After years of crawling around in attics and under buildings, some electricians are ready for a change. Electrical inspector can be a logical next career step, and provide the routine that most contracting jobs lack.
Electrical inspectors examine the installation of electrical systems and equipment — including the electrical wiring for HVAC systems, appliances and other components — to ensure they function properly and comply with electrical codes and standards. They visit worksites to inspect new and existing sound and security systems, wiring, lighting, motors and generating equipment.
“As a lot of people get older, they look for a career change that requires less physically demanding work,” says Bill McGovern, who helps develop industry codes and exams as the chairman of the electrical development committee for the International Code Council (ICC).
Mastering the Basics of the National Electrical Code
Becoming an electrical inspector starts with a thorough familiarity with the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70). Although no standard path into the field exists, electrical inspectors need to have a thorough knowledge of electricity, electronics and codes, an electrician background, or a two-year or four-year college degree. And employers often want some hands-on construction experience, so electrical, plumbing and carpentry are all good skills to hone.
Find out what regulations exist in your area. Your state’s website will point you in the right direction. The city of Bellingham, Washington, for example, posts detailed requirements online. There, entry-level inspectors must have four years of experience as a journey-level electrician. But higher-level inspectors, who also review construction plans, need experience in construction trades and additional certifications through building associations.
Plug Into Your Options for Electrical Inspection Positions
As with any career transition, keep an eye out for opportunities that match your skills, while finding ways to build on your experience.
“Look for a city that employs specific construction trade inspectors rather than combination inspectors,” says Keith Lofland, the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) director of education. You might have a better chance getting hired there than in a jurisdiction that includes building, plumbing and mechanical codes, he says.
Also, find out if you’re a fit for the position. Lofland says it comes with prestige, but also a lot of stress. On the other hand, if you are affiliated with an electrical company in the same area you’d be inspecting, that would constitute a conflict of interest. “You’d basically be inspecting your own work,” McGovern says.
Certifications to Become an Electrical Inspector
For any exam, brush up on fundamentals like branch circuits, overcurrent protection, and grounding and bonding. According to McGovern, most governing bodies want inspectors certified through one of the following programs:
Most inspectors begin inspecting houses before moving on to commercial and specialty areas, so residential certification is a good start. Requirements for certification may include a minimum level of education, a set amount of experience with inspections, as well as passing an examination.
- Residential Certified Electrical Inspector (CEI-R) program: This requires familiarity with all codes related to dwellings. You may be tested on everything from how many receptacle outlets a kitchen island counter requires to the maximum rating permitted for overcurrent protection for a 16 AWG conductor for a Class 1 circuit.
- ICC program: Some employers also accept certification through the ICC. “It ensures that you have a basic working knowledge of the national electrical code to perform residential electrical inspections,” McGovern says.
- CEI-M: The Master Certified Electrical Inspector (CEI-M) exam covers residential, as well as office buildings, health care facilities, gas stations and any anything else on the grid. That means you must be familiar with a broader array of topics: the conditions of an installation of a water pipe over the top of a switchboard; the maximum temperature rating allowed for a fixture; and which wiring method is permitted for the control circuit wiring for a fire pump.
The program also requires hands-on practice. Expect to put in extra hours performing supervised inspections.
Sitting for a test is just the start. Every municipality and business has its own criteria, but some work has been privatized, McGovern says, so keep your eye open for jobs at private companies.
Remember: Though certification is definitely an asset to have when applying for a position, you don’t necessarily have to complete your certification program before looking for inspector jobs. In places such as Plano, Texas, where McGovern oversees a team of electrical inspectors, you are required to obtain certification within a year of employment. He suggests eventually obtaining multiple certifications because they’ll open up more opportunities.
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