When Wet isn't Really Wet (Part 3)

Albert M. Rose, P.E.

In our first post (part 1) we discussed equipment ratings and location definitions (what is a dry or wet location).  In our last post (part 2) we discussed equipment that is not made to get wet, yet for some reason it does and what do you do.

So, what happens when the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), commonly called the Fire Marshal or Building Inspector, gets involved?  

The AHJ's job is to inspect and enforce the existing codes, however most states have statutes that allow the AHJ to make rules over and above the existing code.  In other words, the existing code provides the minimum requirements, and the AHJ can add more requirements on top of the code.  In addition, some local jurisdictions pass laws that tighten the requirements even more.  As an example, the National Electrical Code (NEC) specifies certain cable types that can be used in residences, and these cable can be run in walls by drilling a hole in the wood studs and "snaking" the cable through the holes.  However, Chicago, Illinois requires all new residences to have their electrical cable run in metal conduit.  Another example is in Seattle, Washington, where their local code requires any electrical equipment that gets wet to be replaced, which as you've seen from the first two blogs is not always what is truly required.

So what can you do when an AHJ gets involved and issues a requirement that is more than the code requires and you disagree?  First, make sure the AHJ's requirement is in WRITING.  Then there is no mistaking what he or she is requiring.  Next, you have two options.  The first is just to comply.  The second is to set up a meeting with the AHJ so a discussion can take place.  In most cases the AHJ has a reasonable reason for making the added requirement.  Because of that it will be difficult, if not impossible to change their mind.  However, if there is a sound engineering reason for not doing what the AHJ is requiring make sure your engineering consultant is with you at the meeting so they can make the argument in your behalf.  Years ago I was working on wiring for temporary power, and the inspector would not pass my work because my circuit breaker was too large for the cable I was feeding.  I explained why in this case it was OK to do so, showed him I was a professional engineer, and he told me if I was willing to sign off on the installation with him he would pass it.  I did, and everything worked as designed.

So what does this have to do with getting wet?  The principles are the same when dealing with an AHJ.  Many AHJs will tell you if it's electrical and gets wet you have to replace it.  As we have shown, that is not always true, and using sound engineering principles sometimes you can change the AHJ's mind.