The purpose of the National Electric Code (NEC) is “the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity.” Updated and published every three years, the most recent edition is NEC 2008.

Although the Code was adopted by the Ohio Board of Building Standards (OBBS) and went into effect on January 1 of this year, the Ohio Home Builders Association (OHBA) asked the state's governor, Ted Strickland, to sign an emergency order to temporarily rescind the use of the 2008 NEC for one-, two-, and three-family dwellings. Gov. Strickland signed the order on March 31, immediately reverting back to the 2005 NEC. This emergency order is valid for a period not to exceed 90 days, which is June 29, 2008.

The controversy stems from the 2008 NEC's expanded use of arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) and ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), as well as the requirement for all electrical outlets in new residential construction to be tamper-resistant receptacles. In its petition, OHBA argued that complying with the new Code would add $600 to $1,200 to the average new home, making this housing unaffordable.

“The OHBA claims that the increased cost of building to these two codes for one-, two-, and three-family dwellings, combined with the depressed economy, will make an already difficult market even more unaffordable,” says Jeff Fecteau, Midwest field representative for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), Rosslyn, Va. “However, the dollar amounts provided by the OBBS do not provide an accurate depiction of the costs.”

An analysis performed by the Ohio chapter of the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) shows the price impact of these new requirements is $160.18 for a 900-square-foot dwelling, $205.27 for a 1,700-square-foot dwelling, and $241.36 for a 2,100-square-foot dwelling.

“When the governor signed the emergency order on March 31, that order directed the OBBS to file a non-emergency order that would mirror the emergency rule,” explains Tim McClintock, secretary/treasurer of the Ohio chapter of IAEI.

According to McClintock, Ohio law requires all state agencies that adopt rules to go through a standard rule adoption process, which includes two public hearings.

“The first is a public hearing to listen to testimony supporting the adoption of the 2008,” he says. “This hearing was held May 2 at the Ohio Board of Building Standards in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. The second was a hearing before the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) to hear testimony relative to four prongs of the law — to ensure state agencies adopt rules consistent with Ohio Revised Code requirements.”

The JCARR hearing, which was held on June 2, was to decide whether the OBBS proceeded correctly in issuing the non-emergency order.

“JCARR approved the proposed rules on June 2,” says McClintock. “Ultimately, that means the OBBS will vote whether or not to adopt the proposed rule on June 13, which will lead to one of two outcomes. The first would be that OBBS would adopt the rule by majority, meaning when the governor's order expires on June 29, the non-emergency rule would continue. If this happens, we could potentially be operating in the 2005 Code indefinitely. The other outcome is that the OBBS will choose not to adopt the rule based on additional information provided to them, making the 2008 NEC valid once again.”

In the meantime, an ad hoc electrical committee has been appointed to review the electrical code requirements and make a recommendation to the OBBS on how to deal with the rule going forward.

What are the implications of this debate for Ohio homebuyers?

“Anybody living in a new multifamily-type dwelling unit, which is four or more units, is technically safer from an electrical standpoint than people who buy a new one-, two-, or three-family dwelling during this controversy, because multifamily dwellings four units and larger are having to comply with the 2008 NEC,” says Fecteau.