Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Life as a Residential Electrician

To become a professional Residential Electrician in America you need to learn; 
1) The National Electrical Code
2) The science of electricity
3) Basic electricity
4) Math
5) Basic architecture
6) Basic conduit bending

➪ 1) The National Electrical Code; A book of electrical rules commonly called the NEC or "the code" covering topics like; calculating box fill, GFI required outlets, stapling requirements and allowable ampacities for conductors.

 2) The science of electricity; Atoms, neutrons, protons, conductivity, insulator, induction... 
 3) Basic electricity; DC and AC circuits, switch wiring diagrams, motors, transformers.
 4) Math; as used in Ohms law

 5) Basic architecture; Knowing  how a house is built  will make electrical decisions easier. Communicating with other trades requires a knowledge of the names of different parts and areas of a house; header, cripple, joist, pocket door, footing, fire block, load bearing wall, foyer, pantry, living room, family room, hearth room.

 6) Basic conduit bending; Learning the 4 basic bends will cover most residential needs. 1) 90 degree bends 2) offsets 3) kicks and 4) saddles, both 3 point and 4 point saddles 
Work place safety and the use of power tools and hand tools. 

The most difficult of these is the NEC, a book of rules that is updated and changed every 3 years. You must learn the NEC in order to pass a Journeyman electrical exam. Most areas of the country require you to work 4 years as an Apprentice before you can take the NEC test to receive your electrical Journeyman license and another 4 years as a Journeyman before you can take the NEC test to become a Master Electrician and start your own electrical company.

2 of the best instructors for studying "the code" and pass an electrical license exam are;

  Electrical work comes in a variety of specialized fields. Most people wrongly assume that electricians are experts in all these fields, but they are not. An experienced electrician in one field would need assistance performing the duties in another.
   For example, a Lineman Electrician, who works on high voltage cross country transmission lines, might have a difficult time trying to wire a 4 way switch in a new home. Wiring complicated switches is a common duty for Residential Electricians but it is not something a Lineman is expected to know.
   An experienced Residential Electrician would not be allowed to work on high voltage transmission lines without passing the utility's training course and then working under the supervision of an experienced Lineman for a period of time.

   Those who choose to be a residential electrician, find it very rewarding in many ways;
 Learning skills that can be used on your house and that of your family or friends.
 Work in a variety of locations, from the trailer park to gated mansions. 
◈ Country estates in the middle of a cattle ranch, the private home of famous people, log cabins, apartments, townhomes, houses on the beach or up in the mountains.
◈  Being a part of a team that turns a vacant piece of ground into a beautiful home.
 Helping people improve the appearance, comfort or safety of their house.
 Learning skills that can open up opportunities in other fields of electrical work.
Watching a new house transform from an empty shell to a place someone will call home as shown below;  
 An arched hallway before...

...and after. Just a few things missing; base trim carpet and furniture.

Job Description for Residential Electricians
    Residential Electricians install and repair the electrical systems in houses and multifamily buildings from the outside electrical service wires to the inside receptacle including appliance or equipment connections . They learn and follow national and local electrical codes.
>They install switches, receptacles, wiring, lights, fans, circuit breakers, microwaves, cook tops and many other electrical items that are found in a house.
>They repair or replace switches, receptacles, circuit breakers, lights and many other electrical items that are installed in a house.
> Some Residential Electricians install phone, cable TV and door bell wiring and 
garage door opener wiring.
> Occasionally they will install outdoor landscape lighting.
> Some run the underground conduit and service wire from the meter to the Utility company's transformer out in the yard. In other areas the Utility company will do this.
> They bend electrical metallic tubing, or EMT, with a conduit bender.
   They are not expected to repair equipment or appliances like furnaces, air conditioners, hot tubs, TV's, garage door motors or other appliances. New electrical equipment installed in a house is normally covered by a factory warranty and install by a specialized employee. These other specialized  workers are responsible for the proper installation and function of their own products.
   A "Heating Venting and Air Conditioning" Mechanic also called HVAC will make any adjustments or repairs to the units that they provide and install. If there is a problem 
with the furnace or air conditioner you will test the voltage at the end of your line 
but the rest is the job of HVAC. The reason for this has more to do with money than skill. The HVAC is paid to fix their own newly installed unit. 
   Residential Electricians are not expected to replace heating element on dryers. They might remove an older 3 wire cord (and the ground to neutral jumper) from the dryer and install a new 4 wire cord. 
   They do not connect the service wires to the Utility company's transformer or power lines unless given special permission by the utility. This permission might be given during an emergency caused by storm damage.

Residential Electricians use;
Hand tools that you must purchase like pliers, hacksaws, hammers, strippers, testers, levels and screwdrivers.
Power tools that the company usually provides such as drills, skill saws, reciprocating saws and large hammer drills
Equipment; Ladders, scaffolds
Machinery that most companies will rent by the hour or day like ditch digging trenchers and electrical generators.
                   ➪ More about tools used by electricians.

10 Things Residential Electricians Are Expected To Do;

   Beginner electricians are often suprised by some of the duties Residential Electricians are expected to perform, especially the non electrical tasks;

 Balance on the ceiling joists in a hot insulated attic while carrying wire a flashlight and a battery drill.
 Call a customer and arrange an appointment to go replace their ceiling fan.
 Climb up a tall scaffold or a tall extension ladder to hang a light or climb a tree to mount a low voltage landscape light.
↳ Crawl on the dirt or gravel in a narrow crawl space under an old house, with spiders and mice, to route some wiring.
♠ Dig a long trench for a cable going out to a yard post light.
♘ Drive the company vehicle to the store to pickup supplies. Company trucks or vans are usually assigned to individual electricians who might be allowed to drive the vehicle home.
▲ Lift and carry heavy appliances from the garage into their location in the kitchen
$ Pay for required hand tools, annual license fees, electrical classes, license exams and, if you join a union, union dues.
 Study without pay, the National Electrical Code at a night school or on your own and take a license exam on your weekend.
☹ Vacuum the mess you made at a customers house.

Common Dangers Residential Electricians Encounter

  Everyone knows that electricians run the a risk of being shocked. Many professional electricians get shocked but rarely does this kill them. Your reaction can be more dangerous than the shock itself. Receiving a shock at the top of an extension ladder might only numb your finger but if you overreact you could fall off the ladder and break your leg.
  An electrical shock occures when any part of your body touches 2 things;
  1) Something electrically hot. The copper in a hot wire, the metal bus bar in a panel, the metal part of your screw driver as it touches a hot screw on a circuit breaker.
  2) Something grounded. This can be the metal frame of an electrical panel, a steel post, wet concrete or something metal that is connected to the earth or grounded including a neutral which is also referred to as a "grounded conductor".
  The electricity passes in your body where you are touching the hot and out your body where you are touching the ground or something connected to the ground like a metal pipe or a metal column. If you touch the end of a wire with a hot, neutral and ground, you will feel the pain as electricity passes in and out your fingertip from the black wire to the ground wire or the grounded white neutral wire. The better the insulation the more safe you will become. Dry hands provide more insulation then wet hands. Rubber soled shoes provide more insulation than bare feet. Standing on dry wood while working on a hot panel is safer than standing on wet concrete.
You can touch something electrically hot like a 20 amp metal wire conductor and not get shocked but only if you don't touch anything grounded. (the ground, water on the ground or any electrically conductive thing that is connected to the ground.)
The higher the voltage the more dangerous. Getting shocked with standard residential voltages of 120 or 240
volts will hurt and can kill but it is not as dangerous as the higher commercial and utility voltages.

   In addition to being shocked, there are other dangers.You might also;

  • Cut your finger with a knife while trying to strip off insulation.
  • Drill into your hand or get your long hair ripped off by a spinning drill bit.
  • Fall off a ladder or fall in a hole in the floor.
  • Step through the ceiling sheet rock.
  • Slip and fall on a plank being used as a ramp where stairs are not yet built.
  • Smash your finger with your hammer while stapling a wire.
  • Stab yourself on a nail sticking down thru the roof or wall.
  • Take a hit from a falling object.
  • Throw sparks and destroy a hand tool when you cut a hot 14/2 with ground wire cable.
  • Twist your arm or get knocked in the head by a powerful spinning drill handle.
  • Injure your back lifting microwaves, heavy wire or extension ladders.

Here is some good advise for preventing and healing back pain,

The work environment for a Residential Electrician

Depending on your geographical location, you can expect to work in the following environments;

  Half of your time is spent working in or around a house with no electricity which means no winter heat or summer air conditioning. It can be extremely cold and extremely hot. Good builders will try to provide some type of temporary heat but rarely air conditioning.
  You won't have to work in the rain since the house is usually "dried in" before the electricians begin but you might have to walk through the mud to get to the truck or walk in a basement flooded with an inch of water. 

Tree branches, heavy with ice, fell on the overhead electrical service
 of this house. Repairs had to be made with battery powered tools.

   In the photo above, a tree overloaded with ice fell on the overhead service. Repairs had to be made outside in the cold with battery powered tools. You would think the broken wires are dead but they are hot because the owner connected a generator to the panel inside the house.
The good news is that when the weather is perfect, there is a good chance you'll get to enjoy it.

   It is often noisy with the sound of several roofers pounding on the roof and a carpenter's compressors kicking on and off. A large dozer might be grading the yard. You can expect loud radios, saws, hammers, you name it. Most construction workers seam to be energized by the noise of loud activities. They seem to work harder and faster and become more arrogant as the noise levels increase.

   Sometimes the air is filled with the smoke from cigarettes, exhaust from a chainsaw, plumbing glue fumes, paint fumes, sheet rock dust, tile cutting dust or insulation dust. There can be moments when you just have to leave the work area.

Wasp Photo
    Wasps might be nesting in your outside can lights. Spiders and rats might 
join you under the house. You might have to deal with the owners dogs, cats, cattle or horses. If you leave a pasture gate open, horse or cattle might escape because of you.
   Construction workers can be a rough mannered group. You can expect to be exposed to; yelling, cursing, spitting tobacco, loud belching, smoking, clearing their nose on the ground and urinating in public.

Personal needs
   Most jobsites will have no water, no phone, no food or cooking equipment. Some local governments require a portable restroom at the jobsite, others do not.
Laid Off
   Construction work runs in cycles. Some months help wanted signs are everywhere other months work is hard to be found. The secret is to network, be social with as many fellow electricians as you can. Save their phone numbers. Someone who knows you and your work ethic can open up opportunities for you if you are laid off. 

   Union or Non Union   

   If you prefer to work as a union member, contact the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers or IBEW  They normally accept new members for apprentice training in the springtime when construction activity begins to pick up. Most training classes are after work in the early evening about 3 nights per week. The cost of the classes should be low unless you quit the union, then you may have to pay for the apprentice training that you received. As a union member you will pay dues to your local union hall and dues to the national IBEW. The dues are required even if you are temporarily unemployed.
  The IBEW has an excellent retirement plan that you should qualify for after, at least 10 years of membership. Union wages are the highest in the industry and are negotiated with corporate management on your behalf.
   If you prefer non union work, apply at any non union electrical contracting company. Tell them you are interested in residential work as a first year
apprentice. Non union contractors generally pay lower wages with few benefits. They may also require you to use your vehicle like a company vehicle and drive to the store to pick up supplies.
   Whether union or non union, some areas of the country offer little choice. In rural areas there might be no union membership offered. In big urban areas non union employment might be hard to find.
   Employment opportunities change with the economy and the weather. Entry level electricians are hired and laid off faster than more experienced licensed electricians. More about the outlook for current electrical employment can be found here>

    A Job Seekers Story    
   A great story of how to land a job came to me from Mike the electrical inspector. He told me that when he was younger he was watching these electricians working on a building nearby. One day he decided to ask them if they would hire him as a beginner electrician. He went right into the job site, found the owner and asked if he was hiring. The owner told him that his brother does all the hiring and that Mike would have to go talk to him. So Mike drives to another job where the owner's brother is working and asks him if he was hiring. The second brother tells Mike the same thing that his brother does all the hiring and that Mike would have to go talk to him, the first brother. The next day, with out being hired by either brother, Mike shows up with his tools ready for work at the first brothers job who asks him "what are you doing here?" Mike tells him "Your brother sent me here" "OK" said the owner. Even thought neither brother hired Mike, he was put to work by the first brother. Mike impressed the brothers with and his hard work ethic and by the time they figured it out that Mike had tricked them, they grew to like him and hired him on.