Electrical inspectors are responsible for verifying that proper materials, connections and wiring methods are used in everything from lighting and security systems to HVAC systems and major appliances during construction and remodel jobs to ensure safety and efficiency standards are met.
An electrical inspector is responsible for testing and checking electrical wiring, circuitry, and equipment in buildings, homes, and industrial installations. They validate the size and type of wiring used, the ratings of electrical panels and connectors, and verify that the installation conforms to local and national electrical code requirements.
Most electrical inspectors start out as regular electricians. They develop their expertise in the field through years of hands-on experience, working their way up from apprentice, to journeyman, to master electrician. Working as an inspector is usually less physically demanding and puts a premium on the hard-won knowledge electricians have gained from many years in the field.
Electrical Inspectors on the Job Site and In the Office
Electrical inspectors work independently. They are usually responsible for booking their own appointments and making contact with contractors and project managers working jobs that need inspections.
As they progress in their field, inspectors may take on additional responsibilities that include:
- Reviewing reports from other inspectors
- Participating in code review conferences
- Providing input on possible additions and changes to local building codes
Electrical inspectors typically have a less demanding work environment than electricians, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have ladders to climb and tight spots to squeeze into.
On the Job Site
Inspectors often find themselves working in active construction sites while walls are still open and wiring exposed. This comes with all the hazards and difficulties you would expect, including having to work around other tradesmen finishing their projects. Just like everybody else on the job, electrical inspectors wear personal protective equipment like helmets and high-visibility vests.
Inspecting finished buildings can be even more challenging, however. With all walls and ceilings in place, inspectors may have to worm their way into service areas with limited access, using flashlights and mirrors to check wiring runs and equipment.
In all cases, inspectors rely heavily on electrical test equipment. This includes:
- Multimeters and multi-purpose scope meters
- Tone generators and wire tracing and locating tools
- Earth/Ground and Insulation Resistance testers
- Moisture meters
- Thermal imaging cameras
Much of the job of the electrical inspector takes place back in the office, however. After inspecting and making notes on a particular building or site, the inspector has to make a report on their findings. This involves time in front of a computer, typing, and frequent consultation of code manuals and records from previous inspections.
Inspectors working for state, county or municipal government agencies are responsible for issuing and approving permits. This involves not only inspections and reviewing permit applications, but frequently dealing directly with homeowners and contractors who are attempting to have their permits approved. The inspector must be able to clearly describe the requirements for the electrical installation, any deficiencies in the proposed plan, and steps that will be required to bring the system up to code.
Electrical Inspectors Must Understand the National Electrical Code
The National Electric Code (NEC) is the gospel of the electrical trade. Although the National Fire Protection Association developed and promulgated the code not the federal government (the technical title of the current code is “NFPA Standard 70”), almost all state and local municipal governments have adopted it as part of their building codes.
The NEC has been around since 1897– almost as long as electricity has been used in industrial applications. In nine separate chapters, the current code (last updated in 2014, and slated to be updated again in 2017) covers such conventions and practices as:
- Separating high and low voltage electrical systems, and defining what constitutes each
- The differences and limitations between feeder and branch circuits
- Wiring size and conductivity requirements for different voltages and types of service
- Insulation, conduit, and cabling standards
- Ground requirements
Although the NEC is the foundation for most electrical codes, many local jurisdictions amend the basic code to meet their own particular needs. They may also adopt the National Electrical Safety Code (NFPA Standard C2). Some states have a state-wide code, while others leave it to local cities and counties to regulate electrical installation.
Inspectors need to be familiar with any state or other regional variations on the code. The National Electrical Contractor’s Association has a comprehensive, state-by-state reference page describing the code basis as it is used everywhere in the United States.
The Steps Required to Become an Electrical Inspector
Most inspectors have a full career as a licensed electrician under their belts before considering a new role as an inspector. That hands-on experience is considered critical. In fact, any potential employer would expect applicants to have several years of journeyman-level electrician experience.
Most electrical inspectors work for state, county or municipal government agencies, working in code enforcement and compliance. Electrical inspectors also may find work with construction companies, or may choose to work independently as contractors for builders, home buyers, or other real estate professionals.
Licensing requirements for electrical inspectors vary by state. Some licensing jurisdictions do not offer an electrical inspector’s license separate from journeymen and master electricians, while other states do.
In all cases, offering electrical inspection services as an independent contractor would involve a contractor’s license.
In some cases, professional certification, such as those listed below, are sufficient for state licensing boards that issue a specialty inspectors license. Others have comprehensive statewide licensing tests that have to be passed to get an inspection license.
Professional certifications are almost always required in order to become an electrical inspector.
The International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) is a membership organization and professional advocacy group with chapters and training partners throughout the world. IAEI provides continuing education designed for journeymen, electrical inspectors and supervisors in partnership with organizations like IBEW, IEC, NEMA and many others. IAEI facilitates three certification programs for electrical inspectors and plan reviewers:
- Certified Electrical Inspector (CEI)
- National Certification Program for Construction Code Inspectors (NCPCCI)
- Canadian Certified Electrical Inspector (CCEI)
Certified Electrical Inspector (CEI) – This is the most rigorous and widely accepted certification for electrical inspectors, offering two exam options:
- Certified Electrical Inspector Residential (CEI-R)
- Certified Electrical Inspector Master (CEI-M)
To be eligible to test for either certificate, candidates must hold a high school diploma or GED at minimum and meet ONE of the following requirements:
- Associate degree in Electrical Construction Technology or similar major
- Complete a registered apprenticeship program
- Journeyman or master electrician license
- BS or PE in Electrical Engineering
- For CEI-R – 4,000 hours of electrician job experience or 2,000 hours of electrical inspection job experience | For CEI-M – 8,000 hours of electrician job experience or 4,000 hours of electrical inspection job experience
National Certification Program for Construction Code Inspectors (NCPCCI) – Developed by national code enforcement organizations, this certification program offers three exam options for construction code inspectors and plan reviewers designed to assess competency and technical knowledge of electrical code:
- General (2B)
- One-and Two-Family (2A)
- Plan Review (2C)
Canadian Certified Electrical Inspector (CCEI) – IAEI works on behalf of the Canadian Certification Committee to offer certification for electrical installation and product approval inspectors in Canada:
- CEI-EI for Electrical Installation
- CEI-APP for Electrical Product Approval
Certification Options Available Through Other Organizations
Many electrical inspectors also obtain International Code Council (ICC) certifications. Although ICC does not offer a specialized electrical inspection certificate, several of their national certifications are valuable to electrical inspectors, including:
- Residential Inspector
- Energy Conservation
- Green Building
- Code Enforcement
Other certification options include the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) Certified Electrical Inspector. This credential is designed primarily as a residential certification for home inspectors, and may not be accepted outside of that field.
Electrical inspector jobs rarely require more than a high-school degree. However, an associate’s degree in building inspection or electrical technology from a community college can boost a candidate’s qualifications and allow a faster path to a job in electrical inspection. A bachelor’s degree or PE (Professional Engineer through the NSPE) in electrical engineering is also considered desirable for inspectors. Earning a degree also meets the eligibility requirements for taking the CEI certification exam.
Electrical Inspector Salary and Job Prospects
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps in electrical inspectors with all other sorts of building and construction inspectors and provides a nationwide median salary for the group of $57,340 per year.
On the whole, however, many inspectors can expect to do considerably better, as shown in these August 2016 job listings (shown as examples only and do not represent a guaranteed rate of pay):
- Electrical Inspector for the city of Durham, North Carolina – $45,825/year to $71,467/year
- Electrical Inspector for the city of Gresham, Oregon – $59,496/year – $75,984/year
- Field Investigator for electrical trades in Oklahoma – $3466.47/month – $3648.92/month
Additionally, because so many inspectors are employed by government agencies, benefits and job security both tend to be better than average.
Job growth for electrical inspectors is projected to increase by about eight percent over the next decade, about in line with the average increase for all professions.