[AMA] I am an Electrician

Hello all,

Being on this website for a while now and always enjoy reading AMAs so I thought I'd start one myself. 10 years experience which includes 4 year apprenticeship and 6 years out of my trade.

Employed full-time, I'd class myself as a commercial electrician, mainly doing new installs on shopping centres and high rises throughout my career. I do feel like my knowledge as an electrician in other fields is lacking but I will do my best to answer any queries.

closed Comments

      • +1

        In this situation are you a contractor or employed?

        IF employed is that even legal, as an employee outside of getting to and from work should you not be provided everything you need to do your job outside of your clothing.

  • +1

    My hot water system is on a special low tariff meter which only turns on at 11pm and turns off again at 7am. When I have visitors which is once or twice a year, we run out of hot water, but normally we don't. Is it legal to put in a manual switch at the switchboard to switch the hot water system over to the higher tariff meter when the hot water runs out? Would any electrician do switchboard work?

  • +4

    I recently got a two PowerPoint changed to a four gang PowerPoint it was a 10 to 15 min job probably could of done it myself but I decided to pay $95 to a local sparky got a certificate of elec safety and have piece of mind not worth the hassle if the house burns down and they trace it back to that PowerPoint and they want to know who installed it I can say a qualified electrician

    • +2

      100% I have the same mentality!

    • +30

      But the certificate burned with the house

      • there's 3 copies of the certificate (in tas anyway), one of which is physically or digitally sent into the regulator. The client copy is more of a token in reality, this documentation is really intended for the regulator.

    • +1

      I bought the house 2 years ago… I don't know who did the electrical work - theres been like 3 owners here since me…

      I've always wondered how that works.

    • Your licensed electrician also spent a few years toiling as an unappreciated apprentice it's not just a license it's live experience.

  • What do you do with all your old copper wire and new short lengths?

    • +3

      Bigger cables gets transported back to HQ. When work gets quiet, we get sent back to HQ and strip insulation off the copper as bare copper is worth more.

      Smaller cable usually just gets picked up on site by a scrap metal man as it’s not worth the time stripping, we get a hundred or two for a few pallets full.

      Filled 3 big bins one time (1.5mx1.5m bins) got roughly a $35,000 check! About 4 years back.

      • Emmm, didn't know that people actually pay for waste wires.

        Sparky at my current job site just throw them away. Those 240 litre bins, countless of it get throw into construction waste bin.

        Same as plumbers, air con, and fire proofing people.
        Load of stuff gets wasted.

        • small wires I wouldn't bother but there's definitely some money in a/c copper pipes! I'd be collecting them!

          • @bargaingambler: End of a roll, my eye estimate gave me minimum of 20 meters, hundreds of these get thrown away.

            4x or 6x 30-40 meters short by an arms lengths, pulled out and thrown away.

            I should buy a truck, I would making thousands per week from just collecting these.

            • @Right: Really surprised the bosses aren't making the workers collect them! They're the ones that usually gets the cash!

        • +1

          @Right
          At the moment I get
          $2.20/kg for low grade insulated wire.
          $4.00/kg for high grade insulated but you need an ABN. $3.50 at the dodgy yard with no ABN.
          $7.50 kg for stripped wire.

          It's worthwhile collecting any wire (electrical, comms, etc) except co-axial. You get money and it gets made into more usefull stuff rather than going to landfill.

          edit: I collect appliance wire walking home from the station every afternoon. I collect 20kg/week without trying (doubles the time it takes to walk home). Most people throw away the plugs. I keep them and tear out the brass pins while watching TV because I get bored just watching TV.. In 2 months I've collected 4kg of pins. $4/kg. It's a lousy hourly rate but value ads to watching TV.

          • @brad1-8tsi:

            I collect appliance wire walking home from the station every afternoon

            Why is there so much appliance wire lying around on your walk home?

            • @NigelTufnel: People are pigs.

              https://goo.gl/maps/jPWfoCWxvRwgp4Qy5 I walk from Redfern Station to MacDonaldtown station in a band 100m either side of the rail line.

              There are lots of laneways. People dump things there.

              The area is home to local and international students (UTS and USYD nearby), workers on short term contracts (it's only 2km to the edge of the CBD), housing commission of various flavours, busy rich buggers.

              They buy cheap appliances and the wiring in the houses is old and run-down so the appliances go "pop" a lot and they throw them in the lane way waiting for the council to collect.

              When people move (end of uni, or moving to another contract) they leave massive piles behind.

              The houses are small so if they aren't using something they dump it in the lane way

              The lane ways are paved with gold (almost).

    • At one point scrap copper worth $8 per kg. You get anywhere $2 to $6 per kg around Australia.

  • Is there a site/place i can find a legitimately good electrician?

    The last one i hired did a poor job.

    • +3

      Can’t help, however the last two trade services I have used (plumber and concreter) was found through Facebook based on their reviews. (Both a one man band). They were both very good. Especially coming from me with a trade background, I am a bit more picky and have a keen eye on things.

    • You can try hipages - post an ad for what you want and they can come by and do quotation

    • +3

      The last one i hired did a poor job.

      Where you shocked when you found out

      • Where

        Were*

  • Is this your favorite song?

  • Few questions.. Generally do trades prefer to be contacted during work hours or after 5 or so? And do they prefer a call or text..

    How much would it roughly cost to put an additional power point into a room which already has a power point in another location? House is on wooden stumps hence have access underneath.

    And roughly how much to install a security light if wiring wasn't available at the existing point outside the house?

    • People generally prefer business calls in business hours. I have had plenty of customers surprised that I was less than impressed with the 9pm call saying they’re air conditioner has stopped working.

      • Ok thinking was when trades are working they don’t want the phone going off all the time

    • I prefer to be contacted by sms as I then have a record to look back on. With phone calls I get really annoyed if people call after normal work hours, that's family time.

  • +5

    Being in a big commercial company, I never get phone calls from clients as my leading hand and foreman handles that. But personally if I was a domestic/service electrician, I think any hours between 7am-8pm is fine. I'd prefer a phone call as I feel like its a more genuine approach.

    Last two questions is situational so what I say is a VERY rough estimate. Be aware that your light/power circuit may be full and need a new circuit which can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 additional to what I am quoting;

    Extra power point on existing power circuit; $100-$200 including standard double powerpoint

    Installing new light point; $150-$300 including security light with sensor

    Keep in mind standard power points are a lot cheaper than ones with USB charging (up to $60 ea versus standard $10), they are expensive but does look very tidy

    Security lights with a sensor and two heads go anywhere from $40 to $150

  • +2

    I have a pet hate where sparkies are hard wiring led drivers instead of using a 413 and a flylead. Means a failure costs 10x more to fix when it fails. Do you have an an opinion on this?

    • +1

      I have never met a sparky that hard wires lights that comes with a plug, where are you finding these sort of guys? Most manufacturers will void your warranty if you hardwire when it’s being supplied with a plug. I agree, it’s a lot easier installing 413/plug base, plugging the light in and servicing than having to hardwire into tiny terminals.

      • +1

        I misinterpreted your comment, yes I agree 413s and plugs are the way to go, hardwiring just makes life harder for future works.

        • +2

          unfortunately this is what happens on big jobs - a 413 costs $2 20 in a unit and 200 units means the builder gets to save $8k on the build but stuff the buyer who buys the unit. They have to pay $130 to replace on downlight when the driver fails…

          • +1

            @hikaru78: Interesting, that is poor workmanship and not very practical.. something we have to consider when doing new installs, easily serviceable! Definitely want to be avoiding that builder to build my house!

  • Just the AMA I was looking for.
    I completed my Electrical Engineering degree (Postgrad) and I have been working in a decent company for more than 2 years.
    Work is computer based and only requires me sitting on a chair and doing whats required.
    Since I am an active person and have been doing physical work and activities prior to this career, I feel very much bored and don't like at all what I am doing for work.
    Being an electrician seems a good option to me right now.
    So, the questions. In order to be an electrician, will I still have to go through the 4 year apprenticeship? Also, if yes, can I do the apprenticeship part time(maybe 2days a week), without sacrificing the current job?
    And any agency you can refer to, if you live in Victoria, would be helpful.

    • +2

      I am based in Queensland but I will try to give you my best advice.

      You will have to commit full time, I have never heard of anyone doing a part time electrical apprenticeship. Call your local trade school, they might be able to suggest otherwise. In saying that, I got signed off 3 years and 6 months and also have other classmates signed off the same time, but that's an agreement between you and your employer(most of the time, they make you do the full four years, apprentice is cheaper than a tradesmen!)

      Sounds like you're in no rush to look for a career change as your company is decent at the moment, I suggest keeping an eye out for on job seeking websites and apply when you're ready. With your electrical engineering degree, it shouldn't be too hard, as long as you show them that you're keen and take initiative. Usually bigger companies ask for cert II in electro-technology(3-5 months course to prepare you for an electrical apprenticeship)but you already have a electrical degree which should save you from having to complete that course.

      You could also keep an eye out for electricity disturber companies(in Queensland, we have energex, ergon) that advertises for apprentices, they are more likely to hire a mature-aged apprentice(assuming you're over 21) than a junior especially with a electrical background. Electrical disturber companies pays very well, and good lifestyle(day off every 2nd week!)

      Another bonus is that you also always have tools to do things around the house!

      • Similar situation - I deal a lot with electrical contractors and always think - man, it would be great to change careers and be an electrician, but some of these summer days we've been having during summer- good lord. Couldn't imagine being on a roof or inside a roof space in that kind of heat.

        • +1

          I can honestly say I've only been in one ceiling roof in my time and that was for my bosses mate! We were quiet at the time and didn't have much to do. It is very rare that you have to be inside a roof space as a commercial electrician.

      • I did my apprenticeship part time over 6 years but there was arrangements put in place between my employer and the various Govt departments.

        I also got RPL'ed for electrical theory courses based on my uni degree covering it (still had to do the practical and standards based courses).

        For someone in the OP's situation though it would not be something that is easy to accomplish. My only suggestion would be look for an electrical contractor that employs trades and engineers. They may be willing to sponsor you for an apprenticeship and give you the required on the tools experience.

    • +2

      I'm a qualified but non-practising electrician and I work in mining project engineering design. I didn't do my apprenticeship in Australia. I work with electricians all the time and reckon the standard of apprenticeships in this country is poor to mediocre. They don't learn half the stuff I had to and most electricians are okay at basic installations but fault-finding and advanced controls-like work is beyond them - this is basically down to the fact that this country builds a lot of houses and shopping malls but there are few factories and industrial plants. It's a mess

  • +1

    How do you make the assessment if the existing wirings of an (old) house should be re-wired (or not)?

    • +2

      Really depends, I've heard through older tradies that the insulation of cable literally crumbles in your hand once it gets too old. Another factor I can think off is there is no earth cable which is usually the case in very old houses. Might as well rewire if you were to run an earth to every point of lighting and power in the house. You'd find older cables don't age well and they tend to have this green sticky liquid oozing out.

      Haven't personally seen a house that actually requires a full rewire. Just not my field of work.

    • +1

      Visual inspection and insulation resistance testing are the primary methods.

      It is worth noting that any alteration or addition to a circuit triggers the requirement to ensure that whole circuit complies with the latest standard for electrical installations.

      Basically though if it's PVC or XLPE cabling it will generally be ok (there has however been bad batches of PVC cabling at times), however, if it's older than these types it is generally due for replacement now.

      • +2

        100% agreed, you explained it so well!

  • How long would it take the energy company to realise if I set up a timer and circuitry that bypasses the meter for a few hours each day?

    • Not too familiar with this field, might have to ask someone that works for a electricity distributor company. My guess is energy consumed by a certain area does not add up to the amount the consumers are paying so they start investigating the area maybe??

  • Hi mate I'm doing a bit of a Reno on an old house and wondering how safe these old heaters are?

    https://www.dreamstime.com/old-fashioned-wall-mounted-bathro...

    Do you recommend getting rid of them or keeping them as is?

    Cheers

    • I've never come across these heaters in my time as an Electrician, However I did use it as a little kid. I personally wouldn't use them.

    • +1

      Not an electrician. I have never heard of any safety issues with this style of heater. You can still buy a similar style of heater

      The main safety feature is that they are mounted on high the wall well out of reach of people and water splashes. From the reliability point of view, they have a resistive wire in a thermal glass tube that's protected by a wire grille and a polished metal reflector - fairly simple with no moving parts.

      They are not very effective as heaters and take a while to get the room warmed up. That's why I think they have been largely replaced by the IXL tastic style of heater/fan/light unit. It's probably quicker for the electrician to install this unit as the wiring goes to the same place. Note that the heaters consist of resistive wire encased in glass with a reflector. It's just that they are shaped like light globes and the reflective metal is a coating on the back of the globe.

  • When it's all said and done, what can a sole trader expect to take home on any average or given year?

    • How long is a piece of string? There are too many variables, however electricians on wages might give you an idea;

      Domestic $28-32/hr
      Commercial/Industrial $30-$50/hr
      Mining $40-120/hr

  • Do you normally increase the price for something you know it's urgent?
    For example, someone called you to replace electrical problem that is very urgent, and you can come up know, but since the customer is desperate you can increase the rate more than your normal rate?

    Do tradies do this?

    • +2

      I've never worked for myself so I can't comment on other contractors but I believe it's called an emergency/urgent fee possibly? I don't see a problem with that, if you want something done asap and require a service, wouldn't you pay more?

    • +1

      Increased costs are normal if it is out of business hours. Even if it is during business hours they will likely have to reschedule another job or work overtime to accomodate you.
      You may get higher pricing if you are looking for services in an industries busy periods in the lack of discounts they may offer to get work.

  • whats the advantage of three phase in a residential property?

    • Efficiency if you have big loads such as a welding machine.

    • +1

      Generally 3 phase is used where certain appliances call for it.

      If the owner has 3 phase ducted airconditioning, or large induction cooktops, welders, air compressors, electric cars, ect..

      Another advantage is been able to install 15kw of solar vs the 5kw you would get with single phase.

      Supply authorities generally prefer 3 phase as it helps to balance out the grid at the consumer level as well. But this provides no advantage to consumers.

  • Why do sparkies rarely charge by the hour, and base it on the job.

    I got a distro board replaced with 14 poles. Rip the old one out and replace the box and switches. I get quotes ranging from $300 to $1300, and I'm providing the parts.
    What trade earns $1300 for 2 hours work, 700 p/h?

    And in case your wondering after finding a honest electrician, it was done in under 2hrs for ~$300

    Also, I've seen so many properties where the MCB is rated for a current above the mm2. I see it a lot on lighting circuits were its 1mm2 and they just fit 20A MCB, probably because it's what they have in the van. These are the same people that tend to use Telsa and those other cheaper brands. Also seen it on the main isolation switch was rated at 80A, yet the cable was only 6mm2.

    Also, are there kickback for using certain brands, NHP, Clipsal. Most struggle when I ask for ABB/Hager or make out that they are really bad and everything is made in China. In those cases it's a matter of, can you supply those parts, and do you want the job?

    But I do have a few I use these days, but finding honest ones are not easy. Oh and plumbers are just as difficult to find. Everyone else is easy. Work 4 hrs, paid 4 hrs plus materials. Honest and fair.

    • Contractors can charge what they want so I don't really know how to answer that. One factor may be that the electrical contractors you called at the time is flat out busy, usually they overcharge and that's their way of politely saying no thanks(happens across all trades).

      CB should not be above the rated amps on the cable, that is a big no-no. I'd say they've made a mistake or just plain lazy.

      For products, different wholesalers stocks different brands. You'd be surprised not all wholesalers stock all the brands you mentioned that's why they cant provide the brand you wanted.

      Funny you say plumbers are as difficult to find. I've heard electricians and plumbers and are only two trades that is properly licensed? Our completed works must be documented. Maybe that's why we charge more? Just what I've heard.

      • +1

        Still wondering why DIY work in these area is illegal, who knew water and electricity is so much more dangerous in Australia compared to the rest of the world where it's legal?

        Somebody more cynical might suggest that electricity and water is not more dangerous here, but rather, it is a case of unions being more effective at lobbying to guarantee work for their members…

        • What's your knowledge regarding Earth fault loop impedance? Can you calculate maximum demand? What sort of RCBOs would you recommend? Can you guarantee your work is safe for the next person who has to deal with it? Are you insured?

          • -1

            @Zodiacmindwarp: Earth fault loop? With 90% of appliances double insulated, for most installs it has no impact?

            Maximum demand? On single phase, add up all the device specs, and allow double for motors or russian spec fridges :-)

            Safety devices? Heh, I remember the days of nothing but fuses. Any RCD/RCBO setup is safer than what I grew up with!

            (disclaimer: if you haven't had your fuse box tested or upgraded in the last 30 years, call a qualified electrician immediately !!!!!)

          • @Zodiacmindwarp: I don't know anything about Earth fault loop impedence or RCBOs. I'm interested though, where do you recommend I go to learn about them?

            I haven't done any electrical work (DIY or professionaly) so obviously I'm not insured for that, but I can guarantee that it's all safe (because there is none! heh.)

        • Somebody more sensible might realise that it is in fact the rest of the world that is dodgy

          • @sakurashu: The proof is in the pudding. You will not find any published studies proving that outcomes are better when DIY electrical work is illegal. It doesn't save lives.

            Given the lack of positive safety outcomes, it's safe to say these regulations exist primarily to benefit rent-seeking lobbyists. Corruption is dodgy. Australia is dodgy.

            the rest of the world that is dodgy

            Imagine being so arrogant that you believe literally every other country (developed or otherwise) is wrong.

            • @TimCinel: Section 4 c) - http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.939...

              It is not a matter of legal vs illegal DIY electrical work - it is a matter of DIY vs getting a registered and trained professional.

              Australia is not the only country to bring in strict regulations around electrical works but enjoy electrocuting yourself genius

              • @sakurashu: Did you even read 4C?

                Within this category the dominant causes are electrical repairs (to washing machines, plugs, etc.) along with electrical maintenance (e.g. changing light bulbs)

                Do you hire an electrician to change a lightbulb? That paper doesn't even recommend making DIY work illegal. Nice job on the own goal, thanks, I guess?

                Australia is not the only country to bring in strict regulations around electrical works

                As far as I'm aware of, it's the only developed country that I'm aware of that outlaws DIY electrical work.

                enjoy electrocuting yourself genius

                How can I possibly get electrocuted here? DIY work is illegal and thus getting electrocuted is impossible. Unless, you know, I change a lightbulb…

    • +4

      @mrhugo "Also seen it on the main isolation switch was rated at 80A, yet the cable was only 6mm2."

      That's because it is not a Circuit breaker that trips, it is purely just a manual isolation switch, it is not protecting any cable. The 80A is just what the switch is rated for to load break and make.

      The problem with people like yourself, you have a little bit of knowledge which make you think its all easy and even maybe attempt DIY. Everything can seem to work fine in an electrical installation for years. But then a fault happens and the protective equipment does not function, thats when a fire happens or electric shock occurs. Both the RCD/MCB can be perfectly functional but the electrical circuit has a problem making it not operate.

      Pretty much all electrical installation testing is there to make sure the protective devices will work and work within spec (RCD's have to operate <30 mili amp's because above that has enough potential to stop your heart) 30mA is not very high and shows how easily electricity can kill. Being a licenced trade this has to be lodged with Energy Safety.

      Electrician can be fined $50,000 dollars for something that only hurts themselves and be criminally convicted of manslaughter for a death resulting in their work.

      There are a lot of hidden costs with running a business. Vehicle upkeep, Tools, Accounting, Advertisement and when you work for yourself your not always going to have 8 hours a day every day. this all comes into account when people quote you a price.

      @mrhugo "I see it a lot on lighting circuits were its 1mm2 and they just fit 20A MCB, probably because it's what they have in the van."

      For starters 1.5mm2 and 2.5mm2 are the cable sizes used. Depending on the installation method a 1.5mm2 cable can be rated from 24A down to 8A. different installation methods derate the cable different amounts.

      Generally you will just put 10A on 1.5mm2 and 16A on 2.5mm2. because it will cover most installation methods. it is not the only acceptable practice.

      The domestic electrical industry is cut throat so many people undercutting each other and putting the industry into the ground. This is why you find all these cheap CB's because they are trying to get every last penny out of the job.

  • -1

    No one pays me to commute to work. Even Uber drivers earn a wage of 20$ per hour on average. Why is it justified for electricians/tradies to charge a 90$ for an hour of work which is mostly commute.

    We are a nation where high income earners consist of plumbers/electricians/handymen and the medium income earners consisting of Engineers/Lawyers/Scientists and I wonder why no one sees the flaw in that.

    My professor, a PHD from CalTech is struggling to pay for his first mortgage. My plumber owns 3 houses outright.

    A systematic failure our government is blind to.

    • Your plumber mades few smarter choices than your professor. That's not government fault.

      I'm no plumber or professors with a PhD but paying mortgage is not something I worried about.

      • +5

        Mortgage is definitely something alot of Australians are worried about. If you care to look at the stats the income to property cost ratio in Australia is one of highest.

        The only smart choice the plumber made was to become a plumber. The government being a nanny govt did everything to facilitate the crazy demands the plumber could make.

        • Those Australian should worry about mortgage before they sign up on it.

    • +4

      The smartypants professor should have done basic economics and business course to learn about supply and demand and develop marketable skills.

      • Indeed. Maybe cleaning clogged shit out of toilets wasn't his calling.

        The government has a strict control over supply demand through immigration and policies. Not everything is done and dusted by quoting "hey I know what supply demand is" and being happy with it but understanding what derives it.

        • Seems like you have all the answers.

    • +2

      Don't really have the knowledge to answer this but I do enjoy being an electrician! The pay and lifestyle

    • The government isn't there to set wages. Perhaps they could loosen regs on trades or increase spending on tafes to allow more supply but that's not going to increase others salaries. The biggest problems I see as an engineer in this country is a culture of management not understanding the value of product development, the general public accepting poorly designed products cause they're cheap (throw away society) and probably the real killer - investment flowing to mining and housing (or banks). So many good tech businesses in Australia end up foreign owned. I don't think begrudging tradies for earning a decent crust fixes any of that.

    • Easy answer. Get yourself a registered trade where you take on legal responsibilities. Do you think your solicitor who never leaves his office is worth $300 and hour or your medical specialist is worth $190 for fifteen minutes? A tradesman can travel to numerous jobs in one day. What the hell has it got to do with the government?

    • -1

      Your assumptions are just not correct, Im a plumber and have friends who are engineers, lawyers and scientists all of them earn more than me and I work for myself, so many people underestimate the costs involved in working for yourself. As a maintenance plumber I can do anywhere from 2-3 to 10 jobs a day. If I wasn't charging a call out fee (travel fee) I would be broke and better off on wages. I can lose anywhere from 2-4hrs a day in traveling to get to jobs and someone has to pay that……..so if you call out a trade be prepared to pay for their time, also take into account a tradesman will turn up with a well stocked van, stock he has gone out of his way to get to complete your job. Unless you're prepared to pay him to travel to get materials after arriving at your home. Try ordering a pizza and not paying delivery.

        • +1

          Kiwimex got it wrong. Try ordering a pizza and only paying delivery.

  • Those setting up weed houses and stealing power from the street, is that stolen from just neighbours or the whole street?

    • I've never heard of weed houses stealing power, only extremely high power bills and that's how they get caught! I guess if you really wanted to steal power from your neighbor and know exactly what you're doing. It is very possible.

    • +1

      Typically they pirate power from a streetlight connection or something like that, obviously there's a lot less chance of anyone asking questions that way.

      • You have no idea what you're talking about.

    • generally 2nd feed in no meter.

      • +2

        No, either they will bypass the meter with a circuit or 2 or they will tap into the consumer mains in the Cieling/wall, before it even gets to the meter.

  • Hey mate seeing as you work in commercial properties its all higher voltages in at least compared to a house. So who is the sucker that flips the switch open on a new build? Do you use a fiberglass rod or just PPE?
    Ever had any faults on new builds trip?

    Also what tools do you own mostly Knipex pliers and fluke multimeters?

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