Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) vs. National Electric Code (NEC)

Canadian electrical Code book cover

In one of our first posts, we detailed major similarities and differences between the IEC and the NEC. We’ve received such positive feedback that we’ve decided to take a look at the Canadian Electrical Code as well. Now, it’s worth mentioning that the CEC and the NEC do share many differences. However, due to the geographic proximity and intended purpose they are more directly correlated than the IEC and the NEC. Therefore, we will focus more on difference than similarities for this article.

Canadian Electrical Code – Brief Overview

The CE code, or CSA C22.1 is a standard published by the Canadian Standards Association. The object of this code is to establish safety standards for the installation and maintenance of electrical equipment. The first code was published in 1927 and the 23rd edition was published January 2015 (and renewed on a 3 year cycle).

It is intended to be adopted as electrical safety regulation by all Provinces and Territories and by the Federal Government. However, electrical safety is a Provincial / Territorial responsibility (exception for Federally regulated land). For example, the Canadian Electrical Code is valid throughout Canada. Each province can add amendments. Ontario has its own book, which is the Canadian Electrical Code with all the Ontario amendments in one book.


National Electrical Code – Brief Overview

Here’s our description of the NEC from our previous post:

The NEC stands for the National Electrical Code. The code itself is written and published as part of the National Fire Codes by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a private, non-governmental organization. The code is updated and republished every three years by a group of panels. The original intention of the NEC mirrors the IEC with the exception being that the scope was more narrow and focused only on North America. In one sentence, the NEC writes code for the standard installation of the electrical system in the United States.

While all 50 states have adopted the NEC, there are also some Central and South American countries such as Costa Rica, Venezuela, Columbia, and Mexico. It’s also important to note that the NEC is not followed in Canada. As mentioned, the output of the code itself is a piece of literature which is updated to ensure that the code is up to date. Lastly, while the NEC is not a governmental regulation or a government entity, those who violate the code (whether knowingly or unknowingly) can be prosecuted for negligence.


Notable Differences Between Canadian Electrical Code and National Electrical Code


Wiring & Wiring Clearances

The main difference between the CEC and the NEC is that the CEC uses the Canadian Wire Gauge, and the NEC uses the American Wire Gauge.

Another main differences between the NEC and CEC is the wiring clearance requirements:

  • The NEC requires the work clearance on a voltage panel to be 78 inches high and 30 inches wide with three feet of work clearance in front of the panel
  • The CEC only requires a minimum of 1 meter (or approximately 39 inches) of work space and requires safe footing for the worker to stand while working on the control panel or electrical panel

Additionally, there are some variances as you get into higher voltage panels:

  • The NEC requires a minimum of four feet between 480 volt panels which face each other
  • The CEC only requires one meter (or 39 inches) of space between each panel

Wiring clearance specifically is also an area where the codes differ. The U.S. is more cautious than the Canada.

  • In the U.S. if you have (2) 480 Volt panels facing each other, they need to be separated by a minimum of 48 inches (1.22 m)
  • In Canada, this distance is only 1 meter (39 in.).


Over-Current Devices

The Canadian Electrical Code and National Electrical Code have different over-current device requirements

  • The NEC limits the number of over-current devices used in a panel board for lighting and appliances to 42 for safety reasons
  • The CEC has no such requirement limiting the number of over-current devices

This is yet another example of a more cautious approach from the NEC.  The NEC feels that in the case of a sudden overload surge, it’s conceivable that all affected devices could explode at once creating a hazardous event within the panel.


  • The CEC provides a list of permissible electrical system grounding devices. The list includes metal water piping systems, metal well casings, ground rods, concrete-encased conductors, concrete-encased metal plates, and buried metal plates
  • The NEC expands the CEC list considerably to include an effectively grounded metal building frame, a ground ring around a building, concrete-encased reinforcing bars, underground metallic objects such as piping and storage tanks


Motor Sizing

  • The CEC provides requirements for determining minimum motor conductor ampacities and maximum overcurrent protection. Although the does provide tables listing motor currents for single-phase and three-phase motors, it does not dictate whether the tables or actual motor nameplate ratings are to be used
  • The NEC also provides motor current tables, but specifically requires they be used for determining motor conductor sizes and overcurrent protection. However, this does not apply to motor overload protection, where the NEC requires that actual nameplate data be used

Terminology Differences

This one may sound obvious, but a significant difference between the CEC and NEC is the terminology used in each electrical code manual. We will give two specific examples where failing to understand the nuances would create significant issues

  1. According to the CEC a grounding conductor is the main electrode driven into the ground, which protects the electrical equipment from overloading when a power surge occurs or lightning strikes the electrical wires. This would be called a grounding electrode conductor by the NEC.
  2. A grounded conductor in the NEC is a wire which runs through the electrical system, commonly referred to as a neutral wire, and serves as a current return path for electrical services. CEC calls this neutral wire an identified conductor.


Is There A Correlation Table?

Unfortunately, as far as we know there is no public database or service that has correlated or harmonized the two codes. If you have a project that spans both countries, your best bet is to use two local Electrical Contractors or hire a multinational firm that is experienced in dealing with a number of different codes within one project. We’ve heard rumblings that an effort is underway to harmonize the code. However, we wouldn’t bet on it anytime soon!

Wrapping It Up

Great! You should now be well versed on some of the key differences that exist between the Canadian Electrical Code and the National Electric Code. Again, we know there are many others so please share them below!







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