The Differences Between Residential and Commercial Electrician
EVER WONDER WHAT IT'S LIKE TO WORK AS A RESIDENTIAL ELECTRICIAN VS A COMMERCIAL ELECTRICIAN? WE HAVE THE ANSWERS! READ BELOW TO LEARN ALL ABOUT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN RESIDENTIAL AND COMMERCIAL ELECTRICIANS.
May 3, 2021
If you want to become an electrician, one of the first questions you must answer is whether you want to work in the residential or commercial industry. That is, do you want to install electrical systems in homes? Or in businesses?
Residential electricians and commercial electricians are quite different, in terms of the work they do, how much they earn, and how long they typically work.
Electrical systems and how they are installed depends on whether a building is residential or commercial.
Residential electricians can only wire residential properties. Commercial electricians can wire a variety of commercial properties: offices, malls, grocery stores, and so on. The table below provides a general overview.
|Residential electricians can wire...||Commercial electricians can wire...|
|Single-family homes||Retail businesses|
|A duplex, triplex, or fourplex||Commercially-owned multi-family housing|
|Some small-scale apartments||Hospitals|
Not only are the types of buildings different, but how these electrical systems are installed is different. Wiring, power phases, and local electrical codes all depend on building type. Let’s break down some of the key differences:
Wiring: In commercial buildings, wires are contained in tube-like conduits for protection. The wires are also run in open spaces for easy access when maintenance is necessary.
In residential buildings, wires are contained in thin plastic sheaths. These sheaths are meant to protect people from electrocution, as wires are generally run in attics or crawl spaces. Most often, residential wiring does not require conduits.
Phases of power: Commercial buildings typically use three-phase power, whereas residential buildings use single-phase 120-volt power. Commercial wiring usually follows a three-phase approach, with two smaller “legs” running one voltage and a larger “leg” running a higher voltage in order to handle the electrical needs of a large building.
Codes: In general, commercial buildings have stricter electrical regulations than residential. In both cases, an electrician must follow building codes and obtain the correct permits. Commercial properties have specific codes pertaining to:
- Installation materials
- Electrical systems
- Installation techniques
- Size and scope
In California, a certified commercial electrician requires more technical training than a certified residential electrician.
To become any type of electrician, you must attend an electrical school. In California, the certification requirements between a commercial electrician and residential electrician differ.
Both residential and commercial electricians must enroll in an electrical trainee courses, such as the one offered here at I-TAP. After you complete the course, you may choose to pursue a career as a residential or commercial electrician.
To pursue a career as a residential electrician, you must complete 4,800 hours of work for an electrical contractor installing, constructing or maintaining electrical systems.
To pursue a career as a commercial electrician, you must complete 8,000 hours of work for an electrical contractor installing, constructing or maintaining electrical systems.
In both cases, to become certified, you must take and complete the California Electrical Certification Exam.
You need to record almost twice as many hours to become a certified commercial electrician, versus becoming a residential electrician. This is because a commercial electrician's job is more complex, as we outlined above.
What type of electrician should you become?
Let’s get back to the question asked at the top of this article: do you want to work as a residential or commercial electrician? As you can see, there are considerable differences between the two.
Is one better than the other? The answer depends on who you ask. If you talk to a commercial electrician, they’ll probably say commercial. Talk to a residential electrician, and they are likely to say residential.
In general, the electrical industry is projected to grow in the coming years. That’s good news, no matter what electrical subclass you pursue. However, the immediate future seems to favor commercial electricians, in large part because of the economic effects of the pandemic. Read our blog post to learn why.
At the end of the day, the decision is up to you—in all likelihood, during your training you will have the chance to speak with experienced professionals. They can answer any questions you have and help you decide what industry to pursue.
Ready to learn a skilled trade and work on some of the most exciting commercial construction projects in California and beyond?
I-TAP is an electrical apprenticeship program that helps you find your passion, grow your skills, and place you in the perfect electrician job.