How can you define “quality” in electrical and datacomm construction, rehabilitation, and maintenance work?That’s a question electrical contractors have asked themselves for years. Why? By the time a building owner or manager discovers he or she has obtained a way-below-par electrical job, the project is already complete. There’s nothing that can be done, except spend more money to upgrade a shoddy job … or just ignore it.So, to refine the question: How can the end-user specify quality before the job is performed, and require it as part of the electrical and datacomm systems contract?Members of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), Bethesda, MD, have debated that topic for years. Here’s their thinking:1) NECA’s 4,600 members provide top-quality electrical work.2) Many other contractors do not; therefore …3) It would be best if the customer could require – before the job starts, when it is being bid or negotiated – an exact definition of “quality,” preferably in contract documents.How to Require QualityCan quality be required ahead of time? The National Electrical Code, which is the law in most U.S. locales (upon adoption by municipalities), is a safety code. It ignores quality.That’s why NECA embarked in 1995 on an open-ended effort to create a library of quality specifications – the National Electrical Installation Standards® (NEIS). Here’s a shorthand guide to these standards:Each covers a specific installation or maintenance task.Creating the standards is a consensus voluntary effort under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) process, involving all interested parties.Associations with specific expertise have worked with NECA on standards, including the National Electrical Manufacturers Association; the International Association of Lighting Designers; the Fiber Optics Association; and the telecommunications organization, BICSIAs of August 2002, there are 17 NEIS in print, with 11 in progress. One of the first NEIS, on fiber optics, is now being revised, with a second edition expected soonSample standard titles/topics include:Standard for Installing Steel Conduit.Recommended Practice for Installing Metal Cable Trays.Standard for Fire Alarm System Job Practices.Recommended Practice for Installing Indoor Lighting Systems.Standard for Installing Commercial Building Telecommunication Systems.How to Use NEISHow can a building owner or manager use the NEIS? It’s simple – as it was designed to be. The relevant NEIS documents can be included by reference in bid documents or contract negotiations.What’s the upshot? Electrical or datacomm contractors taking on the work will learn that quality isn’t just expected – it’s been specifically defined and required. Those that might not necessarily provide state-of-the-art electrical/datacomm installations will disqualify themselves.In other words, any contractor taking on such a job will have to not only meet National Electrical Code standards, but the NEIS requirements that have been placed in the bid and/or contract documents as well.For more information, see the NEIS website (www.neca-neis.org). If quality electrical work is of interest, subscribe to the free quarterly NEIS Bulletin newsletter.Emilio J. Rouco ([email protected]) is director of public relations for the National Electrical Contractors Association (www.necanet.org), Bethesda, MD.