What is a Residential Electrician?

Regardless of the state of the economy or general job market, residential electricians enjoy a unique level of stability in their profession. Add a housing boom like we’ve been seeing in recent years in many major cities and the surrounding suburbs and the opportunities for more employment, more overtime and higher pay only increases. During the summer construction season, residential electricians may find themselves so busy they are even forced to turn down work. Even when things slow down, residential wiring must be maintained, repaired, and upgraded with the latest, safest electrical systems as housing codes change.

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Residential electricians enjoy the fraternity of strong organized labor support through their unions and competitive annual salaries that often exceed what is seen in the other trades.

Role and Job Duties of Residential Electricians

Because electrician licensing regulations and electrical code often varies from state to state – and even from jurisdiction to jurisdiction within a state – there is no official, universal job description for residential electricians. However, there is a general understanding within the electrical trade of the standard duties and skills associated with residential electrical installation, upgrades and repair.

California is among the states that specifically licenses residential electricians and that has established a well defined scope of knowledge and skills for this classification. According to the California Contractors State Licensing Board, a residential electrician’s role includes:

  • Installing, constructing, or maintaining electrical systems in residential settings
  • Installing electrical apparatuses and equipment in a residence
  • Working with a maximum of 240 volts

The generally accepted definition of a residential setting includes:

  • Single family homes
  • Multi family units
  • Apartments and condos
  • Hotels, motels, and vacation homes
  • Anywhere else where the primary occupancy of the building is considered to be residential

Training and education for residential electricians typically covers these topics:

  • Residential wiring
  • Underground conduit installation
  • Maintenance and troubleshooting
  • Finishing work and fixtures
  • Fire and life safety
  • Reading blueprints and schematics
  • Residential electrician tools: multimeters, voltmeters, and ammeters
  • Installing and wiring transformers
  • Low voltage installations (in some jurisdictions, this falls under a separate licensing classification)
  • National Electrical Code (NEC)

The specific duties that residential electricians perform usually includes:

  • Installing lighting fixtures, outside lighting, and closet lighting according to local code
  • Installing power outlets and sockets according to local code, whcih may specify safety features such as tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs)
  • Installing special circuits for appliances like water heaters, stoves, refrigerators, air conditioning units, heating units, and pilot lights for gas appliances
  • Installing ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI or GFI) on breakers or outlets where water contact is common
  • Installing residential safety features and ground connections
  • Installing low voltage voice, data, and video (VDV) cables and other electronic components to support internet connections, land line phone connections, fax machine connections, entertainment system connections, and other VDV systems
  • Low voltage systems can also include security surveillance systems (CCTV), security alarm systems, and fire alarm systems

Becoming a Residential Electrician: Apprentice, Journeyman and Master Electrician Licensing Requirements

Every jurisdiction sets its own rules and requirements on how to become a residential electrician – or if residential electricians are even a recognized professional class separate from a general electrician’s license. It’s always a good idea to check with your local union or government licensing/regulatory agency for a complete understanding of the licensing laws where you live.

Licensing for residential electricians is typically granted by a state or municipal government agency, often referred to as an “electrical trade licensing board.” In some jurisdictions, the license is referred to as a “certification.”

Even though specific exams and clock-hour requirements for field experience and classroom education may differ, most jurisdictions have a progressive licensing process that involves becoming a trainee/apprentice, then a journeyman, and finally a master electrician:

Apprentice/Trainee – Some jurisdictions require apprentices to be licensed or registered. During your apprenticeship, you may spend between 500 and 1,000 hours in the classroom learning about general safety protocols and electrical science. The bulk of your apprenticeship (between 4,000 and 6,000 hours over the course of 4-6 years) would involve hands-on field experience on the job under the direct supervision of a licensed journeyman or master electrician. After completing the required number of hours, you would be eligible to take the Journeyman Exam for your jurisdiction. Upon passing the exam, you would earn your journeyman license.

Journeyman – As a journeyman you would no longer be working under direct supervision. In some jurisdictions, a journeyman license would allow you to work independently as part of a team that includes a master electrician. In other jurisdictions, you would be considered fully licensed and wouldn’t even require the general oversight of a master electrician. After working between two and four years as a journeyman, you would be eligible to take the Master Electrician Exam for your jurisdiction. Upon passing the exam, you would earn your master electrician license.

Master – As a master electrician, you could work as a foreman or team leader supervising journeyman and apprentice electricians. You would be able to perform all duties independently within the scope of residential wiring work. In most jurisdictions, a master electrician license would allow you to bid jobs and offer your services independently to the public. Bidding jobs also usually requires an additional contractor’s license.

Residential Electrician Salaries

The US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics is the national agency responsible for tracking salary statistics for all trades. In 2015, the BLS reported that the average annual salary for electricians was $55,590, while the average for the most experienced electricians with salaries that fell within the top ten percent was $88,130.

The states with the highest average annual salaries were (average – top ten percent):

  • New Jersey – $68,930 – $115,780
  • Illinois – $69,830 – $97,580
  • Hawaii – $70,610 – $98,080
  • New York – $72,540 – $118,280
  • Alaska – $79,420 – $107,830

The following salary figures were sourced from job ads in July 2016 and are representative of what residential electricians can expect to earn (shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to represent job offers or provide an assurance of employment or pay):

  • Apprentice Electrician with Resource Management Inc in Murray, Utah: $27,040 – $35,360
  • Journeyman Electrician with Randy’s Electric in Maple Grove, Minnesota: $62,400 – $104,400
  • Electrician with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland: $54,537 – $63,690
  • Service Electrician with Ace in Orlando: $70,000 – $150,000

Employers of Residential Electricians Across the U.S.

According to the US Department of Labor, the top three major employment industries for residential electricians are:

  • Building equipment contractors
  • Local government agencies
  • Employment services agencies

The following represents a list of the top employers of residential electricians in some major job markets throughout the U.S.:

New York City Area

  • Stacey Electric Service
  • Resource Options Inc
  • OneButton Careers
  • MasTec Advanced Technologies
  • 1st Light Energy

Los Angeles Area

  • LU Electric
  • Los Angeles County
  • Bergelectric
  • ReGreen Corporation
  • The Help Company

Chicago Area

  • MasTec Advanced Technologies
  • Skilled Trades Services
  • AAA Electric
  • Aire Serv
  • TITE Construction

Houston Area

  • IES Residential
  • Mr. Electric of Northwest Houston
  • Abacus Plumbing, Air Conditioning, and Electrical
  • John Moore Svc
  • Powers Energy Solutions

Philadelphia Area

  • Mr. Electric
  • Raynor Services
  • Direct Energy
  • Education Corporation of America
  • MasTec Advanced Technologies

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