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I have a Bachelor in electrical engineering, a lot of hands-on experience with electrical work, and I'm very familiar with NEC 2011 and electrical codes. Can I do residential electrical work without being certified? I heard that I only need to be certified if I work for a contractor. The certification seems to require 3-4 years apprenticeship and 8000 hours of training. Can anyone shed some light on this?

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    This will depend on the rules in your locality. Call your city/county/state/province/country and ask. – Niall C. Sep 9 '11 at 3:35
  • There is a list of Licensing requirements in various parts of the U.S. at Mike Holt's web site. – matsukaze Sep 9 '11 at 10:41
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    This type of question is why the FAQ asks you to put your country of residence in the question. – staticsan Aug 31 '12 at 3:38
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    Do you mean occasional improvements on your own house, work for friends, or becoming an electrician? – whiskeychief May 15 at 9:54

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I am quite sure you will find that in California, USA, just like most other states, you need to have a license to do electrical work for hire. Fixing minor things like replacing a light fixture or a broken switch does not fall into this category, however, adding circuits, doing anything in a panel, or upgrading services certainly does. You would never be able to acquire any type of liability insurance as a contractor to do any kind of electrical work without a license, nor would you be able to pull a permit for a homeowner.

The three stages of progression to become licensed are first, apprentice, then test for a journeyman's licence, then finally a Master. Only a master can pull permits or supervise the training of the lower two classes. This process can take years.

I would caution you sternly, basic knowledge of codes and theory is not a substitute for practical knowledge/experience and proper guidance from a seasoned professional.

Working in the trade as a unlicensed contractor could cause you a lot of grief and possible legal problems as well. I would suggest contacting your Secretary of State's department or website for licensing requirements.

  • Thanks shirlock, Why do i have to go thru all this again when i already have a bachelor in electrical engineering and over 4 years with hands on electrical work and codes. Apprentice Seems redundant. – Hussein Sep 10 '11 at 0:56
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    EE is not the same as being an electrician, although it will certainly get you on the fast track in terms of comprehension. An EE is to an electrician what an engineer is to a ironworker. What the ironworker is doing is dependent on the engineer's design, but the engineer can't necessarily do the ironworker's job. If you have done a lot of electrical work on your own home, you might be able to find an electrician that's willing to hire you and pay you pretty decently on the grounds that you are an EE with some electrical experience, but you most likely still have much to learn. – Michael Sep 10 '11 at 4:11
  • You might also look into getting credit for some of the hours that you've worked on electrical. You say that you are very familiar with the NEC, so perhaps some of the work that you've done that made you familiar with it would count towards becoming a journeyman or master. Bottom line, though, is that I would put in at least 50% of the required hours in the field under a master even if you could technically count hours from an old job as credit. – Michael Sep 10 '11 at 4:14
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    Licensing trumps Engineering any day of the week where US state and local licensing apply. What makes sense to an electrical engineer must coincide with the NEC and your local planning office interpretation. Also, plan on doing your apprenticeship where union rules apply. For hire work requires it, even if it's handyman level. OTOH for private, non rental, just get your permits and talk to your local planning office about local requirements as to who is able to do the work. – Fiasco Labs Apr 15 '13 at 15:07
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    @Hussein - The other thing that going through the process gets you is experience with all the weird and wonderful strangeness that you'll find in the real world. Ranging from older styles of wiring to horrifying bodge jobs by homeowners with more pliers than sense, real world experience, with someone who's seen it before, is invaluable to real electrician. – Michael Kohne Apr 16 '13 at 2:26
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While I agree with Shirlock, and I personally call an electrician for most things, running a new circuit is fine as long as you pull a permit and do it properly.

To answer the actual question, in most localities, you are allowed to pull an electrical permit on your OWN residence, "own" defined as the primary residence that you occupy and you have filed a homestead exemption for with your property tax appraisal district. You are NOT allowed to pull a permit for another person's property or work on that property except with a helper's card under the supervision of a journeyman or master.

I would happily become a licensed electrician, but the requirements for becoming a journeyman are 4,000 hours as a helper (that's 2 years of labor at generally minimum wage), and to become a master takes an additional four years as a journeyman... if you're employed for 40 hours a week on an actual job, which is not typically the case. If the requirements were a little lower, I could see doing it, but I already have a four year degree. Lack of ability to get licensed without spending six years at it are, in my opinion, one of the reasons that so much electrical work is done unpermitted and not to code.

  • This is not an answer as much as a discussion. – Jay Bazuzi Sep 9 '11 at 16:49
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    @Jay : parts of it might be, but the info about being allowed to pull a permit on your own property is an answer that hadn't been previously provided. (DA01 was similar, but didn't mention needing to get a permit) – Joe Sep 9 '11 at 20:30
  • Thanks karl, this is exactly what i was thinking. I have already done 4 years of electrical engineering and earned a bachelor, and have extensive knowledge and hands on experience with electrical work and NEC codes. 4 years apprenticeship is like redoing this all over again. I wish they can just give you a written and hands on exam to see if you qualify. I heard there is such thing called grandfather's clause, where you can just take a test, but i don't think that is available in California. – Hussein Sep 10 '11 at 0:53
  • I'm sure it is different in many states, but here in Maine, an owner cannot pull a permit that involves any service work, A Master has to pull the permit or the utility will not connect service. Many electric utilities across the country have similar rules. Also, now the last electrician that works in a home can be held liable for damages caused by faulty wiring etc, it it was in his/her ability to see and identify such fault even it that is not the task they were hired to do. Strange but true. – shirlock homes Sep 10 '11 at 14:44
  • Yeah, I'd never work on the service interconnect. That's precisely what electricians are for. – Karl Katzke Sep 10 '11 at 14:54
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I know in Maine you can do many types of residential electrical work for hire using a "handyman" license. You might want to check the requirements in your state..maybe you can side step some of your difficulties this way.

  • We don't handyman license in California. Also to my understanding, you cannot do work over $500 with handyman license. – Hussein Sep 12 '11 at 18:44
  • I am a GC in Maine, and there is no such thing as a "handyman's licence". As a matter of fact, other than electricians, plumbers, oil burner and gas techs, there are no licenses for other tradesman. – shirlock homes Apr 15 '13 at 20:23
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It depends on where you reside. In MN, you are supposed be licensed if you're doing work on anyone's house other than your own.

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It depends on the state or city in which you live. In Indiana you are not required to have a license in most counties but you must prove experience and be insured. Being an EE doesn't qualify you to do the work. We had an EE burn up a control panel he was working on and it took the electrician 4 days to rewire the whole panel. There is no real argument here: the answer is with the state law and code or your county code and what they require. NEC doesn't care what you think, only that you abide by their rules and codes. By the way, a county can demand stricter electrical codes then the NEC, they just can't allow less then the NEC requires.

  • Chris your statement is wrong that a county can only be stricter than the NEC. My county and state have over 100 changes to the NEC and well over 80% of these rules eliminate the NEC requirements so they do make it less strict. Some states stay on older version of code even 2 and 3 cycles back or 6-9 years back and other states do not adopt the NEC. – Ed Beal Feb 27 '18 at 16:01
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In Utah you can become a Master Electrician with an Electrical Engineering degree and 1 year work experience as a licensed apprentice.

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In St. Louis we can take a test to get certified. The test is pretty easy (I mean electricians need to pass this) and costs about $50. Not sure if this sort of scenario is available in your area but if I were you I would get some credentials so you can sign off on home inspections and make more $$.

  • I have friends in Saint Looie who rewired their own kitchen, after doing exactly this. If I remember correctly there were two specific points at which they had to bring the inspector out to check that they were confirming to code before they closed all the junction boxes and walls and such. As I remember it the most important things they learned that they didn't already know were code details both electrical (max. number of connections per junction box) and mechanical (where and how to drill floor joists when routing cable through them, to minimize loss of strength). – keshlam Dec 15 '14 at 17:41
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    @keshlam - almost all towns have a max of what you can do. Sometimes it is 3 new circuits, sometimes 2, sometimes less than $1K (whatever that means)... Three rules basically ask inspector before doing it, be at least partial home owner, and pass the test. – DMoore Dec 15 '14 at 18:18
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You can do your own home and shed light legally, if you pay the fees to obtain a permit and schedule an inspection.

If you work for a contractor that is a licensed/certified Master electrician and they supervise you, you can do electrical work as an employee without "certification".

It gets more complicated and dangerous quickly when you're doing Multi-Wire Branch Circuit (MWBC), sharing a neutral between the black and red; or black, red and blue; or brown, orange, and yellow. Stuff may blow up when you plug it in without popping a circuit breaker. Always check voltages with a DMM/VOM --and even then they will vary depending on the load on each circuit. As a EE, and not a tested, experienced electrician it may not be intuitively obvious that you should pigtail.

Use a GFCI checker to make sure you've wired the neutral (white), the hot (black or red), and ground (green) to the right 120 VAC receptacle terminals.

You'd think introducing open circuits, ground faults and short circuits into your wiring would be impossible with just a little bit of mindfulness, but I've had to go back and completely redo dozens of receptacles that were made-up by poorly supervised inexperienced temp labor, wondering the whole time how anyone could be so stupid as to F up something this simple.

But then I built exploders for Navy torpedos and worked on B-2s, F-15Es, F-16C/Ds, and F-35s plus all kinds of fire and security alarms, so perhaps I have a different perspective than Harry Homeowner or the high school dropout working for $9.29 an hour so they can buy a couple 40oz Malt Liquors on the way home.

It may end up costing you three times as much for choosing the wrong material, damaging material using improper installation methods, and rework from using unskilled labor compared to a licensed electrician that does this work day in and day out with a stocked service truck.

As an unlicensed individual, legally you can't charge for electrician work because you won't be able to pull a permit or schedule an inspection. City and county AHJs require you be licensed in your state. If they don't know you, they'll log in and check your license as part of the permitting quality review.

If you help out friends and family with a project that you're not paid for you're probably not going to get charged with a Class 1 Misdemeanor for unlicensed work if their house burns down or their schnauzer electrocutes itself peeing on a plain receptacle that should've been a protected combo AFCI/GFCI. Still, the insurance company may not pay for damages and your friend/family is SOL because there's no record of a permit or inspection.

When it comes time to sell the house the inspector may note non-compliance and require an electrician pull a permit, fix the problem, and be there for an inspection.

Better safe than sorry. If your hands-on work hasn't provided you with the knowledge and experience required for the particular task at hand, and there's no YouTube videos on the internet that seem legit, don't risk it. Hire a real electrician.

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Perhaps you should try to get a job in a union shop as an apprentice. You will get hands on experience and good pay. I decided on this route and after a few years I took the test and received my RW "Residential Wiremen" card. I later landed a job as a maintenance electrician for the Boeing Co., which didn't require a JW card. The EE there was responsible for all work preformed by non licensed electricians.

If you want to work for yourself though, you need a license. There are other options out there though if you don't want to go through that process.

My son works commissioning HVAC units and installing access controls and makes more money than most electricians. He is not required to have a license and loves his job. Some other electricians I know that are "not licensed" are making much more money calibrating probes for the sanitation district than they did doing electrical work and they are not breaking their backs any more.

I guess my advice is to be flexible and consider other possibilities.

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The qualifications have been stated and they are simple and straight forward. Carry an apprentice license for 8000 hours, pass the Journeyman test and hold that license for another 4000 hours and then pass the master license. Also the rule of a homeowner doing work on their home. I just ran into this last week where a homeowner pulled a permit claiming to be the homeowner ( house not paid for yet so not the owner) and that it was homesteaded. Real quick the inspectors realized the individual had no clue to what they were doing thus I was called in ( by the individual ) to do the job.

So let me ask, since I would like to add electrical engineer to my tool belt, and I am a Master Electrician, do you think they should reduce the requirements to 1 year for me to get my Bachelor in Electrical Engineering? I hope you answer no because that would be absurd. It is equally absurd to expect the qualifications for electrical licensing be reduced or ignored just because one has a degree in a electrical engineering. To think so shows the lack of experience in the field. I have on many occasions had to seat down with electrical engineers and help them understand that what looks good on paper dose not always work in the field. It is that hands on experience that is needed to truly understand the trade and that can not be obtained in the classroom. Find a company who needs an electrical engineer and who would let you get hands on experience along the way thus you get paid well and can get a better understanding as to what the electrician deal with on a day to day basis. Yet that is not all because experience in one or two aspects of electrical does not tell the whole story. It takes years and working in many areas of the electrical field to get a real taste of the work. Try it out and have fun.

  • I know in some states A PE can get a license with limited work experiance. An engineering degree carys a fair amount of weight is some states where engineers stamp are required on plans. My state a signing supervisor electrician can design,sell the plan and install. But to sell the plan it must be installed by that electrician. A PE can sell the plan but not install unless licensed. These are the differences I see but some states do allow fast track for PE's – Ed Beal Feb 27 '18 at 16:10

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