Why Does Chicago Require Conduit For Homes?

In most American cities, conduits are commonly used in commercial and industrial building projects, while flexible, non-metallic cables are more widely used on the residential level. But unlike other US residential construction markets, the Chicago metro area has an entirely different approach. The Chicago Electric Code makes it mandatory to use steel conduit raceways in all Chicago homes.

The use of metallic conduits in residential wiring have a couple of benefits:

· Safety: Insulation for conduit-encased wiring is protected from rodents and nails that can easily cause electrical fires

· Easy upgrades: Conduits allow for easy rewiring to support more electrical appliances during renovations.

· Save time: You can pull in new wires quickly for upgrades

Ultimately, the use of metal conduits helps save time and money while still increasing the safety of residential spaces. Read on to learn more about the use of metallic conduits in Chicago.

The Use of Conduits To Run Electrical Wires in Chicago's Residential Buildings

Chicago was founded on a vibrant culture of development, endurance, rebuilding, and innovation. This drove massive growth in Windy City, making it flourish rapidly. But in 1871, the city had a devastating fire – the Great Fire – that reduced most of its residential and commercial structures into cinders. This event marked a significant historical turning point for a city that would soon become a bustling urban hub.

The Great Fire triggered one of the most prominent building booms in the US. The Windy City quickly rip-roared back to life and would later become home to the world's first skyscraper – The Home Insurance Company's building. Like a phoenix, the city quickly rose from its ashes!

This fire also brought an urgent need to reinvent the building code so it would include more elaborate fireproof construction methods. As part of the process to increase safety and reduce fire-related deaths, a couple of tweaks were made to the code, including:

· Wider streets

· Enclosed fireproof stairwells

· Unlocked fire exit doors that opened outward

· Clearly marked fire signage

· Protective fireproof walls to divide two buildings if they shared walls.

· Building with fireproof materials

· Installation of HVAC systems behind fireproof containments that can withstand fire outbreaks for up to 2 hours

Indeed, the post-fire architecture was now more conscious of fire risks. In the 1970s, the city's leadership devised an institutional method to continue updating the code to improve safety.

Conduits After The Chicago Electrical Code Amendment

So, really, why does Chicago require conduit for residential homes? Well, the truth is, Chicago has had a painful history with fires and does not want to relive that history.

Since most residential buildings in Chicago were built between 1850 and 1930s, they still had the same electrical wiring that supported the developing electrical technologies of those times. The electrical cabling was predominantly designed to accommodate just a few lighting loads.

As a result, this cabling system would eventually become severely overloaded as new appliances were developed. Because of this, most populated Chicago suburbs were at risk of electrical fires. In 2017, the city updated its codes that required all residential buildings to use steel conduit runways to allow newer electrical wires to be pulled whenever necessary. This is now commonly referred to as the Chicago Electric Code amendment.

Data from NFIRS shows that after this new amendment, most Chicago suburbs have reported a lower number of electrical fires than the rest of the country. Besides, most Chicago buildings, including those built in the early 1900s, have electrical systems that can now support the evolved appliances of our modern days.

Advantages Of Using Conduits

Steel conduit and electrical metallic tubing (EMT) are metallic enclosures that provide a path for electrical wires in buildings, protecting them from extreme conditions such as moisture, heat, impact, and chemical vapors. They provide a safe and secure channel to conduct electricity. Conduits can either be installed on a wall or ceiling surface or concealed inside walls, ceilings, and floors for a more robust and beautiful wiring system.

Steel conduit truly is the winning wiring solution. Here's why:

1. Conduits Provide A Safe, Universal Wiring System

Typically, electrical wires have a soft insulation cover that cannot withstand heat and impact. Metallic conduits used in most Chicago homes provide an added protection over these conductors, protecting them against impact at all temperatures.

This added protection reduces the risks of fires and electrocution massively. Unlike PVC conduits that produce toxic fumes when burned, steel conduits have high heat resistance and remain intact even under high temperatures.

When wiring sensitive circuits, metallic conduits reign supreme as it creates a strong shield against electromagnetic fields (EMF) and electromagnetic interference (EMI). It also minimizes EMF emissions from enclosed power cables by up to 95%.

A properly installed metallic conduit raceway provides universal protection in residential, commercial, and industrial applications. Property owners depend on it because it:

· Offers exceptional corrosion resistance

· Have exceptional fire resistance

· Protects against impact at all temperatures

· Has a highly adaptable coefficient of expansion with most construction materials hence doesn't stretch, break or tear

· Can create a robust waterproof or submersible wiring system

2. Conduits Provide Superior Physical Protection

Metallic conduits raceways are perhaps the most resilient and sustainable raceway options today. They provide strong protection over electrical wires against high impact. Conduits deflect nails and screws that could potentially lead to short-circuiting and cause electrical fires.

3. Steel Conduit Is Reusable

The longevity and reusability of steel conduits constitute a significant advantage in an environment that promotes sustainable building practices. Using steel conduits for residential wiring ensures that you can run multiple circuits through one conduit. This means that you don't have to "nuke" your walls every time you need to install a new electrical circuit to support your growing needs.

Additionally, conduits ensure easy upgrades of existing appliances without the risk of overloading the existing wiring system. Even in some of the oldest Chicago homes, having a conduit wiring system ensures that you can remove the old, low-capacity wires and run new cables that can support electrical appliances as they evolve. Ultimately, this ability to add new circuits and reuse the raceways helps reduce the overall environmental impact.

4. Conduits Help Save Time And Money

Steel conduits save money from installation throughout their service life. When properly installed, these metallic raceways can be reused to accommodate evolving electrical needs in a building, saving hundreds of dollars that could be used to replace cabling over the years. More wires and circuits can also be added to the same conduit, eliminating the need for new conduits or drilling in the house to install new wiring.

This added flexibility also allows upgrades and renovations to be quickly done since there is no need to tear down walls and floors for new cabling. In fact, running wires through conduits to support more appliances can take half the time it would take other wiring methods. This means that a home renovation in a Chicago suburb can have its wiring replaced in merely an afternoon.

5. Handles The Heat

Fires can quickly get out of hand if they burn the electrical wiring in a building. Residential spaces, gas stations, and grain elevators which are highly susceptible to explosions, require a truly fireproof wiring system. Steel conduits offer a noncombustible, heat-proof cover over electrical cabling, providing additional protection so the conductors don't become a source of ignition.

Disadvantages Of A Conduit Wiring System

1. High Initial Cost

One of the main disadvantages of using steel conduits is the high installation cost. This electrical wiring system is more expensive than other wiring systems. Fortunately, these costs eventually even out over time due to the system's durability, reusability, and flexibility to accommodate evolving electrical needs in a typical Chicago home.

2. Difficult To Install

Unlike other wiring systems, steel conduits require experienced expertise to install and run electrical wires. These raceways require well-thought-out plans and schematics for easy reusability. Running electrical wires also requires care to minimize the risk of ripping off the conductor's insulation that could potentially cause short-circuiting, electrocution, or even fires.

Key Takeaway

The Chicago Electric Code requires steel conduit raceways in all homes to minimize the risk of fires in the Chicago suburbs. This conduit wiring system provides significant safety, durability, and reusability that supports sustainable building practices. When properly installed, steel conduits provide the best wiring protection against different kinds of extreme conditions and hazards.

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Posted by Rafael Velasco on


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