Brenner says these are some of the 2020 code requirements:
So, what do AFCI protection and GFCI protection mean?
“Ground-Fault- Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) provide protection from liquids and have been proven to be extremely effective at protecting people,” said Benjamin Kolo, owner of Mr. Electric. “GFCI protection is required in any area within 6 feet of water and any unfinished areas of the home including the garage.”
Available as a circuit breaker and receptacle, Brenner added that GFCI protection guards against electrical shock in the event electricity comes into contact with water.
“Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) afford protection for arcing and wiring anomalies such as loose connections known to cause fires,” Kolo said. “AFCI protection is required on nearly every circuit in a home with only a couple exceptions.”
AFCI are available as circuit breakers and a receptacle, but why are they so important? “AFCI circuit breakers can sense very small issues such as a cell phone charger starting to short out and will disconnect the circuit from the issue,” Kolo explained.
There are also other types of safety devices that can help to ensure your home is safe from electrical disasters. “Surge Protective Devices (SPD) can protect your home from surges that can damage your electrical systems and devices,” Brenner said. “Also, Tamper Resistant Receptacles (TRR) are just like normal receptacles – but they have an internal shutter system.”
Brenner says these receptacles keep anything other than plugs from being inserted into the outlets. This is particularly important if you have small children.
It may seem like a lot to do, but when weighing the pros and cons the alternative is not an option – and it may not be as extensive a project as you might think.
“All of these issues can be resolved by installing a proper circuit breaker panel, proper grounding and appropriate wiring with properly divided circuits,” Kolo said. “A typical home rewire can be completed in a few days and is a helpful update to have completed when selling the home.”
However, if you don’t have expert-level electrical skills, we don’t recommend tackling these items yourself. “Bringing a home up to current code would require a licensed electrician, and in many locations, a permit to be pulled and inspections completed,” Kolo advised.