Residential vs. Commercial Electrician: Key Differences

Updated July 31, 2023

For those considering careers as electricians, there are many specialty areas to choose from. Two primary examples of electrician specialties include residential and commercial electrician occupations. These specialties allow you to work in different environments and carry differing responsibilities, so it's important to understand how a residential electrician differs from a commercial electrician. In this article, we define residential and commercial electricians, highlight key differences between them and explain how to choose a specialty.

Related: Types of Electricians

What is a residential electrician?

A residential electrician is a type of electrician who installs, repairs and updates electrical systems, light fixtures, wiring, power outlets and circuit boards in residential properties. For example, they may come to fix electrical components in apartment complexes, single-family homes, condos and townhomes.

What is a commercial electrician?

A commercial electrician is a type of electrician who installs, repairs and updates electrical systems and other electrical components like transformers, receptacles, lighting and generators in commercial buildings. Some of these buildings include office parks, school buildings, hotels or resorts, retail stores, industrial facilities and other buildings used for commerce.

Differences between residential and commercial electricians

Though they have a lot of the same job responsibilities, residential electricians and commercial electricians differ in a variety of ways. Here are some examples of how residential electricians and commercial electricians are different:

Work environments

As highlighted by their job titles, residential and commercial electricians have different work environments. Residential electricians often work on construction sites to install wiring systems and electrical components for new homes or apartments. However, they also perform electrical work in well-established homes that have families or individuals living in them. Because of this, residential electricians need to make sure they respect the homeowners and the homeowners' personal property as they complete installations and repairs.

In contrast, commercial electricians work on construction sites for commercial buildings like office parks or retail stores. They may also complete maintenance or repairs on electrical systems in actively used commercial buildings. In these situations, commercial electricians may need to complete work early in the morning or late at night to accommodate for business or retail hours.

Related: Common Duties on the Job of an Electrician

Education requirements

The education tracts for residential and commercial electricians include several of the same milestones. For example, both residential and commercial electricians need a minimum of a high school diploma or GED, followed by either an apprenticeship or the completion of a two-year technical school program followed by an apprenticeship.

However, they differ in the types of apprenticeships they pursue. For example, a prospective residential electrician would likely pursue an apprenticeship with a tradesperson or electrician business specializing in installing, repairing or maintaining electrical systems in residential properties. In contrast, prospective commercial electricians would likely pursue an apprenticeship with a commercial electrician business that prepares them for working with large electrical systems for commercial buildings.

Related: How Long Does It Take To Become an Electrician (With Steps)

Job responsibilities

Due to differences in their work environments and areas of specialty, residential electricians and commercial electricians have differing job responsibilities. Here are some examples:

  • Working with different voltages: One way that residential electricians and commercial electricians vary in their job responsibilities is the size of the voltage systems they install, repair or maintain. Residential electricians typically work with high voltage systems between 120 volts and 240 volts that supply homes with electrical power. In comparison, commercial electricians can work with extra high voltage systems that exceed 240 volts for large commercial buildings.

  • Working with different wiring systems: Commercial electricians work with larger wiring systems with tube conduits that work well for large commercial spaces and power supplies. In contrast, residential electricians work with much smaller wiring systems with plastic sheathing, and these wiring systems fit into crawl spaces, out of view of homeowners.

  • Working with different quality systems: Residential electricians and commercial electricians may have different policies to adhere to when it comes to providing safe, quality electrical services. For example, commercial electricians often need to establish backup power sources for important commercial buildings like hospitals, law enforcement facilities, medical laboratories and grocery stores.

Related: Electrician Skills: Definition and Examples

Can you transfer from one electrician specialty to another?

Yes, you can transfer from one electrician specialty to another. Commercial electricians looking to transfer into a residential electrician role already have experience working with extremely high-voltage systems and complex electrical components. However, because commercial electricians work with different types of wiring systems and electrical hardware, they may benefit from acquiring residential electrician education or training before they pursue residential work.

Similarly, a residential electrician looking to move to a commercial electrician role needs to gain experience with different wiring systems, voltage systems and electrical hardware used in commercial environments. They may need to complete additional training or a commercial electrician apprenticeship to maximize their potential in the commercial industry.

Can you work as both a commercial electrician and a residential electrician?

Technically, you cannot work as both a commercial electrician and a residential electrician at the same time. However, if you have previous experience and education in both areas, you could market yourself as a contract electrician to work on both commercial and residential building projects.

How to choose between a residential and commercial electrician specialty

Here is a list of steps to help you weigh your decision to become a residential electrician or a commercial electrician:

1. Consider which career interests you the most

For example, if you like the idea of installing electrical systems for restaurants, retail stores, malls, hospitals and other types of commercial buildings, you may want to pursue a commercial electrician specialty. In contrast, if you're interested in how home electrical systems function and how it differs from large family homes, apartment complexes or townhomes, you might decide to pursue residential electrician work.

2. Think about whether you enjoy interacting directly with clients

As a residential electrician, you interact directly with homeowners and their families. This means you need to be comfortable being in other peoples' homes and making conversation as you complete jobs. If you don't want to work directly with homeowners in private homes, commercial electrical work might work better. However, you might still work alongside commercial building employees or building contractors.

3. Review earning potential and compare it to your salary goals

Salary earnings for commercial electricians and residential electricians vary depending on the location of employment and the level of skill required. Look at job openings in your area to determine which electrician specialty matches your income needs to narrow your selection.

Frequently asked questions

How can I develop a specialty as an electrician?

You can specialize in either commercial or residential work by pursuing those jobs and earning related certifications. For example, to become a commercial electrician, you may earn certifications related to public safety.

What's the job outlook for electricians?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, electricians may expect a 7% growth from 2021 to 2031. This is faster than the average 5% growth for all occupations and faster than the 4% growth for all construction and trade workers.

Does a commercial or residential electrician earn more?

Commercial electricians may earn slightly more than residential electricians. A commercial electrician earns about $57,879 per year, while a residential electrician earns an average salary of $54,425 per yearNote that figures from Glassdoor help supplement data from Indeed.

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