How To Become a Licensed Residential Electrician
Updated June 24, 2022
Residential electricians are part of a promising and growing field with a likely increase in demand as new construction expands and solar technologies become more popular. Since their job is highly technical and requires specialized training, it takes several years of classroom instruction and on-the-job training to get a residential electrician license. In this article, we discuss what a residential electrician is, the duties, skills and workplace environment for residential electricians, how to get a residential electrician license and the varying state requirements for residential electricians.
What is a residential electrician?
A residential electrician, or wireman, is a professional who repairs and installs electrical systems and wiring in residential homes and apartments. They usually work as a construction contractor on new homes or work independently on already existing homes. Typically, residential electricians work for a local electrical company or own their own business to work independently. Since the job requires working with electricity, it can be hazardous, but residential electricians get specialized training about safety regulations to keep any danger to a minimum.
Related: Learn About Being an Electrician
Residential electrician duties
Regular daily work often varies depending on the type of job or project, but usually includes:
Identifying and troubleshooting problems
Replacing or repairing wiring
Repairing or installing equipment or fixtures
Assessing the number and location of outlets
Fitting circuit breakers
Mounting fuse boxes
Installing initial wiring and connecting wiring to switches, outlets and other equipment
Installing security systems, alarms and telecommunications networks
Testing equipment or wiring for faults
Related: How To Become an Electrician
Residential electrician skills
Residential electricians need many skills, such as:
The knowledge to read blueprints of technical electrical system diagrams that mark the location of outlets, circuits, wiring and other electrical equipment.
The confidence to use various power tools and hand tools to complete a job or project.
The ability to identify and troubleshoot electrical problems.
Soft skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, excellent communication skills and close attention to detail.
The ability to focus for long periods of time, a methodical approach to work, and good physical fitness.
Related: Types of Electricians
Residential electrician work environment
The work environment for residential electricians is often indoors, but sometimes they work outdoors like when installing wiring for air conditioning units or solar panels. Most residential electricians work a regular 40-hour week, however emergencies or inclement weather may require them to work some evenings or weekends. Travel is common for residential electricians as they move from site to site or work away for short periods of time. Commonly, residential electricians wear protective clothing and eyeglasses to safeguard against burns or electrical shock. Sometimes they must lift heavy loads, climb on ladders or work in cramped spaces.
How to get a residential electrician license
Residential electricians are skilled tradespeople that do highly specialized work. They can pursue different levels of licensure based on their training and experience, and they can get a contractor's license to work alone or start their own company. Every state has their own strict education and licensing requirements, so it's critical to understand the requirements for the state where you work. Learning the trade and meeting the requirements to become a licensed residential contractor takes many years of classroom instruction and hands-on work experience.
Keeping in mind that each state has its own specific mandates, here are the general steps for how to get a residential electrician license:
1. Gain knowledge and experience
At a minimum, a high school diploma or GED is necessary to become a residential electrician. In high school, it's helpful to take classes like science, shop and math. Vocational schools and community colleges often have an electrician program that build a firm foundation of skills. Common courses include electrical fundamentals, electrical code and reading electrical schematics, drawings and blueprints. Other dedicated courses include safety, troubleshooting, material handling, underground conduit installation, finish work and fixtures, residential wiring and video or voice data installation.
2. Become an apprentice
Most residential electricians must complete supervised on-the-job training in the form of an apprenticeship. Many contractors' associations and trade unions sponsor apprenticeships. The requirements for becoming an apprentice are typically a high school diploma, a valid driver's license and being 18 years of age. Most apprenticeships last four to five years, although some states allow formal schooling to count as apprenticeship credit.
Many apprenticeships programs have an average of 2,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 hours of classroom instruction per year. They also prepare you for the wireman test and teach concepts like how to use electrician tools, safety procedures, building codes, regulations and blueprint reading.
3. Become a journeyman
After successfully completing an apprenticeship program, the next step is to become a licensed journeyman. This requires taking and passing the Electrical Journeyman Exam. While the exam varies by state, it typically has 80 to 100 multiple choice and true/false questions with a time limit around 240 minutes. Common subjects included on the test are:
Renewable energy technologies
Electrical control devices
Wiring methods and materials
Electrical equipment, devices and feeders
Services and systems
Definitions, theories, calculation and plans
Bran circuits and conductors
Generators and motors
Read more: How To Become an Electrician Journeyman
4. Become a master electrician
Once a journeyman has worked for a minimum of two years, or about 4,000 hours, the next step is to become a licensed master electrician. This requires taking and passing the Master Electrician Exam. While the exam varies by state, it typically has 100 or more questions with a time limit around five hours. The exam content comes from organizations like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the International Code Council who develop electrical codes, including:
International Energy Conservation Code
International Fire Code
International Building Code
International Code Council
National Electrical Safety Code
National Electrical Code
The exam typically also includes:
State and local codes
State and city business laws
Bidding practices and regulations
Read more: How To Become a Master Electrician
5. Get an electrical contractor license
Some states require residential electricians to obtain an electrical contactor license, which is a business license for master electricians who operate an electrical contracting business or operate a company with at least one master electrician. The requirements to get an electrical contractor license often include:
Filling out an application
Paying an application fee
Submitting insurance information
Submitting licensure or certification information
Residential electrician state requirements
Electrician licensing in the United States has many variations and inconsistencies since each state has its own processes and requirements. To get more information about your state's requirements, you can contact your local or state electrical licensing board or the National Electrical Contractors Association website for more information. Here are some helpful differences between states to take into consideration:
Most states have a state-wide licensing body, although some have city- or county-level licensing bodies.
Some states use the term electrical contractor license and some use electrical contractor certificate.
Some states license apprentices and some don't issue a license until becoming a journeyman.
Some states don't have classifications or licenses for journeyman or master electrician.
Some states have multiple classifications or licenses for journeyman, master electrician or electrical contractor, each with their own specific requirements.
Some states accept reciprocal electrician licenses, allowing residential electricians to work across state lines.
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