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CEC Versus NEC: What’s the Difference?

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Sarah Burnside
Posted on 22nd January 2023

Canadian and American flags on poles. The background is a blue sky.For those Americans that stay in their own little worlds, CEC stands for Canadian Electric Code, and for those Canadians that never look below the border, NEC stands for National Electric Code. They are the exact same thing for each of their respective countries. The governing rules define the standards by which all electrical wiring and equipment must be installed.

You would think that two highly developed countries, such as the U.S. and Canada, who share so much history as well as the longest, single border in the world, would have pretty much identical electrical codes. The truth is that the codes in the two countries do have a great deal in common, but there are also some rather glaring differences.

English Isn’t English Anymore

One of the things that makes understanding one code, if you are used to reading the other, is that it seems that, though they share a common language, words no longer mean what we thought they meant. Look at these differences.

According to the CEC, a grounding conductor is the main electrode driven into the ground, which protects the electrical equipment from overloading when a power surge occurs or lightning strikes the electrical wires. This would be called a grounding electrode conductor by the NEC.

According to the NEC, a grounded conductor is a wire which runs through the electrical system, commonly referred to as a neutral wire, and serves as a current return path for electrical services. This is what the CEC refers to as an identified conductor.

See how it could get confusing.

Other Differences

The other major differences that I have noted all fall within two areas the minimum allowable clearances and the maximum allowable number of Circuit Breakers. To stay within the NEC guidelines you are limited to no more than 42 over current overload devices within a board. North of the border they have no such limitations.

The NEC feels that in the case of a sudden overload surge, to the main feeder of a panel, it might be possible that all of the over-current devices could blow at one time. In theory, this could cause a major explosion within a panel. The CEC feels the odds of this happening on a properly installed system are negligible.

As to clearances, it seems that the U.S. is also slightly more cautious than Canada. In the U.S. if you have two 480 Volt panels facing each other they must be separated by at least 48 inches (1.22 m). In Canada, this distance is reduced to 1 meter (39 in.).

On a low voltage panel, the NEC requires a clear working space that is 78 in H x 30 in W x 36 in D (2 m H x .76 m W x .92 m D) in Canada if you have safe footing and a clear work space 1 m (39 in) you’re good to go.

It is very easy to get caught up in how we do things and what is considered normal by our own local standards. One of the best opportunities that I was ever offered was the chance to work abroad and to learn that not the entire world operates by the same rules that I had become accustomed to.

In no way, shape or form could Canada or the United States be considered less than first-world countries, Yet, even these two highly developed neighbors operate to different standards. Personally, I feel that neither of them is correct or incorrect. They are just different.

Until next time, keep the coffee hot, and the beer cold and don’t forget to like us on Facebook.