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WASHINGTON, DC-In the next few weeks, the National Fire Protection Association will issue its new National Electrical Code–a document of regulatory specifications that is around 700 pages long.

But one minor rewiring in such a large document may save builders millions of dollars, they say. On July 17, the NFPA Standards Council overturned a committee recommendation and a vote by association membership two months earlier, which had defeated a change in the code that the NMHC and NAA had sought for years. The opposition groups has been seeking a provision to allow them to use non-metallic, sheathed wiring–also known as romex wiring–in buildings more than three stories tall.

The National Multi Housing Council and the National Apartment Association are celebrating a change in the code that allows them to save money, time and labor on constructing apartment buildings. “The wiring doesn’t know what story it’s on,” contends Ron Nickson, vice president of building codes for NMHC. “If it’s safe on a three-story building, why isn’t it safe in a high-rise building?”

Nickson said a provision was added to the 100-year old NEC code about 20 years ago that prohibits romex wiring in taller buildings. At issue here is the reasoning that buildings with fewer stories are made from combustible material–mainly wood–and taller buildings are made from gypsum, concrete steel studs and the like and require a non-combustible wiring.

Nickson claims such logic made builders construct conduits–metal tubes through which wiring would be run in a building. The method meant more labor costs and more expensive materials to do wiring.

Nickson claims the National Electrical Manufacturers Association was a major opponent of the change. “They sell both products and conduits make a lot more money,” he says. Nickson also said organized labor was against the change, though he did not specify what unions. Calls to NEMA were not immediately returned.

NFPA has 75,000 members from various constituencies, but Mark Early, an engineering executive with the association, could not tell GlobeSt.com which factions of the association had opposed the change. Early also declined to speak about NMHC’s appeal, which claimed that NFPA’s own panel with oversight for NEC violated NFPA’s procedures and failed to provide any technical justification for rejecting the requested change.

Nickson said that depending on the part of the country, this one change in the code could potentially save $1000 to $2000 per unit. The council also said the change would allow romex wiring to be used in about 99% of new apartment construction.

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