This may come as a surprise, but the National Electrical Code is not, in itself, a legally enforceable document. The National Fire Protection Association, which publishes the NEC in a document coded NFPA 70, is an international nonprofit organization; it has no authority to create laws or legally enforceable regulations.
However, under state law, you probably do have to adhere to some version of the NEC. States and cities usually pass laws requiring builders to complete electrical installations according to NEC standards. That leads to another question: Which version of the NEC holds sway in your area?
The authors of the NEC issue a new edition every three years, and states, counties, and municipalities sometimes move slowly in adoption of the freshest version. As a result, the United States has a complex patchwork of NEC use. Some states legally enforce versions as old as the 2008 edition, while others are already on the 2017 NEC. A handful of states don’t require adherence to any version of the NEC at all.
So how does an electrician know which NEC to consult during a new installation? The answer depends on the state you’re in. Sometimes it depends on the county or city. In fact, once you start digging into the question of which states require electrical systems to comply with the NEC, things get rather confusing.
“Adopted in All 50 States,” but Not Everywhere in the U.S.
The NFPA website seems like a great place to start the hunt into current NEC adoption. Visit the official page for the National Electric Code on the NFPA website, and you’ll get a clear answer on which states use the standard in their laws.
“Adopted in all 50 states, the NEC is the benchmark for safe electrical design, installation, and inspection to protect people and property from electrical hazards,” the site says.
That’s true, as far as it goes. The NEC has been adopted in all 50 states. But it hasn’t been adopted by all 50 states. The statement leaves out the complex reality of local building codes, which may or may not line up with state actions. Not every state has written compliance with any version of the NEC into their Codes of Regulations.
So if you’re looking for the legally enforceable edition of the NEC to consult, it’s best to consult your local building department. That said, studying state adoption of the NEC is a decent starting point for any electrician who plans to offer services in a new area.
NEC Adoption in State Codes of Regulations
As of this writing, in April 2019, the following states have adopted the 2008 edition of the NEC into their state Codes of Regulations:
Illinois, Indiana, and Kansas.
Only one state is currently on the 2011 NEC:
These states have adopted the 2014 edition of the NEC:
Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The 2017 NEC, which is the latest edition as of this writing, is enforceable by law in the following states:
Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming
Finally, these are the states that do not have statewide adoption of any version of the NEC. Note that counties and municipalities in these states may require adherence to some version of the NEC; consult local building departments for more information.
Arizona, Mississippi, and Missouri.
That’s all 50 states.
A list like this one is bound to change with time. The NFPA encourages states to write the current version of the NEC into their Codes of Regulations as soon as possible. In one report, the NFPA found that more than 80 percent of U.S. citizens say that “policymakers should make it a priority to ensure electrical and fire safety codes are up-to-date.”
The same report complains that “states vary widely in when — or if — they adopt these updates, depriving citizens of the benefits the updated codes offer.”
At the moment, 10 states that haven’t updated regulations to reflect the newest edition of the NEC are in the process of doing so. Those states are: California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.
By the time you read these words, any of those states may have made it to the 2017 NEC list. And, according to the NFPA, that’s an important update to make.
What Difference Does It Make Which NEC Edition States Use?
The NFPA has two arguments why every state should adopt the latest edition of the NEC with each new issue. First, it points out that as electrical products and requirements change, safety standards have to keep up. The most up-to-date NEC is also the safest, they say.
The second argument is primarily an economic one. Stakeholders will save money on their electrical systems when the entire nation follows the same rules, the NFPA says. Their phrase is “economic efficiency through uniformity.”
The argument goes like this: When every city has its own electrical codes, electricians have to spend time (which, as we know, equals money) researching unfamiliar standards every time they leave the city limits. Taxpayer resources are expended on lawmakers hiring experts or writing their own codes. Manufacturers can’t be sure that their components are up-to-code nationwide, limiting growth.
A single nationwide electrical code would be more efficient. There are also less-obvious economic benefits of universal adoption of up-to-date NEC editions, says the NFPA. The latest NEC allows smaller, more energy-efficient components; it will also provide safety information on newer, greener technologies, like on-site solar panels. These innovations will dramatically reduce energy costs for consumers, leaving the NEC a potent gateway to virtually unlimited savings.
Of course, safety is at the core of the NFPA’s mission. Older editions of the NEC aren’t as safe as the latest, they say.
NEC Editions and Public Safety
In making their claim about the advantages of newer NEC editions, the NFPA has a long history of safety innovations to point to. The Code was first published in 1897, and it’s been adapting to the times ever since.
NEC innovations can almost certainly claim some of the credit for a dramatic reduction in fires and electrocutions over the years. Between 1980 and 2016 — years during which the NEC issued updates every third year — electrical fires in U.S. homes fell from 75,000 to just 45,300, with a low point of about 41,000 in 2012.
Past new editions of the NEC helped to end unsafe practices, from dangerous aluminum wiring to the narrow use of ground fault circuit interrupters. The 2008 NEC code introduced the necessity of tamper-resistant receptacles, which — given universal adoption — could help to prevent electric shocks to curious children.
Meanwhile, electricians need to know what they’re promising when they tell clients their systems are always up to code. For now, at least, the answer to that question may change with the county line. The trend seems to be toward greater adoption of new NEC editions, though, so it may only be a matter of time before you can stop checking in with the local building department before you start an installation that’s safe, efficient, and compliant with the latest version of the National Electrical Code.
Campbell, Richard. “Home Electrical Fires.” NFPA. National Fire Protection Association, Mar. 2019. PDF. 20 Apr. 2019.
“Falling Behind on Electrical Safety: Wide Variations in State Adoptions of the NEC Reveal Neglect of Electrical Safety.” NFPA. Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute, 15 Mar. 2018. PDF. 20 Apr. 2019.
“NEC adoption maps.” NFPA. National Fire Protection Association, 1 Apr. 2019. Web. 20 Apr. 2019.