It’s that time again: Every three years the National
Electrical Code (NEC) undergoes major revision. The 1999 NEC
includes several hundred changes that may have become the law
in your jurisdiction. Many of these changes were editorial in
nature, but some are important technical points. For the most
part, you can leave it to your electrician to worry about the
new rules, but in some cases these changes can directly affect
your design, pricing, and how you go about your
NM Cable Allowed Above Three Stories
Non-metallic sheathed cable (the standard
Romex found on all your job sites) is now allowed in all
one-family and two-family dwellings of any height. It was
previously restricted to buildings up to three stories. All
buildings four stories or taller were required to be wired with
another method, such as armored cable or conduit.
Although one- and two-family dwellings are usually not more
than three stories, taller structures are not unheard of. This
new rule should grant some relief for builders of those rare
The old rule also sometimes applies to basement or attic
remodels. Some inspectors required the whole house to be
rewired if an upstairs or downstairs addition pushed the house
over the three-story limit.
All other buildings besides dwellings fall under the old
rule: No NM cable if the building exceeds three stories in
Island Receptacles Clarified
The NEC requires that at least one
receptacle be installed on an island or peninsula. The question
has always been, Where do you put it? The 1996 NEC was not very
clear about this. Many inspectors required the receptacle to be
mounted on top of the countertop using a tombstone-style
receptacle, but most customers thought these were ugly.
Under the ’99 NEC, a tombstone receptacle is no longer
required. The code now clearly states that if no wall space or
cabinet is available above the countertop within 18 inches, a
receptacle can be mounted below the countertop within 12 inches
— except where the countertop overhangs 6 inches or more
(see Figure 1).
1. Island receptacles may be mounted on the cabinet side
within 12 inches of the countertop, but not under overhangs of
6 inches or more (right). If any vertical space is available
above the cabinet, as in a step-down counter, the receptacle
must be mounted there (above).
Bathroom Circuits Expanded
A change in the ’96 NEC required
bathroom receptacles to be connected to a GFCI-protected 20-amp
circuit that feeds only receptacles. The receptacles in all of
the bathrooms in a house could be wired off one 20-amp circuit,
but the circuit could not feed anything but bathroom
receptacles. This meant that exhaust fans and lights installed
in a shower (and which required GFCI protection to comply with
their UL listing) could not be connected to the 20-amp GFCI
receptacle circuit. Neither could jet tub motors or electric
Under the ’99 NEC, this 20-amp branch circuit for
bathroom receptacles can now feed fans, lighting, and other
fixed equipment (Figure 2).
2. The GFCI receptacle circuits in bathrooms can now
feed fans, lights, and other equipment — as long as the
circuit serves only the one bathroom.
However, two rules must be followed: The receptacle circuit
cannot be used to feed any other rooms, and the total connected
load of all of the fixed equipment except lighting cannot
exceed 10 amps (210-23a).
Be careful when applying this new rule. Changes elsewhere in
the code could seem to conflict. Make sure your inspector reads
it this way.
Access Panel for Jet Tubs
Although access to the electrical
equipment for a hydromassage bathtub has always been required,
a change in the language spells this out clearly. Often
homeowners balk at the thought of a removable access hatch in
an elegant tile tub surround. With some planning, you can
usually locate the panel inside a closet or in the ceiling of a
closet on the floor below.