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Electrical Blueprint Reading: Where do I Start?


Electrical Blueprint Reading: Where do I Start?

General blueprints are a well-known and integral part of construction, but their less-prominent counterpart, electrical blueprints, are just as important. The two types of plans differ in many significant ways. Chief among them is their level of accessibility. Electrical blueprint reading isn’t something you just pick up on the job – it’s a skill that requires a knowledge and understanding to fully master.

Standard vs. Electrical Blueprint Reading

While they’re still specialized documents, it usually isn’t too hard to read standard blueprints as a layperson. If you’re already familiar with the concept of space and dimensions, you get the gist of what the blueprint is trying to tell you just by glancing at it. A closer look at the annotations lets you see all the mathematical details that keep the building standing and solid, and most of these are denoted with clear markers that can be decoded with the accompanying legend.

Construction workers frequently consult blueprints as they build to make sure that their work isn’t deviating from the overall design, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that most of these workers have little to no formal training in their industry – it is assumed that they will soon figure out how to parse these blueprints with a little practice.

Electrical blueprints, however, are a different story; there are many specialized aspects to them. These blueprints can be difficult for industry outsiders to grasp. These documents lay out the wiring and connections that deliver electricity throughout the building and ensure that this infrastructure will be compliant with all current codes and bylaws.

They involve different considerations than traditional blueprints; instead of starting mostly from scratch, the designer must work within the given parameters of the structure to create the safest, most useful electrical system possible. Deciding how much power the wiring will be able to deliver to each part of the building and where the outlets can most easily and conveniently be placed are all conundrums that are worked out in the process of drafting the blueprint.

Becoming Literate in Electrical Blueprints

Once a designer has laid out all wiring, connections, and other important elements, the pictorial instructions of the blueprint must be followed to the letter. Accessing all this information can be quite demanding, since a fair amount of specialized knowledge is required. To read an electrical blueprint, you should, among other things:

  • Be extremely familiar with all symbols and their meanings (some are very similar, but mix up a pre-set resistor and a variable resistor and you’ll be sorry!)
  • Understand the flow of the circuit and how the power will be distributed across the lines
  • Be able to identify critical nodes (points at which many separate wires connect which are subject to significantly more stress than most)
  • Know the National Electrical Code (NEC) like the back of your hand

Sound complicated? It is, but none of these things can just be glossed over. It’s absolutely vital that anyone who reads an electrical blueprint can fully understand it down to the last detail so that they can follow its instructions competently and exactly.

If any part of the drawing is forgotten or misinterpreted, the safety precautions taken by the designer may not work as intended and issues like errant sparks and electrical fires become major risks. The whole system can also become prone to failure, putting occupants of the building at risk of having critical parts like air conditioning and elevator cars become useless. This increased responsibility is part of the reason why extra training in this area is such a good idea – it’s not enough to be partially trained or to learn on the job when people’s lives are at risk.

The Importance of Expertise

It should come as no surprise, then, that education is vital when dealing with electrical blueprints. Consulting the BLS statistics again reveals that, in contrast to regular construction workers, electricians and maintenance workers who regularly use these blueprints in their day-to-day work are expected to be licensed and fully trained through an apprenticeship program at least.

This route gets them a lot of hands-on experience with reading these documents, but your employees may not learn all the technical specifics they could learn from study that is more formal. For this reason, some employers go a little further to help their employees acquire additional training and certifications.

This helps make sure they have the knowledge and confidence they need to perform at their peak. This isn’t only useful for designated electrical workers, either – anyone who works in the construction industry can benefit from the more holistic viewpoint that comes from knowing a little more about how the electrical side of things.

For those who are ready to become more familiar with this deeply important aspect of construction processes, NTT’s Electrical Print Reading Seminar. For more information, connect with NTT today.

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