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Is 2017 National Electrical Code a Law?

Webster’s dictionary defines a law as “systems or rules that a country or community recognize as regulating actions and being enforced by penalties,” with an alternative definition being, “a statement of fact related to a natural or scientific phenomenon.” It is thus debatable whether the National Electrical Code or NEC would constitute a law or not.

Long History

Ever since the ancient Greeks discovered electrical charge, which William Gilbert described in 1600 with the Latin word “electricus,” human beings have worked to grow the understanding of electrical principles. While there will likely never be a time when you will be able to read all of the knowledge that could ever be acquired about electrical charges and their effects on matter, there is an abundance of data available. This data has largely formed the NEC and has been codified into what could be called a set of laws.

Punishment for Non-Adherence

The NEC is also called the NFPA 70, and is a part of the National Fire Codes that the National Fire Protection Association or NFPA publishes. If you or one of your employees chooses not to adhere to a standard set forth in the NEC, there is a very legitimate risk of causing a home or business you are wiring to catch on fire. Ignoring the guidelines of the NEC can be called criminal negligence and in that sense the NEC would be considered a law in the practical sense.

Any electrician who goes against the standards set forth in the Code could face the loss of their license, as its standards are considered the basic of responsible electrical wiring and electricity application. This applies to all high voltage installations, and inspections are to be expected. In most municipalities, any electrical application of 100 volts or greater DC or 50 volts or more AC is subject to the regulations laid out in the NEC.

Beyond legalistic punishments, there are also physical punishments that can occur if you do not properly wire a building up to NEC standards. There is sizable risk of electrocution and overheating, which means that wiring a building outside of accordance with the Code carries risks that would be punished by the electricity itself. If your wiring proves faulty and there is injury caused by this, particularly loss of life, you could potentially be charged with criminal negligence.


In some jurisdictions, there is an exception made for what is considered low voltage. In cases where the DC voltage is under 100 or the AC less than 50 volts, there are places where no special training is needed for installation. Practically speaking, this could be as simple as changing out the batteries on your home smoke detector and requiring special licensing for that would be unnecessary for safety. In many cases, installing telephone and Internet lines would qualify in much the same way, with the maximum voltage making such installations reasonably safe even in the hands of a layperson who has no special training.

Another notable exception in many jurisdictions is that of an individual wiring their own home. If you choose to live in a home for a certain period, often around two years, you may wire it yourself without fear of arrest or other legal reprisal. In the sense of potential legal issues for wiring your own home, the NEC does not qualify as being a law.

Law versus Ethics

Above and beyond what the NEC states that could govern maintaining your electrical licensing, the Code is not considered to be a law in the sense of civil or criminal codes in most jurisdictions. In many cases, older buildings have wiring that would no longer meet NEC guidelines that is “grandfathered in” and need not be changed unless new work is going to be performed. Not following the most stringent parts of the NEC to the letter may not even result in producing an especially dangerous situation. The National Electrical Code is as much a code of ethics that one should follow for safety as it is a codified set of laws that one must follow rigidly.

Proper Training in the NEC

While the NEC is not a law in every sense of the word, anyone who installs high voltage electrical equipment or wiring should be familiar with it. If you or your employees need to know the NEC, seminars can be helpful. Contact NTT Training now for more information about the 2017 National Electrical Code.

NTT Training, Inc. is an instructional service accredited by the ACCET, or Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training. Through providing a means of independent professional licensing, ACCET establishes safety and quality controls and best practices independent of civil or criminal law.

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