Based on the 2014 NEC

by Mark Lamendola

Article 393, Low Voltage Suspended Ceiling Power Distribution Systems

Based on the 2021 NEC

by Mark Lamendola

Please note, we do quote from copyrighted material. While the NFPA does allow such quotes, it does so only for the purposes of education regarding the National Electrical Code. This article is not a substitute for the NEC.

These are the 10 NEC Article 393 items we deem most important, based on the pervasiveness of confusion and the potential costs of same. Note that Article 393 is new, with the 2014 NEC. Since it came out, the adoption of these systems has grown exponentially. The reason is the move toward "smart" buildings, interconnected systems, and the spread of LED lighting. How can LED lighting possibly be a reason? The fixtures are ideal for adding sensors, cameras, and controls; they become integrated with other systems. And if you have LEDs for your ambient lighting, you can add this and add that and so on. Why would LED be growing so rapidly? It's not the lower cost per lumen that is the main driver. They cost less in labor and materials to install and they provide the designer with a massive increase in flexibility of aesthetics and function.

  1.  Low Voltage Suspended Ceiling Power Distribution Systems are, like many items with their own Chapter 3 Article, a type of product. Just as EMT is a type of raceway and thus a type of product, so are  Low Voltage Suspended Ceiling Power Distribution Systems a type of product.
  2. The defining characteristics of a Low Voltage Suspended Ceiling Power Distribution Systems are that it distributes power from one or more Class 2 power supplies, serves as a support for a finished ceiling surface, and consists of a busbar and busbar support system [393.2].
  3. Article 393 lists 4 permitted uses [393.10]. If you think about the types of loads that Low Voltage Suspended Ceiling Power Distribution Systems support, it quickly becomes apparent what types of uses make sense. This list has not changed since the previous Code cycle.
  4. Article 393 lists seven prohibited uses for  Low Voltage Suspended Ceiling Power Distribution Systems [393.12]. If you think about the type of Class 2 supplied equipment proliferating in modern office buildings (sensors, communication systems, etc.), you see this list is almost a non-starter. You would have to be misapplying the technology to violate almost any of these prohibitions. This list has not changed since the previous Code cycle.
  5. Both Part II and Section 393.14 (which is one of three Sections under Part II) are titled "Installation." only one of these can correctly have that title. So which one is correct? You could think of the Part II title as "Uses and Installation" as one way of clearing up the confusion (maybe just make that correction manually in your NEC with a ballpoint pen). Another solution is to take the same approach to 393.14 but call it "Installation Requirements." This error is a carryover from the previous Code cycle, where it also appeared.
  6. Another anomaly is the sequence of Article 393 requirements does not match the logical sequence of your work flow. This is not really a defect in the Code, as the Code is not an installation manual for the untrained. When you reference a Code Article, read all applicable Parts and/or Sections before beginning the work. The anomaly here is the requirements for securing and supporting the devices are in 393.30, and therefore come AFTER the 393.14(A) requirements for installing the wiring. Don't let that throw you.
  7. The disconnect for the Class 2 supply must be accessible and within sight of the Class 2 power supply [393.21(A)]. This "within sight" requirement is standard for disconnects throughout the NEC, yet the NEC seems to state it as if each installation is a special case in which this needs mentioning. It's normal, not a special case.
  8. What we just mentioned about disconnects parallels the requirement for wiring these in a neat and workmanlike manner [393.14(A)]. The "neat and workmanlike" requirement applies to all installations [110.12]. Nowhere in the NEC will you find any reference stating something like, "You can install this in a sloppy manner, instead of a neat and workmanlike manner." It's puzzling why Article 393 has redundancy, but the NEC has this redundancy issue elsewhere also.
  9. The maximum branch circuit size for supplying one of these systems is 20A [393.45(A)]. If your total load of Low Voltage Suspended Ceiling Power Distribution Systems exceeds 18A, divide the Low Voltage Suspended Ceiling Power Distribution Systems up over at least two branch circuits.
  10. Don't be confused by the "grounding" requirement [393.60(A)]. You do NOT connect any of this equipment to a ground rod or to earth. In fact, 393.60(B) makes this quite clear. But you DO bond all the metallic objects so as to prevent a difference of potential between them.

These systems are often installed as add-ons, and that makes neat work more difficult to acheive. Never run cables or wiring at angles to the room. If existing cables or wiring are run that way, make the case for correcting that. Where possible, install hoops or gutters for running all wiring that goes in along the same path.


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How the NEC is arranged

  1. The first four Chapters of the NEC apply to all installations.
  2. Article 90 precedes Chapter One, and establishes the authority of the NEC.
  3. Article 80 follows the body of the NEC; it exists as Annex H. It provides the requirements for administration.
  4. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 are the "special" chapters, covering special: occupancies, equipment, and conditions (in that order).
  5. Chapter 8 provides the requirements for communications systems.
  6. Chapter 9 provides tables.
  7. The appendices provide mostly reference information.
  8. Appendix D contains examples that every NEC user should study.

Try your NEC moxy:

  • Do you know the difference between bonding and grounding? Hint: Look in the NEC, Article 100.
  • Does the NEC refer to grounding incorrectly in any of its articles? Yes! So be careful to apply the Article 100 definitions. Don't ground where you should bond.
  • When doing motor load calculations, which Article covers hermetic motors? Answer: While Article 440 covers the application of hermetic motors, it does so only by amending Article 430 because hermetic motors are a special case of motors. For motor load calculations, refer to Article 430.
  • Does the NEC provide a voltage drop requirement? Yes! It does so in a special case, which is Article 648 Sensitive Electronic Equipment. But for general applications, it does not provide a requirement; it merely provides a recommendation in a couple of FPNs.
  • Take our Code Quizzes.

Remember other applicable codes, rules, standards, and references:

  • OSHA's electrical worker safety rules.
  • IEEE standards.
  • NETA standards.
  • NFPA standards.
  • International Codes (if applicable to the installation).
  • State Codes (if the state has them).
  • Local ordinances and permit requirements.
  • Local fire codes.
  • Manufacturer requirements or guidelines.
  • Customer security requirements.
  • Industry standards.
  • Your company's own internal standards, practices, and procedures.
  • Engineering drawing notes.