This piece was originally published in the May 2018 issue of electroindustry.
Patrick Hughes, Senior Director, Government Relations and Strategic Initiatives, NEMA
Before joining NEMA, Mr. Hughes advocated for energy-efficiency and high-voltage transmission policies at the United Nations Foundation.
NEMA advocates for adopting the most current building codes, but to what extent does code adoption benefit homeowners?
As part of a 2017 Strategic Initiative, NEMA worked with the Governing Institute to conduct a research analysis of the costs of electrocution and electrical fires and the corresponding benefits of adopting the latest version of the National Electrical Code® (NEC).
The NEC is an electrical safety code developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). First published in 1897, it is updated every three years and must be adopted by states or local governments to take effect. The most recent NEC (2017 edition) was published in August 2016.
NEMA and the Governing Institute tracked all changes to the NEC for the 2011, 2014, and 2017 editions. The analysis found that the costs related to the increased specification of NEMA-scope technologies in the code were minimal, and the potential decrease in electrocutions and residential fires could easily outweigh those technology costs if the code is adopted and enforced by states.
High Cost of Electrocution
Deaths from electrocution have steadily decreased to an annual average of 238 between 2011 and 2015, due at least in part to increased adoption of NEMA Members’ technologies like ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). However, the annual cost of electrocution deaths is approximately $1.8 billion. With increased requirements for GFCI use in recent versions of the NEC, the number of electrocutions and the associated cost should continue their downward trend if the code is adopted and enforced.
High Cost of Electrical Fires
Electrical malfunctions remain one of the least common causes of residential building fires (cooking accounts for 51 percent of residential fires, followed by heating at 11 percent, with electrical malfunction at just six percent). Even so, there were 45,210 residential electrical fires each year between 2010 and 2014, on average, which resulted in an annual 420 deaths, 1,370 injuries, and $1.4 billion in property damage (approximately $31,000 per fire). With increased requirements for technologies like arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) that can prevent certain types of fires, adopting the most recent version of the NEC on a regular basis can put downward pressure on the number and cost of electrical fires.
Low Cost of Protection
For NEMA-scope products covered by the NEC (e.g., AFCIs, GFCIs, tamper-resistant receptacles, and weatherproof covers), the cost increase from new requirements in the NEC between 2011 and 2017 was under $200 for an average home.
With the annual property damage from fires at $1.4 billion, and the annual cost of electrocutions at $1.8 billion, states should invest in low-cost insurance options like adopting the most recent NEC every three years without amendments.
 Based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s current “Value of a Statistical Life” of $7.4 million