Common Electrical Code Violations
We sat down with a state chief electrical inspector as well as a seasoned field inspector to find out which electrical codes pros mess up most often. We hope the info here helps clear up the confusion that could lead to a failed electrical inspection.
NOTE: NOT ALL OF THIS INFORMATION MAY APPLY TO YOUR AREA OF THE COUNTRY/WORLD. ALWAYS CHECK WITH YOUR LOCAL ELECTRICAL INSPECTOR FOR CLARIFICATION.
Choosing the wrong circuit breakers
To help you understand which protection goes where, consider what each type of breaker was designed to do.
Circuit breakers protect wiring and equipment like furnaces, air conditioners, dryers and stoves.
GFCIs protect people in areas where they are likely to be using small appliances and where water is present.
AFCIs prevent fires in all living areas where appliance cords are prone to be pinched or crimped, or chewed by pets.
Types of Breakers
Standard circuit breakers
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 That’s why they have largely been replaced by GFCIs and AFCIs.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 larger appliances such as furnaces, A/C condensers, dryers and stoves.
Ground fault circuit interrupter
GFCI breakers and outlets have been around for a while, and most people know they’re required in bathrooms, kitchens and outdoors, but our experts are still finding violations, especially in these areas: 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 hydro massage tub without an access panel.
Arc fault circuit interrupter
AFCIs are the new kid on the block. They used to be required only on bedroom circuits, but the NEC now requires AFCI protection in all living areas. AFCIs were designed with fire protection in mind. 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.
Forgetting the tamper-resistant receptacles
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. Tamper-resistant receptacles are a great invention, so use them—it’s code.
Wiring switches without a neutral
All switch locations now need a neutral wire. This code was mainly implemented to accommodate potential future uses. Electronic switches require a small amount of constant electricity and therefore need a neutral wire run to them. There are exceptions to this code, but if the walls are currently open anyway, don’t make the next guy fish in a wire. Do it right and make sure there’s a neutral wire in the box.
Using a ground rod electrode when a better system is available
For a long time, metal underground water piping was considered the best grounding electrode available, but virtually all underground water piping today is plastic. And it turns out that rebar in concrete footings or the foundation for a house is actually a more effective grounding system than the ground rods we’ve been using for decades. So if there’s rebar in the new footings, that rebar needs to be used as the primary grounding electrode. This new provision in the NEC requires a lot of coordination between the trades and project managers. Electricians usually show up long after the concrete guys have moved on, but good communication is much easier work than busting up concrete.
Installing a flat weather-resistant cover on an outdoor receptacle
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; for holiday lights, for example. In-use or “bubble covers” provide protection at all times. The NEC 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 NEC 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 NEC requires that all 15- and 20-amp receptacles be rated as weather-resistant and tamper-resistant when installed in both wet and damp locations.
Crowding a service panel
A service panel requires a working clearance that’s 30 in. wide, 3 ft. deep and 6 ft. 6 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.
Not enough receptacles in the foyer
The purpose of this 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 of them, the better.
Grounding is not 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.