By Todd Fries
The NEC 2020 code update is in effect. Many states and jurisdictions used to take forever to adopt code revisions, but lately, national compliance is happening more quickly – and with good reason.
Safety is critical. Waiting years to implement key changes isn’t worth the risk to workers. Plus, it contributes to failed inspections.
Even with all the detailed requirements outlined in Article 690, labeling remains one of the biggest factors in a failed inspection. Part of the reason can be traced to unique and local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) labeling requirements that fall outside the NEC. Not only can this create additional work for the installer, but also opens the door to interpretation on both sides, especially when it comes to durability.
The three most critical issues that installers face are:
Code compliance seems straightforward, but depending on where the labels are sourced, some suppliers do not actually meet the intent of the code, leaving the installer holding the bag at inspection. Labels may be printed with the wrong colors, the text height might be incorrect, or the surface might not be reflective when it should be.
Label durability and quality go hand in hand with cost. Increasingly, jurisdictions are insisting on documented proof that a label will last the life of the installation. Installers know all too well how often they apply the required labels, only to find that, within a short period of time, they have faded or even fallen off. The cost of those failures in the long term far exceeds the cost of the label.
The solution isn’t readily obvious. A growing number of suppliers are flooding the market with substandard products in order to win their share of this expanding market. This puts the burden back on the installer to properly qualify, test, and approve a reliable source that not only produces code compliant product, but can provide additional documentation (in the form of real-time and accelerated Xenon Arc test results) that can support their case to the inspector. If that supplier offers a warranty, all the better.
And finally, cost. Nobody wants to spend more than the job requires, but there must be a balance between installed cost and the security of knowing the labels won’t present problems before, during, or after inspection.
A good solution is using desktop or portable label printing systems that can print wirelessly to a printer. This allows the installer to create and print unique labels as required by the AHJ, saving a tremendous amount of money as compared to ordering labels online from a questionable source. Look for a printing system that offers the ability to print the variable calculations for voltage, power, and current. Remember that, while hand-writing these calculations is allowed in some instances, even permanent marker will fade in less than a year, leaving a blank, white box. Additionally, most inspectors don’t allow hand-written calculations.
When considering the new revision for NEC 2020, remember that half the battle is simply understanding what’s required. Reading though the code line by line can be tedious, and still leaves the reader with unanswered questions. Choose a label supplier that can support your efforts with code experts who truly understand the market, and can be relied upon to help you before, during, and after inspection. If that company has field salespeople, this is another positive step in choosing the ideal solar label vendor. Putting in the time to make smart decisions early on will save big headaches when it comes time for inspections.
Todd Fries is Product Category Manager – Identification Systems for HellermannTyton North America. Todd has led the innovation of HellermannTyton’s identification products and programs for over 30 years, including labeling software, thermal transfer printing systems and labeling solutions. He has served on Code Making Panel 4 for NEC 2014, NEC 2017 and NEC 2020.