Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Rant about Electrical Codes

First of all, here is a disclaimer. I am no electrical engineer. The following comments are based on what the electrician is telling us is code. I haven’t personally memorized the entire code, so I probably shouldn’t be complaining. But I will anyway. I am used to dealing with life safety/building codes. They can often be maddening, but for the most part, you can understand that the intent is to save peoples lives in case of a fire or other emergency.

Electrical codes are also for public safety, but we’ve come across a few items that don’t seem to be about safety, but rather about making sure electricians have plenty of work!
After meeting with the electrician and going over all the outlets and switches, we’ve had to add a number of outlets to meet code. For a household that is trying to reduce energy use and limit outlets in the exterior walls, this is a bit frustrating. We’ll get over it someday, but meanwhile, here’s my complaint list:

#1. We laid out the outlets at the kitchen countertops to avoid having outlets under the windows. There is minimal space between the countertop backsplash and the window sill, so we kept the outlets to the sides of the windows. According to “code”, we need to have outlets on either side of the sink, so we now have 4 outlets under the windows where we didn't want them and don't need them. Exactly what would I be plugging in so close to the sink and why is that safe?

#2: Code requires a whole lot of outlets along counters within a kitchen- every 4’. Just how many small appliances do they think we have? We have a toaster and a food processer- but that’s about it. The microwave is built-in. Kevin doesn’t believe in using a electric hand mixer and I can forget about ever getting a breadmaker because of his feelings on that... Why would we need so many outlets? I know the intent is to avoid extension cords, but this is excessive I think.

#3: We have a wall in the dining room that will be for side board storage cabinets. We didn’t want outlets behind the storage, so we planned on putting one above the top of the cabinet. This apparently doesn’t meet code, they need to be at least every 10’ and high outlets don’t count. Why not?

#4: Closet lighting. Exposed bulbs and pull chain fixtures are not allowed. So in a couple of existing closets in our house, the electrician had to remove the fixtures. These small closets don’t really warrant a switched fixture, so we’re just going to have to have dark closets. I understand this is about fire safety, but I wonder how many fires have started from light bulbs in closets?

#5: Bathroom lighting. Only recessed light fixtures can be installed above a bath tub. Our bathtub is separate from the shower, so there is really no way that water from the tub could reach the light fixture. We are trying to avoid recessed light fixtures where the ceiling is insulated (MN GreenStar item), so we have not choice but to eliminate the fixtures over the bathtub. Why is a recessed fixture over the tub safe, while a surface-mounted fixture isn't?

Okay, that’s enough ranting for now. Please feel free to enlighten me!

Here is a link to some of the residential electrical requirements that might be helpful to those planning a project.
Quote from the office today: "Photoshop was invented because of electrical wires."


kathy said...

When apartment buildings undergo a substantial renovation in NYC, code requires sprinkler heads in closets, which led a NY Times writer to wonder how much potential danger there was from his shirts spontaneously combusting.

Jimmytuaz said...

I don't know if there are different code requirements where you are but according to the IRC 2006 (most likely the code you are required to follow) the code states that there needs to be an outlet within 2' at any position on the counter, so technically you can have your outlets spaced 4' apart. You also only need an outlet 2' from one side of the sink and 1' from the other side. If that is all under the window there's nothing you can do about it.

In regards to your outlet above the dining cabinet, unless it's over 5'-6" it should count toward your wall receptacles. The distance is also only 6' from any point on the wall allowing you to have outlets spaced 12' apart.

You might want to install some lights in the closets anyway, we always add some in projects we design and you can do an inexpensive, energy efficient, and (somewhat) ok looking flourescent tube fixtures made for closets right above the door, it provides a good light onto the clothes in the closets whereas a bare bulb does not provide very good light.

Above the bathtub you should be able to use a surface mounted light as long as it meets the requirments of being suitable for wet or damp locations. Any fixture that is listed as weatherproof should meet this requirement.

Assuming you are under IRC 2006, which you likely are, it sounds like your electrician is missing some things. Perhaps you should see if an inspector would be willing to come walk through a couple of these issues with you before you spend money satisfying these requirements that the electrician is telling you that you need to meet.

Anonymous said...

Can the outlets have covers over them that blend in with the surroundings? I was thinking maybe some kind of spring-loaded door could cover the outlets.

Anonymous said...

I know only one person who has had a house fire and it started in her closet with a light that was too close to a stack of sweaters on a shelf. After that, I've been very aware of how easy it is to pile things on a high shelf and have a hot lightbulb nearby. No easy answer for the dark closet, though. :(

Kevin & Roxanne said...

I have calmed down a bit now.Thanks all for the comments! As I suspected, our electrician is probably bringing all the worst case scenarios of his experience with inspectors. If we had more time to debate these decisions, we would have challenged some of these things. As it is, the inspectors are coming in Monday and decision had to be made on the spot. We had to make the best decisions based on the information we had at the time and I think, for the most part, it will be fine. The outlets by the kitchen sink still piss me off- but someday, I'll get over it, I think.

Kevin & Roxanne said...

I have been through the code (the IRC 2006) and have found that the electrician was spot on about all the requirements at the countertops and islands. We couldn't make the lights over the tub work because they aren't high enough above the tub (which is slightly elevated) so - while Roxanne fumes about a thing or two, it's just normal stuff. It doesn't make always make sense but it is what it is. We're just a little annoyed with the additional outlets because we sat down with the electrical contractor prior to construction to review plans and make sure things were coordinated on paper first. That would have been a great time to catch a few of those things before they became Change Orders in the field.