All posts by

How do you become a licensed electrician?

The rules and regulations that apply to obtaining an electrician’s license differ from state to state. In fact, within many states licensing rules can be different from one county or municipality to the next. So for your particular situation, be sure to check with your state and your local authorities. Much of this information is available online.

In general, the path to becoming a fully licensed electrical contractor involves several steps:

1. You begin by working as an apprentice, gaining on the job experience supervised closely by a licensed electrical contractor. Your apprenticeship will include both on the job training and classroom work. Requirements vary from state to state, but in general this period can last 4-5 years, including up to 1,000 hours of classroom study. The goal at the end of this stage is to take and successfully pass your journeyman examination. Once you do, you will become a licensed electrical journeyman.

2. As a licensed journeyman, you will be able to work on residential and commercial projects without direct supervision. You will be doing a lot of “basic” electrical work such as wiring, installing new equipment and repairing existing equipment. You are not working totally “on your own”, you are working on a team but without the direct supervision you had in your apprenticeship phase. You will be exposed to a variety of work (residential, commercial, utility, HVAC, elevators, escalators, solar, etc.). Many people find one line of work during their journeyman period that they like and decide to remain a journeyman forever. Others choose to advance from the journeyman stage and become a master electrician.

3. For those who choose to advance from journeyman to master electrician, they will have to accumulate a couple more years of experience in the field. This experience could include specializing in one area of electrical work or a variety of work. With additional work under your belt, you would apply for a master electrician’s license with a local governing authority. You will need to take an examination, and provide letters of reference from customers and supervisors. Once you become a master electrician, you will be able to work without supervision, hire electricians to work for you and perform work directly for government agencies. Some master electricians decide to “take the next step” and become an independent electrical contractor.

4. Independent electrical contractors are master electricians who own their own companies. These companies can be smaller with just a few electricians focused on residential business or large, multi-million companies bidding on large commercial projects. As the owner of your business, you will be responsible for hiring, payroll, bidding on jobs and perhaps specializing in a particular line of work. To become a licensed electrical contractor, you will be required to: complete an application, detail your career experience, prove financial stability, become bonded and get various types of insurance (general liability, workmen’s comp, bodily injury, property damage). Some local authorities require you to pass a written exam.

A career as an electrician can be very rewarding, whether you are a journeyman or an independent electrical contractor. Many experts in the field predict solid growth for the industry for many years in the future, providing a nice tailwind for those choosing to get into this line of work.

What does an electrician do?

Broadly speaking, electricians can work on maintenance projects or on new construction projects. Maintenance work deals with repairing or replacing wiring and components in existing structures or systems. Electrical work in new construction projects deals with installing systems, wiring and components in newly-built factories, office buildings, shopping centers and homes. In either case, work can be done inside and outside of the building site.

Most electricians tend to specialize in a particular category of work. Outside linemen, as the name implies, work outside on things such as utility poles, transformers and cables that connect utilities with residential, commercial and industrial properties. This work can be physically challenging as it involves climbing utility poles and dealing with harsh weather. Inside wiremen work indoors and focus on wiring for new construction or on the re-wiring of existing structures. This work can involve homes, commercial properties or industrial properties. Often times, inside wiremen specialize in either new construction or work on existing buildings.

Many skills are required of electricians. You must have a good understanding of electrical infrastructure (the grid, transmission systems, circuit breakers, panel boards, appliances, etc.). You must be able to read blueprints, and work with specialized equipment such as ohmmeters, voltmeters and oscilloscopes. And much more. This all comes with on the job training and experience.

Becoming an electrician requires years of apprenticeship and training. The first step is to serve as an apprentice for several years where you receive a combination of “on the job” training and classroom training. The next step is to become a licensed journeyman where you can work without direct supervision. After years as journeymen, some electricians choose to advance further and become master electricians. This involves years of exposure to specialty work, passing an exam and providing letters of reference to a local governing board. Some master electricians decide to take the next (and final) step up by becoming independent electrical contractors. This allows you to have your own business, to employ other electricians and to bid directly on work. Becoming an independent electrical contractor involves a lot of responsibility but can be very rewarding.

What is involved in replacing a home thermostat?

A thermostat is a device that controls heating and cooling. Thermostats can be found in homes, cars, trucks and RV’s. Having a properly functioning thermostat will not only allow you to be comfortable, it will also save you money as your heating and air conditioning operates more efficiently. For purposes of discussing thermostat replacement, we will focus on replacing a thermostat in your home.

First, for those who do not want to go the “DIY” route, simply call a licensed electrician or HVAC contractor. It will be a simple service call.

For those who do want to go the “DIY” route, start by purchasing a replacement thermostat from your local hardware or home improvement store. Before you head to the store, it might be helpful for you to take a picture of the thermostat to be replaced and to bring your original packaging if you still have it. Most replacement thermostats will work with the unit you currently have, but there are always exceptions. Matching them up properly will save you time and effort.

Once you have purchased your replacement thermostat, you will want to read the directions thoroughly. Remove the old thermostat from its wall mount and take pictures of the existing wiring. At this point, do not touch any wires! Go to your circuit box and turn off the individual circuit breakers designated for your thermostat, your furnace and your air conditioning.

Now that the back of your old thermostat has been separated from its wall mount and now that you have pictures of the wiring, you can disconnect the wires. As you disconnect the existing wires, it is very important to write down (or label with tape) where each wire (or a particular wire color) connects to the base of the old thermostat. Some wires may have no connections, label or record those as well. Once you have disconnected all of the wires from your old thermostat, it is a good idea to tape them all together with a larger object such as a ruler so they do not disappear down the opening on the wall. Make sure the tips of each wire are shiny and will make a good connection in the new thermostat. You can scrape or sand the wire tips or make new cuts if the wires are long enough.

Your new thermostat will come within own wall mounting plate. Install it after the original plate was removed. Make sure it is level, which is especially important if your replacement thermostat has a mercury tube.

You can now wire your new thermostat to match exactly how your old thermostat was wired. Note: if the wire connection options are not clear to you, it would now be a good idea to review your notes and pictures. If still not clear, you should call an electrician or an HVAC contractor.

Once the new thermostat is wired properly, make sure you have installed batteries to your new thermostat if it came with a battery option. You can now attach the thermostat to the new wall mount. Most slide down on the wall mount from top to bottom. Go back to your circuit box and turn the power back on for the thermostat, heating and air conditioning.

Set a temperature that will activate your HVAC system (both heat & cooling separately) and each time, give your system about 5-10 minutes to activate. If there is a reset button on your new thermostat, be sure to activate it.

You should be good to go. If for some reason your thermostat is not working properly, re-read the instructions and retrace each step you took in the installation process.

What is whole house surge protection?

An electrical power surge is a sudden and short duration spike in the voltage, usually from the electrical grid. These surges can happen anywhere and can be very destructive. External power surges can be caused by lightning or by the your utility when it switches power grids. These surges enter the home through phone lines, cable TV cables or electrical service lines. Power surges can also originate within the home and are caused by large appliances like freezers and air conditioners turning on and off. Most homes experience a fair amount of power surges that are undetectable. It is the more severe power surges that can do damage to appliances within your home.

Because electrical power surges can take several paths, whole house surge protection will involve multiple layers of defense. Ideally, you should think in terms of multiple “layers” of protection: at your power meter, at your distribution panel or fuse box, your phone and cable TV lines and where your individual devices are plugged in.

There are three Surge Protection Devices (SPD’s) that address the multiple layers of defense mentioned above: Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3.

Type 1 SPD’s protect your home from external surges caused by lightning or by utility power grid switching and are installed between the utility pole near your home and your power meter. Installation will require approval from and coordination with your electric utility.

Type 2 SPD’s are located at your circuit panel and help distribute excessive current discharges from external sources (lightning or utility) so as to protect all circuits in your home.

Type 3 SPD’s are “point of use” surge protectors located where individual appliances are plugged in. Sometimes they are referred to as surge strips. These can be an inexpensive and effective solution for your largest and most important appliances.

For those seeking a full line of defense against power surges, it is a good idea to consult with a licensed electrician who can help determine a solution that is best for your home.

Why do you need exterior lighting?

Exterior lighting can be an important addition to your overall home plan. Security lighting around the perimeter of your home can deter burglars who prefer to operate undetected in the darkness. In addition, security lighting has a safety component as the more your property is illuminated at nighttime, the less chances someone can trip and fall on your property. A well-thought out landscape lighting plan can add to the curb appeal of your home and add to your outdoor entertainment in the evening. Whether your goals are safety or aesthetics, most experts believe exterior lighting can add value to your home.

As with most home improvement projects, it is a good idea to consult with a professional as you decide on your exterior lighting plan. Like many trades, electrical contractors tend to specialize.

When it comes to your safety-related security lighting (flood lights, exterior garage parking lights, driveway lights, bollard lights, exterior sconces), your home electrician will be a good resource. He will be able to help you determine the proper amount of safety lighting needed, where it should be located and what kind of fixture is appropriate for each area. Often times, your solution can make good use of LED lighting for maximum energy efficiency.

For your landscape lighting, you can find electricians who have become specialists in that line of work, which often requires a heavy “artistic” component. A landscape lighting plan can include many features. Examples include providing illumination for walkways, steps, patios, pools, trees and even the home itself. You will find that there are a wide variety of fixtures to choose from, including: above ground fixtures, in-ground fixtures and tree mounted fixtures . There are many different styles to suit all tastes such as modern, traditional, “mushroom”-shaped canopies, “pagoda”-shaped canopies, etc. Most landscape lighting is available in energy-saving models that feature LED bulbs. A well-thought out landscape lighting plan will not only add to the enjoyment and curb appeal of your home but will also provide the benefits of safety and security.