The Canadian Electrical Code: An Overview

Canadian Electric Code

With the advent of electrical power and the electrification of houses, offices, schools, hospitals, and industries, safety was often overlooked by various companies doing the electrification in their bid to grab a bigger market share. The electrification of households was particularly accelerated by the invention and commercialization of Thomas Edison’s electric filament light bulb around the end of the 19th century. Fire disasters became common in houses as a result. Apart from safety issues, the lack of interoperable equipment, sockets, plugs, and standard wires caused difficulties for end users at all levels including domestic and industrial.

Hence various countries around the world formulated and published standards for electrical wiring with their intention of ensuring a standardized and interoperable methodology, equipment, and level of safety. This was done by prescribing electrical installations done in such a way to reduce the chances of electrical shocks, short circuits, or ground faults. Sizes of wires for various applications and power levels were defined to prevent overheating and power loss. Ratings of fuses, relays, and circuit breakers to ensure another layer of safety were also defined.

The corresponding agency in Canada which was tasked with formulating the electric code was the not-for-profit Canadian Standards Association (now known as the CSA Group) which was accredited by the government of Canada through the Standards Council of Canada. The Canadian Standards Association invited inputs from all stakeholders including industry, government, and construction companies in order to formulate the code known as the Canadian Electrical Code. The first edition of the Canadian Electrical Code was published by the Canadian Standards Association in 1927 as CSA C22.1.

This Code is basically prescriptive in nature, which means that various acceptable methods of wiring and electrical installation are “prescribed” for different applications and scenarios. The CSA C22.1 Code is revised regularly on a scheduled 3-year basis. The most recent revision was in 2015 and the next revision is due for publishing in 2018.

It is important to keep in mind that although the Canadian Electrical Code is published by the Canadian Standards Association under a government charter through the Standards Council of Canada, this is not the same as governmental legislation. Hence the Code is not universally applied over all areas of Canadian government jurisdiction. Instead, various lower-level jurisdictions such as Provinces, Parishes, or Cities individually adopt the Code in whole or in part as a legally binding standard to be followed by all entities and installations in their respective jurisdictions. In addition, the Code does not apply to places such as ships, aircraft, motor vehicles, railroads, or systems operated by electrical or communications utilities such as telephone companies or the national grid because they are already covered by their own separate codes and regulations which are usually much more stringent than the Canadian Electrical Code.

The Canadian Electrical Code includes Sections which are of two types: general rules and supplementary rules. The general rules apply to electrical installations in general, while the rules in the supplementary sections deal with some specific scenarios or locations such as temporary installations, wet locations, hospitals, emergency systems, and other hazardous locations. The rules mentioned in the supplementary sections are meant to supersede those of the general sections in case of conflicting rules for a specific situation.

The entire Code is published in 6 parts.

  1. Part I: Safety Standard for Electrical Installations:

The Part of the Code which prescribes standard methodology for wiring and electrical installations in domestic and commercial settings.

  1. Part II: General Requirements:

This Part covers the manufacturing and testing of electrical equipment. In addition, for any installation to meet Part I standards, all electrical equipment installed at that location should be approved by the Part II standards.

  1. Part III: Electricity Distribution and Transmission:

This part of the Code describes the wiring and safety standards for power distribution and transmission systems such as overhead and underground wires and transformers.

  1. Part IV: Objective Based Industrial Electrical Code:

Part IV differs from the other parts in that it is not prescription-based but rather a set of engineering objectives for electrical installation standardization and safety. This part is for use by authorized industrial and institutional users who have the engineering resources to translate the safety objectives mentioned in this Part into a prescription according to their own requirements. This provision enables large industrial users to use the latest technology and safety systems to reduce costs while also following the safety objectives intended by the rest of the Code.

Part VI: Electrical Inspection Code for Existing Residential Occupancies:

This Part of the Code describes standards for the inspection of electrical installations in residential occupancies in order to assess compliance with Parts I, II, and III of the Code.

SPE-1000: Model Code for the Field Evaluation of Electrical Equipment:

This Part describes standards for the field inspection by agents accredited by the Standards Council of Canada of electrical equipment installed in the field.

The Canadian Electrical Code is very similar to the US National Electric Code published by the National Fire Protection Authority as NFPA 70. In addition, many clauses are under the process of harmonization with the other regional and international standards. Some major efforts in this regard are harmonization with the US NEC and the Mexican ANCE (Asociación Nacional de Normalización y Certificación del Sector Eléctrico) as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards.

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