Each type of switch has a different symbol and so do the various outlets. There are symbols that show the location of smoke detectors, the doorbell chime, and thermostat. On large projects symbols may be numbered to show, for example, the panel board and circuit to which the device connects, and also to identify which of several types of fixture are to be installed at that location.
Wiring diagrams use standard symbols for wiring devices, usually different from those used on schematic diagrams. The electrical symbols not only show where something is to be installed, but also what type of device is being installed. For example, a surface ceiling light is shown by one symbol, a recessed ceiling light has a different symbol, and a surface fluorescent light has another symbol.
Unlike a pictorial diagram, a wiring diagram uses abstract or simplified shapes and lines to show components. Pictorial diagrams are often photos with labels or highly-detailed drawings of the physical components.
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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