. Author(s): Don Bliss. Published on March 4, 2014.

STATE LEGISLATIVE SESSIONS ARE BACK in full swing, and with that comes a disturbing challenge to the code adoption process in a number of states. In a repeat of last year, some legislatures are considering bills that would limit code adoption and revision cycles to a minimum of every six years.
Proponents of the six-year code adoption cycle argue that the existing code year cycles, which are often timed to coincide with the three-year code development cycles of NFPA and the International Code Council, create unnecessary costs for homebuilders and consumers. They try to make the argument that a six-year code cycle will reduce the cost of code update training for inspectors, design professionals, and facility operators.

NFPA’s code revision cycles may be three, four, or five years, depending on the particular standard. NFPA technical committees ensure that codes incorporate advances in safety, technology, and engineering design. Using this model, new scientific research findings can be incorporated into the standards, and code requirements are often modified to provide alternative approaches for compliance.

Consider the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), one of the standards that is on a three-year code revision cycle. As electrical product and delivery technology evolves, so too do the challenges of safely integrating the technology into electrical systems. “Skipping” an edition of the NEC will, in many cases, preclude the opportunity to take advantage of a host of important changes.

As just one example, the 2014 NEC expands the requirements for low-voltage suspended-ceiling power distribution systems, which are increasingly found in office, mercantile, and institutional occupancies. These systems can be supplied by an alternative energy source, such as photovoltaic or wind-power, to distribute low-voltage power into a suspended-ceiling grid network. As the safe use of these systems for lighting has been proven, designers have sought to add new features. The new article in the 2014 NEC expands the use of low-voltage power distribution systems for non-lighting applications, such as audio-video equipment, HVAC actuators, air/temperature sensing devices, information technology equipment, and other uses.

Failing to adopt the current code can also create risks for first responders as they deal with the risks posed by new technology. Photovoltaic (PV) electrical systems are an important alternative energy source, but they can pose life-threatening shock hazards to first responders. The 2014 edition of the NEC includes a new requirement that addresses the rapid shutdown of PV systems installed in or on buildings, enabling first responders to quickly lower the voltage on PV system conductors. This is a prime example of how the NEC addresses safety concerns without interfering with the use of new technology.

NFPA remains committed to providing training for authorities having jurisdiction when new editions of major codes are published, such as NFPA 1, Fire Code, the NEC, or NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®. Free NEC training was provided last December to more than 1,400 code officials in California following the state’s adoption of the 2011 NEC.

In those states that are considering six-year code cycle legislation, NFPA regional operations staff stands ready to partner with fire and safety stakeholders in support of the timely adoptions of the latest, most up-to-date codes and standards. To reach your NFPA regional office, visit nfpa.org/about-nfpa/offices/regional-offices.

Don bliss is vice-president of NFPA Field Operations.