We all know that moisture and foreign particles can affect the performance and longevity of light fixtures. And it’s becoming more common to see requirements stating the need for “IP65 or “NEMA 4x” whenever jobs are being specced. We often see these two standards used interchangeably—but are they really the same?
In the manufacturing world, there are two standards being used today that help to measure and classify the ability of electrical enclosures to resist the ingress of certain materials: NEMA and IP ratings. Both standards define degrees of protection against substances such as water and dust, but they use different test methods.
But first, what’s ingress?
Ingress is defined as the action or fact of going in or entering. For the lighting industry, the focus is on protecting electrical enclosures from the intrusion of body parts (hands and fingers), dust, water, and other liquids.
NEMA Enclosure Type: Explained
NEMA stands for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, a trade association comprised of electrical manufacturers in the United States that focuses on the development of technical standards for its industry. Enclosure Type ratings are based on the NEMA 250 standard, and is just one of over 600 standards published by the association and classifies the ingress protection properties upon which a product is built. Primarily used in North America, there are 16 NEMA Enclosure Types (for nonhazardous locations) that define an enclosure’s protection against solid foreign objects, water, oil, and corrosion.
IP Ratings: A Background
These ratings are developed by the European Committee for Electro Technical Standardization (CENELEC) and are identified in Standard 60529 set by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The “IP” in IP Ratings actually stands for “international protection”, but is more commonly referred to “ingress protection” because of what these ratings measure. IP Ratings are comprised of two digits: the first digit identifies the protection from solids, while the second digit refers to liquid protection. There are over 65 IP ratings being used today to identify the ingress protection abilities of electrical enclosures. This standard is commonplace in Europe and is becoming increasingly popular in North America (look around and you’ll notice that many devices such as smartphones, tablets, portable speakers and cameras now have an IP Rating).
NEMA Enclosure Type vs. IP Ratings: The Difference
While NEMA Enclosure Type and IP Ratings define ingress protection, they do not use exactly the same tests so it is not possible to directly convert between the two ratings. The key difference to note is that IP Ratings only consider protection against foreign objects and ingress of water, while NEMA Enclosure Types, in addition to the factors considered by IP Ratings, also test against corrosion, icing conditions and construction details. Therefore, it is possible to identify a NEMA Enclosure Type that is similar to an IP rating, but not vice-versa. Here’s a quick cheatsheet that helps with this comparison:
We hope this has helped you gain a quick understanding of the difference between NEMA Enclosure Type and IP Ratings. Knowing that there isn’t a direct conversion between the two standards, our advice is to verify the enclosure type necessary for your application to confirm whether the fixture you are considering meets the requirements.