Difference between NEC code book and handbook (who is the target audience?)


My city requires electrical work to be done in accordance to the 2014 NEC. Therefore, I am purchasing the 2014 NEC. I see there are several other NEC-related books available. My question is: What is the benefit of the handbook over the regular NEC (how do they differ)? More to the point, who is the target audience of the NEC? Is this type of resource intended for the average DIY'er who has no interest in NEC certification (am I in the NEC's target audience), etc.?

Best Answer

Browsable = No.

I prefer paper books when there's a likelihood of being able to stumble across interesting things by luck or accident. Open it to a page, read what's there, wow, that might be useful, or didn't know that.

NEC is utterly opaque in that manner. If you open to a random page you will find a bunch of gobbledygook. Even if you understand it, it'll be misleading because it doesn't apply to your situation, it applies to solar panels... or gantry cranes... or 1200V installations in factories... or whatever. You'll have to backtrack through the section to see what the find was even applicable to. And then you'll find it's nothing you'll ever do.

Searchable = Yes, please!

However, being able to do text or phrase searches on NEC is indispensable. If you know the phrase you need, type it in and see what references that phrase. For instance one of my favorite queries is 15 or 20 which exists exactly one place in NEC - a table I use a lot.

You can see what other points in Code reference a Code section.

It's super usable that way.

So paper = no thanks

As you know, paper lends itself to bathroom browsing, and very much opposes searching. So I wouldn't find it all that useful.


Start with a DIY book that "speaks your language", which you find by gearing up with PPE and browsing the library at home stores (which still have one) or actual municipal libraries (being wary of obscenely out-of-date or foreign books; ours has a British one for Pete's sake). Find one you like, mail-order it. Nothing electrical should ever be bought from Amazon, with the exception of books.

Obviously, you would choose a book that is calibrated to the type of work you are doing (e.g. home improvement not oil-rig wiring). Such books are, as a rule, quite browsable.

Then, rely on Internet pages and platforms like StackExchange for gory-detail questions that go beyond the book.

Then, a competent electrical supply house for consultation on necessary parts and the like (e.g. what kind of cable clamp can bring 4 Romex into a 1" knockout).

Then, some searchable version of Code for Code refs. I use a PDF, but we can't talk about how to obtain one of those.