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.

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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

  • Laying cables

  • 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.

Related: How Much Does an Electrician Make? And Other Frequently Asked Question

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.

Related: How Long Does It Take To Become an Electrician?

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.

Related: What Is an Electrician Apprentice and What Do They Do?

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

  • Contractor regulations

  • Insurance requirements

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

Related: FAQ: What Are the Different Electrician Levels?

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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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