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For a long time, the best advice seemed to be “hire a professional and get it done right.” Depending on the task contemplated and the individual’s level of expertise, this notion may or may not be valid. You have to assess the situation and decide what will work for you. Even if you hire out all the work, electrical knowledge and expertise, as conveyed in this book, will be of value in completing your building project and maintaining it in the future.

It is a fact that nowadays homeowners are far more active in their construction projects, whether new building or remodeling. If professionals are hired, the owners still may play a prominent role in planning and moving forward with the job. Often the homeowner is the builder. In some cases, though, a professional is hired as a designer-advisor and, in jurisdictions where there is oversight, interfaces with the inspector and, if necessary, signs off on the job. All of this is especially true in the area of electrical work. Some home crafters draw a line in the sawdust, avoiding electrical work altogether.

Others set the boxes, drill studs, and pull cable, leaving all terminations to the electrician. The extreme case is to do everything including the service without hiring a professional at all. This approach will maximize the monetary savings for the homeowner, and of course there is immense satisfaction in doing it all. If this is too great a leap into the unknown at this time, it might be something to aim for down the road. Electrical work is very exacting and presupposes accurate knowledge (on an open-book basis) of the National Electrical Code® (NEC®). This document is applicable in the United States, Mexico, Venezuela, and certain other countries.

In Canada, it is the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC), and in Europe it is the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Australia and New Zealand recognize the Australian/New Zealand Standard for Wiring Rules. These codes are similar, differing for the most part in only a few details here and there. In this book, we will be referring to the NEC. If you are in an area where another code applies, it will be a question of referring to your documentation and making the necessary adjustments. Nonelectrical work, both residential and commercial, is governed by multiple building codes, and most of these are less restrictive and detailed than the NEC.

The Building Officials’ and Code Administrators’ (BOCA) Plumbing Code, for example, lays out general principles such as those intended to ensure that drain water will not infiltrate the drinking water system, but it is a comparatively slim volume, and the requirements are less detailed and specific than the NEC. Why all this oversight of electrical work? In a nutshell, it is to protect end users from the twin demons of fire and electrical shock. The NEC has had great success in this regard. In recent years, the number of nonutility electrical shock fatalities has gone way down.

This decline has been due largely to the increasingly broad NEC mandate requiring ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in more locations. Homeowners and builders may gripe at the initial cost of installation and instances of nuisance tripping, but these are small prices to pay when you consider that in the fullness of time, little fingers will seek ways to insert metal objects into receptacles and impatient construction workers will saw off the ground prongs of power tools that may be used in wet environments.

Similarly, though in an earlier stage of development, the arc-fault circuit interrupter, where installed, is a highly effective guard against electrical fires, although here again there is the issue of nuisance tripping. In Chapter 1, we’ll talk about these lifesaving devices in greater detail theory of operation, where required, where prohibited.