Did you know that there’s a spark every time an electrical outlet connection is made? You may not always see that little flash of light, but it’s there—both when plugging in and pulling a plug out. Creating that spark might catch you by surprise, but it’s totally normal. While most sparks are typically no cause for concern, there are harmful sparks out there too. Here, we’ll explore how to detect those abnormal sparks and the reasons your outlet might be creating them.


When it comes to electrical, think small and blue. Small sparks are normal, big sparks that leap out of the socket are not. And sparks should be blue—only blue. Yellow, or any other color sparks, should not occur. Normal sparks will come and go very fast. They shouldn’t hang around or take time to fizzle out. Anything that smells like melted plastic or smoke is not okay and deserves a call to the electrician.


Like we said, sparks happen all the time, whether you see them or not. But here are some different causes you’ll want to be aware of—and a few that may demand professional attention.



This is basically another way of saying that pulling your plug out quickly can cause a brief spark. Electricity runs very hot and very fast along available circuits, and when you withdraw your plug from its socket, you see a little bit of that flow. These sparks are normal—as harmless as a touch of static electricity. And once electrons are freely flowing, there’s no longer a reason for a spark to form.



Inside an outlet, you’ll find hot, neutral and ground wires. If wires become loose, those hot wires may come into contact with the neutral or ground ones. When that happens, it creates a short circuit and the extra current can cause excessive heat. If you’re thinking that excessive heat in your outlet is reason for serious concern, you’re right. It can melt the insulation that covers wires and damage internal components. The electricity running through those exposed wires could even result in a fire. If you suspect a short circuit, call a professional electrician.


Everything gets old, including outlets. Connections may loosen with repeated use and outlets gradually wear out over time. Old, frayed cords can also cause sparking and arcs of electricity from the hot wire to the nearest ground—which may potentially be the person holding the cord. Aging electrical is a very big deal, so be sure to replace any components past their prime, inside or out.



Electrical is definitely one area that demands the help of a professional. Don’t ever take short cuts when it comes to electrical repairs, or allow an electrical system to be worked on by an unqualified individual. If the person “fixing” the problem isn’t up to the task, you may be creating more hazards than you started with.



As mentioned earlier, issues like yellow sparks, sparks lasting longer than it takes to insert a plug, the presence of smoke, or a burning odor are all warning signs. You can’t put a price on safety. Or peace of mind. So, if you have any concerns when it comes to electrical, it’s probably a good idea to simply call in an electrician to evaluate the situation for themselves.  

Keeping up with the different electrical codes across states (and even cities) isn’t easy. And if you’re not an electrical engineer, making sense of what’s actually allowed can get pretty tedious and confusing. So let us break it down simply in this video:


Well, it’s not what it was just a few years ago. Chicago’s electrical codes previously allowed only hardwired power, but things have changed a bit—for the better, we think—and you now have more options.

But because adding power and data units into Chicago spaces is still tricky business, it’s important to remember the following rules:


Think cubicles and other panel systems arrangements. When modular systems products are used in any Chicago design, a licensed electrician is required to install hardwire electrical components into each furniture partition channel. Of course, hiring a licensed electrician may mean additional costs, but safety is the driver here. And it’s the law.

UL Listed outlet boxes are available for use in office furnishings that slide onto mounting brackets. But again, these can only be installed by a licensed electrician.

So, how can you move power away from the walls in Chicago? There are a few ways, actually…


If the tables in your room layout are height adjustable—with a hand crank, for example—then you may use a corded Furniture Power Distribution Unit or FPDU. (Specifically UL962A.) Actually, they’re allowed on any listed freestanding furnishings that can be repositioned by users—such as training tables, wheeled carts, etc. The maximum cord length on a FPDU is 9 feet, and you must have a circuit breaker when using 4 or more simplexes.

Corded accessories also include Interlink and IQ power centers, as shown below. They’re a great way to power multiple workstations away from a wall and stay compliant in Chicago.

FPDU’s actually allow up to (8) 15 AMP simplexes—and as many charging USB’s as you’d like. But again, don’t forget the circuit breakers.


In all other instances of room design and planning—beyond the freestanding furnishings mentioned above—power and data accessories must be hardwired.


Electrical codes aren’t simply important to engineers, architects, and interior designers. These professions may be the most affected because of the impact on room layout and design, but fields like marketing should also be in on the rules.

Consider, for example, that you’re running an ad campaign targeting Chicago interior designers for a new product launch. It’s crucial that any marketing collateral, as it relates to power, is both accurate and helpful.

In general, understanding electrical codes in the city of Chicago is a key part of delivering comprehensive work space solutions there. And in a time when customers can choose from furniture suppliers around the globe, this knowledge will help set you apart as a stronger resource.

San Francisco Electrical Codes, as you can expect, follow the California Title 24 rule as well. By following California’s electrical codes, San Francisco in turn follows the NEC.

There is one major difference in the city’s electrical codes from the state level.

As stated in Article 356 of the San Francisco Electrical Codes, “LFNC [Liquid Flexible Nonmetallic Conduit] shall be permitted to be used in exposed or concealed locations for systems not exceeding 50 volts.” In simpler terms, this means that the power infeed to a modular power distribution system must be inside metallic sealtite.

While that is limiting in some respects, the up side is that it’s the only unusual requirement.

In San Francisco, corded power and data units are acceptable to be plugged into a modular power distribution system, as long as the power infeed to the modular power distribution system is metallic sealtite. This allows for easier design and construction of modular furniture and systems with electrical capabilities.

Corded units also add the benefit of being easily transported. For example, in situations such as classrooms where furniture may be moved from year to year (or even on a class-dependent basis), it’s far easier to unplug and rearrange furniture as necessary. Your only limitation is the length of the cord rather than the original construction of the room and outlet dependency.

This also makes open workspaces much easier to design and plan around. As an office grows and new workstations are added, it’s simpler to add corded power and data accessories rather than to plan around hardwiring layouts.

Largely because they’re easier to design and configure spaces around, corded power and data accessories are also far simpler to find. So, not only are they easier to use in design, but they are also easier to find in your exact preference.

In San Francisco, the sky’s the limit… As long as you’re following all other California Electrical Codes, including the lighting and receptacle codes as detailed in this blog.

Lighting accounts for roughly 18% of energy consumption in non-residential buildings across the country. Following heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, this is the second-highest contender in energy use in commercial buildings.

In states like California with dense populations and concentrated commercial and industrial areas, that number reaches roughly 30% – which is staggering. (Reading that makes me feel like the old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn, only I’m yelling to turn off your lights.) But the reason isn’t entirely due to population: it is also because California is more temperate so citizens don’t use as much energy on HVAC.

When tasked with discovering a solution in California, rather than compromising the power or quality of lighting, the state decided to implement and enforce Title 24 Part 6 in its California Code of Regulations in 1978.

In an effort to reduce energy use across the state, these continually updated standards became known as the Building Energy Efficiency Standards. Title 24 Part 6, specifically, contained all of the codes which addressed improving energy efficiency in lighting systems and HVAC systems.

These standards, updated on a 3-year cycle, effectively ushered in a new era of lighting in California non-residential buildings. As of January 1, 2017, California enforced the 2016 sustainability standards.


Put simply, Title 24 Part 6 requires that all lighting systems and HVAC systems in non-residential buildings (with limited exceptions) require switching or control capabilities to turn off when unoccupied. This is accomplished by either an occupancy sensor or a scheduled controller with an override capability

The same is true for electrical outlets.

The focus of Title 24 Part 6 is to reduce energy usage by limiting HVAC usage, light usage, and other device usages when space is not occupied.

And if you’re reading this and telling yourself that this doesn’t affect you, here’s why you’re wrong.


When designing spaces, whether conference rooms, office spaces, university lecture halls, hotel rooms, or any other space designed around humans, lighting plays an imperative role. You could be designing for a romantic mood, a state of flow for focused work, or any other tone – but you define that tone with lighting.

So what does Title 24 Part 6 have to do with your designs and spaces?


Office Settings:

A controlled outlet must be located within 6 ft of any uncontrolled outlets.


Hospitality Guest Rooms:

A minimum of half of the outlets in each hotel or motel guest room must be a controlled receptacle.


Open Office Spaces:

A controlled outlet is required in each workstation in addition to the rules for Office Settings.



Only clocks installed higher than 6 ft, IT equipment such as printers, and refrigerator or water dispenser outlets do not require controlled circuits in non-residential buildings.

Even as a non-designer or non-engineer working for a design-related company, it is crucial to understand California Title 24 Part 6. Knowing your audience when planning upcoming product launches, marketing material, website content, and product innovation requires that you not only speak the language but that you understand the language. So immerse yourself.

And it’s worth mentioning that California is just the beginning. While these rules may seem remote to you as a designer in Massachusetts, Michigan, or Florida, your state could be next.