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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:

WHAT’S THE CODE IN CHICAGO?

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:

CHICAGO DOES NOT ALLOW THE USE OF MODULAR POWER SYSTEMS AT ALL

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…

CORDED AND DAISY CHAIN-STYLE UNITS MAY NOW BE USED ON FREESTANDING FURNISHINGS

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.

ALL OTHER POWER AND DATA ACCESSORIES MUST BE HARDWIRED

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

WHY DOES THE ELECTRICAL CODE MATTER TO DESIGNERS AND MARKETERS?

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.

When designing a space with electrical outlets, it’s always important to assess ways to improve the safety of the space. Whether you are designing a brand new start-up facility or even if you are just remodeling your own kitchen at home, it is imperative to arm yourself with safety knowledge.

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a unique device developed for just that reason. GFCI shuts off an electrical circuit if it detects that the current is flowing through an unintended path. And in spaces with water and people for example, this device can be life-saving.

3 BENEFITS OF GFCI OUTLETS IN YOUR DESIGN

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Reduces Chances of Human Injury

 

Electric shocks can cause a lot of harm to a person. With possible injuries ranging from severe burns to heart problems, GFCI truly can be a life-saving preventative measure taken.

Electric shocks can cause a lot of harm to a person. With possible injuries ranging from severe burns to heart problems, GFCI truly can be a life-saving preventative measure taken.

 

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Prevents Some Instances of Fires

 

Electrical fires can be caused by a number of accidents, including when a live wire comes into contact with a metal conduit. Electrical fires are devastating and can burn down entire buildings. Implementing GFCI outlets into your design may help prevent such accidents.

 

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Required By Code in Certain Places

 

The National Electrical Code (NEC) is continuously updating to ensure the safety of people in spaces where electricity applies as our lives continue to shift.

GFCI OUTLET REQUIREMENTS IN THE NEC

The NEC divides its requirements for GFCI outlets between commercial buildings and dwellings as follows:

NEC Requirements for GFCI Outlets in Commercial and Industrial Buildings

Aimed at preventing water from tampering with outlets, these particular outlets in these particular rooms must always be GFCI protected in commercial and industrial buildings.

The total list of spaces that must have GFCI protection on electrical outlets is crazy long and changes as new revisions are released. For example, the 2017 revision includes; bathrooms, kitchens, rooftops, outdoor outlets, outlets within 6 feet of any type of sink, all indoor wet locations, locker rooms with shower facilities, garage service bays and boat hoists.

In regards to NEC standards, check with your local authorities. Not all states and municipalities adopt the standards as soon as they are released, and some may make modifications. Check out our ChicagoSan Francisco and other blogs for further clarifications.

NEC Requirements for GFCI Outlets in Dwellings

In residential buildings, the NEC has slightly different rules surrounding GFCI outlets. And this is critical knowledge for any furniture designer, interior designer, or home remodeling contractor. Make sure you know which outlets and rooms are required to be protected for any upcoming DIY home projects you may have in mind as well!

All of the following spaces require protection with GFCI outlets for all 15A and 20A, 125V outlets:

  • Residential bathrooms
  • Garages, unfinished basements, or any shed used for storage or as a workspace
  • Outdoor outlets
  • Kitchens and wet bars
  • Outlets located within 6 feet of any sink
  • Boathouses
  • Bathtubs and shower stalls
  • Laundry areas

One last caveat: there are some very exact exceptions to some of these “requirements,” but they are very limited and when dealing with the safety inspections. It’s always best to err on the side of being too safe than the opposite.

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.

DISSECTING CALIFORNIA TITLE 24 PART 6

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 usage when the 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.

HOW DOES TITLE 24 PART 6 AFFECT INTERIOR DESIGNER AND FURNITURE MANUFACTURING?

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?

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Office Settings:

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

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Hospitality Guest Rooms:

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

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Open Office Spaces:

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

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Exceptions:

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 require 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.