Common Electrical Code Violations and How To Avoid Them

Written by Kacie Goff

Some National Electrical Code (NEC) violations are pretty obvious. You’re probably steering well clear of illegal splices, for example. But because the NEC gets updated every three years, keeping up with every small detail that it requires can feel challenging.

On top of that, while every state in the U.S. has adopted the NEC, specific regulations apply in each state. Some states have their own electrical code which extends above and beyond the NEC, for example. And on top of all this, you have to worry about county and municipal regulation, too. 

It’s a lot. But if you’re a licensed electrician, it’s a key part of your job. To stay competitive in your field and to keep yourself and your customers safe, you need to know the latest about commercial and residential electric codes. It can help to know the most prevalent electrical code violations — and how to avoid them. 

That’s why we’re here. With this guide to the most common electrical code violations, you can keep them top-of-mind to more easily avoid them — and the trouble that could come with them. Your state probably has stringent penalties for NEC violations, so stay alert. 

5 of the most common electrical code violations

There’s a lot to keep up with between the NEC and state requirements, along with the differences between commercial and residential electric codes. To help you stay informed about current electrical wiring code requirements so you can avoid electrical code violations and any associated penalties, here are five common mistakes. 

Incorrect circuit breakers

When ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) were first required in the early 70s, their use was sparse. Really, you just had to have them outside and by pools.

In the decades that have followed, though, the NEC’s continual updates have mandated GFCIs in more and more locations. Today, they’re required in:

  • Bathrooms 
  • Kitchens
  • Laundry rooms
  • Some basements
  • Crawl spaces
  • Garages
  • Outdoors

Missing these circuit breakers is one of the most common electrical wiring code violations. Make sure you’re informed about current GCFI requirements so you never forget to put them where required by the current NEC. 

Insufficient electrical bonding 

When it comes to both commercial and residential electric codes, grounding feels like a basic requirement. You would probably remember to check for sufficient grounding even in your sleep. 

But bonding is an important part of electrical safety, too. And, unfortunately, so many people forget about bonding that it’s a relatively common electrical wiring code violation. 

Whenever conductive metal could get energized, make sure that it’s properly bonded. With bonding, you significantly reduce the risk that a person could inadvertently act as the path for a current flowing through this conductive metal. Plus, you avoid one of the most common electrical code violations. 

Receptacles that aren’t tamper-resistant

Kids will be kids. Whenever you install new receptacles, make sure they’re tamper-resistant. 

The 2020 NEC expanded requirements for the use of these receptacles. Now, for example, tamper-resistant receptacles are required for all garages and accessory buildings (attached and detached) for all dwelling units. Assisted living facilities and all educational facilities now require them, too. 

Make sure you brush up on the requirements so you know where to put in tamper-resistant receptacles. This is one of those common electrical code violations that’s easy to avoid by spending a little time to educate yourself on 2020 NEC changes. 

Incorrectly covering outdoor receptacles

This is another of those electrical code violations that primarily occurs because electricians aren’t briefed on the latest changes to the NEC. 

The NEC now differentiates between wet and damp places — and the receptacle covers required in each. 

Damp locations are places that could conceivably see some moisture but are mostly protected. Receptacles that are outdoors but on a covered patio would be considered to be in a damp location, for example. These still need a weatherproof cover, but it only needs to be weatherproof when nothing is plugged in and the cover is closed.

Receptacles in wet locations — that is, those that are unprotected from rain or other weather — need a cover that’s weatherproof even when something is plugged into that receptacle (i.e., an in-use cover). 

Insufficient receptacles

This fairly common violation of residential electrical codes most often results in older homes. Without enough receptacles to support the demands of modern life, people often turn to extension cords and power strips. And as every electrician knows, extension cords are a fire and tripping hazard. 

To combat this, the residential electric codes of the NEC require that a receptacle outlet needs to be within reach of a six-foot appliance cord. Basically, that means that you should never have more than 12 feet between receptacles.

How to avoid electrical code violations

Did any of these common electrical code violations surprise you? If not, nice work. You’ve done a good job of keeping up with the latest in electrical wiring code requirements.

If so, don’t worry. There’s an easy way to get up to speed on the latest in commercial and residential electric codes. 

Just use the continuing education hours you’re required to take to keep your license. Since you need to complete these hours anyway, you might as well purpose them to get a current NEC refresher. For example, visit this page to choose from multiple four-hour NEC-focused courses for Texas electricians, while Minnesota electricians can go here for options from two-hour to 16-hour NEC courses. To find your state’s online CE NEC course, choose the Electrician dropdown menu from the top of this page and select your state, or to our Electrical License Continuing Education hub page for a selection of states and courses . 

What’s more, you can do take your NEC CE online and at your convenience. Chip away at your hours when your schedule allows. You’ll be getting the NEC update you need to avoid electrical code violations and the continuing education hours you need for license renewal. And you can do this without taking time away from your workday. Do an hour here and an hour there and you’ll have no trouble meeting your CE requirement by your renewal date. 

Ultimately, whether you use your CE hours or not, don’t slouch on staying up to date with the latest NEC requirements. That’s the best way to avoid electrical code violations and the penalties that come with them.