The National Electrical Code sets the minimum code requirements for safe electrical installation. But many homes in Texas – and the rest of the U.S. – are not up to code. This is a problem because homes that are not up to code are at risk for electrical failures and malfunctions. These issues can lead to electrocutions and house fires.
So, where to begin? Here’s what you need to know about whether your home is up to code.
All U.S. states adopted the National Electrical Code, which is the benchmark for electrical safety. These electrical safety regulations cover issues such as wiring, grounding, and overcurrent protection. “In the last 40 years, National Electrical Code requirements reduced home electrocutions by 83 percent,” said Brett Brenner, president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI).
“The ESFI strongly encourages states and jurisdictions to adopt the most recent codes and standards to protect residents with the latest advancements in safety technology,” he stated.
It’s also important for you to take the necessary steps to make ensure that your home is up to code.
The code is updated every three years according to Brenner, and these updates ensure that our electrical systems are safe. “Homes not up to date with the latest safety codes may not be equipped to handle today’s electrical needs, and are not adequately protected against fire and electrical hazards,” he explained.
In case you’re thinking of taking your chances, you may want to reconsider. “Each year, electrical malfunctions account for 35,000 home fires, causing over 1,130 injuries, 500 deaths, and $1.4 billion in property damage,” Brenner warned. “Many existing homes simply can’t handle the demands of today’s electrical appliances and devices.”
And a surprising number of homes are not up to code. “In the past ten years, the NEC code has made a large number of code changes to help address changes in electrical needs and safety concerns in homes,” said Benjamin Kolo, owner of Mr. Electric.
In fact, since 1975, there have been over a dozen revisions to the NEC. “Prior to 1975, most homes were woefully wired in relation to current electrical requirements,” Kolo explained. Before the 1970s, he says many homes didn’t have ground wires run throughout. “Even more concerning, many homes were wired with a technique called “’knob and tube.’”
So, what does that mean, and why does it matter? “Knob and tube wiring does not have a ground wire anywhere in the system – including devices that we come in contact with on a daily basis, like light switches and outlets,” said Kolo.
And as a result, Kolo says these types of homes fail to offer any type of protection if there’s a short circuit or wiring failure. “In the 1950s and on, house wiring was improved, but homes were typically wired with only 4 separate circuits for most of the home and a 60-amp service.”
Now, compare that to the current code requirements in the average home: 200 amps with at least 13 separate circuits. When you consider the appliances, electronics, lighting, and other electrical needs of today’s home, it’s easy to understand why an older home would be overloaded.
If you’re buying, selling, or remodeling a house, electrical inspections are a must according to Mark Dawson, COO of Mister Sparky. “They’re crucial to understanding what you’re getting into and ensuring a home is safe,” he said. “Even newly remodeled homes might have neglected electrical systems with aging components, outdated design, and other problems that range from inconvenient to dangerous.”
This isn’t where you want to take shortcuts. “Even though going through all the steps to ensure a home or property is up to code may seem like a hassle, it could make all the difference,” he says. “Taking shortcuts through shoddy wiring jobs may cause a home or property to go up in flames.” And even if you plan on staying in your home for a long time, you want to ensure that it’s not a fire hazard.
To learn more, see SaveOnEnergy’s article on 2020 electrical requirements for homes.