In North American practice, an overhead cable from a transformer on a power pole to a residential electrical service usually consists of three twisted (triplexed) conductors, with one being a bare neutral conductor, with the other two being the insulated conductors for both of the two 180 degree out of phase 120 V line voltages normally supplied. The neutral conductor is often a supporting "messenger" steel wire, which is used to support the insulated Line conductors.
In European countries, an attempt has been made to harmonise national wiring standards in an IEC standard, IEC 60364 Electrical Installations for Buildings. Hence national standards follow an identical system of sections and chapters. However, this standard is not written in such language that it can readily be adopted as a national wiring code. Neither is it designed for field use by electrical tradesmen and inspectors for testing compliance with national wiring standards. By contrast, national codes, such as the NEC or CSA C22.1, generally exemplify the common objectives of IEC 60364, but provide specific rules in a form that allows for guidance of those installing and inspecting electrical systems.
Cables for industrial, commercial and apartment buildings may contain many insulated conductors in an overall jacket, with helical tape steel or aluminium armour, or steel wire armour, and perhaps as well an overall PVC or lead jacket for protection from moisture and physical damage. Cables intended for very flexible service or in marine applications may be protected by woven bronze wires. Power or communications cables (e.g., computer networking) that are routed in or through air-handling spaces (plenums) of office buildings are required under the model building code to be either encased in metal conduit, or rated for low flame and smoke production.
The first electrical codes in the United States originated in New York in 1881 to regulate installations of electric lighting. Since 1897 the US National Fire Protection Association, a private non-profit association formed by insurance companies, has published the National Electrical Code (NEC). States, counties or cities often include the NEC in their local building codes by reference along with local differences. The NEC is modified every three years. It is a consensus code considering suggestions from interested parties. The proposals are studied by committees of engineers, tradesmen, manufacturer representatives, fire fighters and other invitees.
Since 1927, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has produced the Canadian Safety Standard for Electrical Installations, which is the basis for provincial electrical codes. The CSA also produces the Canadian Electrical Code, the 2006 edition of which references IEC 60364 (Electrical Installations for Buildings) and states that the code addresses the fundamental principles of electrical protection in Section 131. The Canadian code reprints Chapter 13 of IEC 60364, but there are no numerical criteria listed in that chapter to assess the adequacy of any electrical installation.
Although the US and Canadian national standards deal with the same physical phenomena and broadly similar objectives, they differ occasionally in technical detail. As part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) program, US and Canadian standards are slowly converging toward each other, in a process known as harmonisation.
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