Code-making: Important, challenging, rewarding

What does the National Electrical Code have to do with your bottom line? A lot, but whether it is adding to or subtracting from it depends on who you are.

Sep 1st, 2003

On September 22, I will be in Anaheim, CA at the Cabling Systems Conference and Exhibition 2003 to present a National Electrical Code (NEC) Update. Please join me for discussion on an issue that affects us all—NEC and your bottom line.

So, what does the National Electrical Code have to do with your bottom line? A lot, but whether it is adding to or subtracting from it depends on who you are. For the purpose of discussion, we will divide the interested parties in to four groups:

  • End-user/Owner;
  • Contractor/Installer;
  • Designer/Engineer;
  • Manufacturer.

NEC dictates the type of cabling and where and how it can be installed. Change any of these and the ripples begin—just like when you toss a small stone in a calm pond.

Duct cable and abandoned cable are the boulder-sized issues that are currently hanging over our industry pond.

See you in Anaheim for what I am sure will be an interesting discussion.

Code making: What is that like?

It is both my pleasure and responsibility to serve as alternate to Bob Jensen, panel member of NEC code-making panel 16 (CMP-16).

Code-making panels officially meet twice during each three-year code cycle. During the first meeting of this cycle, the panels consider proposals submitted to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for consideration. While this makes for a very busy week, it is the month or so spent wading through the proposals and substantiation prior to the meeting that is the most demanding.

At this first meeting, the panel reviews each proposal, and an "unofficial" show of hands vote is taken. Results are reported in the National Electrical Code Committee Report on Proposals (ROP) as the "Panel Meeting Action." After the meeting, "official" ballots are distributed to voting members and their alternates. The results of the voting members' ballots are reported as "Ballot Results." Any ballot that disagrees with the panel's meeting action requires a written explanation, which is also reported.

Next, the ROP is published; everyone interested is invited to comment on the proposals. The 2003 ROP is available for public review from the NFPA at www.nfpa.org. Your comments must be received at NFPA headquarters by 5 p.m. (EST) on October 31. You can submit your comments by mail, fax, or electronically. But be prepared—the 2002 NEC ROP is thousands of pages, not including introductory material.

The NEC code-making panels will meet again in December to discuss the comments received on the ROP. The results of this meeting will be published in the National Electrical Code Committee Report on Comments (ROC).

Next, the NEC Technical Correlating Committee will review the results from all of the code-making panels to correlate the proposals. Then the proposals will be voted on by the NFPA membership at their annual meeting. And finally, NFPA Standards Council will review the entire record from initial proposal to the last appeal and determine whether to publish. If all goes well, we can expect to see the 2005 NEC in late summer 2004.

Hurdles to jump

There are currently 19 code-making panels busy working on what will be published as the 2005 edition of the NEC. And I do mean busy. A total of 3,578 proposals were received for the current code cycle.

I was told that this was actually down from the 4,722 proposals submitted to revise the code for the 2002 NEC. I think this was to make me feel that things were getting better and not worse. Sort of begs the question, how could something as stable as the National Electrical Code elicit such a flood of ideas for change?

While most proposals suggest that text be added, deleted or revised, occasionally, there is a hot topic. This cycle's hottest topic seems to be the same as the last: limited combustible and non-combustible cabling. Only this cycle, it is being called "air duct cable."

Reorganization complications

To further complicate things, the same proposals were submitted to two panels. Why?

In April 2001, the NFPA Standards Council approved an NEC Technical Correlating Committee plan for reconfiguring the code-making panels and reassigning their workloads. This reorganization reduced the number of code-making panels from 20 to 19 and shifted Article 725 and Article 760 from CMP-16 to CMP-3.

CMP-16, which consists of 13 voting members and their alternates, is now responsible for NEC articles 770, 800, 810, 820, and 830.

CMP-3, which consists of 12 voting members and their alternates, is now responsible for NEC articles 300, 527, 720, 725, 727, 760, and Chapter 9, Tables 11(a) and (b) and Tables 12(a) and (b)

As I mentioned in Ask Donna October and November 2002, Article 725.41 A (4) addresses "Listed information technology (computer) equipment limited power circuits"—that is data (only) cabling.

Article 800 currently covers traditional telephony and digital telephony circuits. Article 725 covers those between information technology equipment (computers), unless the voice and data are in the same cable where Article 725.56(D)(1) refers back to Article 800.

Logically, it would seem that all the telecommunications articles should be under one panel. And proposals to that effect were made by BICSI, NEC CMP-16 and others. But these were all rejected by NEC CMP-3. Otherwise, you could give the same proposals to two different groups of experts and because of their varied backgrounds and experiences you could get two very different results. This is exactly what happened.

Having created the problem with reorganization, the NEC TCC decided to resolve it by convening a Task Group. And there is now a Task Group reviewing the 171 proposals affecting correlation among Code-Making Panels 3, 16, and the Technical Committee on Air-Conditioning—all centered on the inclusion of air duct cable into the NEC 2005.

CMP deals with CMP

Today, CMP cable (not to be confused with CMP as an abbreviation for "code-making panel") is a minimum that can be installed in plenums. And air duct cable is one better. But air duct cable is not required anywhere by NEC 2002, so it is not uniquely listed in the NEC 2002. Today, air duct cable is CMP.

What air duct cable will be used for will depend largely on how the Task Group resolves these differences. As with its predecessor, "limited combustible and non-combustible cable" during the NEC 2002 cycle, air duct cable is a bit of a solution looking for a problem.

You cannot simply invent a better widget, submit your widget to the NEC code-making panels and expect them to require that your widget be the minimum acceptable for use in the future. You have to have a problem for which your new widget is a solution. Enter the "retrofit of an air handler system with new controls using the inside of the air distribution duct as a pathway for the control cable" scenario, and you now have a reason for there to be "air duct cable" in the NEC.

But to lay the groundwork for this new need, proponents must first create a "special plenum" where only air duct cable can meet the need. So, instead of there being "ducts and plenums" in Article 300.22 (b) and "other spaces for environmental air," in Article 300.22 (c), what is proposed is that Article 300.22 (b) include "air ducts, apparatus casing plenums, duct distribution plenums, air handling room plenums," and that Article 300.22 (c) include "ceiling cavity and raised floor plenums". Each of these, of course, comes with a new definition.

I cannot find an air conditioning engineer or tech who is designing or installing cabling inside air supply ducts. And personally, I believe that is a good thing. Air velocity in some of these ducts reaches 40 miles per hour. So, how would these cables enter and exit the ducts? How would you secure the cable inside the duct wall?

If, however, you are considering installing massive amounts of cable in a ceiling plenum, air duct cable will reduce your potential heat output, smoke generation, and flame spread—providing not only for a quality telecommunications cabling infrastructure but also for better fire protection design than is required by NEC 2002.

While serving on an NEC panel requires a lot of research, reading, and endurance, one could not work with a better group of people, or buy a better education.

Sort of trial by fire prevention.

Donna Ballast is BICSI's standards representative, and a BICSI registered communications distribution designer (RCDD). Send your questions to Donna via e-mail: ballast@utexas.edu.

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