Remodelers: Don’t get fined for violating these easily misconceived electrical rules
October 2, 2023
What can you do and what can you not do when it comes to working around electrical during remodeling projects? Let us clarify this question to ensure you’re in compliance and not at risk of being fined during an inspection.
According to Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 19.28.041, “It is unlawful for any person, firm, partnership, corporation, or other entity to advertise, offer to do work, submit a bid, engage in, conduct, or carry on the business of installing or maintaining wires or equipment to convey electric current, or installing or maintaining equipment to be operated by electric current as it pertains to the electrical industry, without having an unrevoked, unsuspended, and unexpired electrical contractor license, issued by the department in accordance with this chapter.”
No permit, no problem? Wrong.
A common misconception is if a project doesn’t require an electrical permit, an electrician is not needed. That is FALSE.
It’s true the replacement of light fixtures, switches, outlets, thermostats, etc., does not require an electrical permit. However, in some cases it is unlawful for anyone other than the homeowner themselves to do that work unless that person is a properly certified electrician who has an electrical contractor license.
Work that does not require an electrical permit:
- Plug-in household appliances
- Like-in-kind replacement of lamps, single-family residential luminaires, branch circuit breakers, contactors, relays, timers, starters, circuit boards or similar control components.
- Like-in-kind replacement of a maximum of five: snap switches, dimmers, receptacle outlets, thermostats, heating elements, or luminaire ballasts with the exact same ballast.
- Like-in-kind replacement of a single set of fuses; a single battery smaller than 150 amp hour; one hardwired household appliance; one 10 horsepower, or smaller, motor.
- Heat cable repair
- Travel trailers
- Other as listed in WAC 296-46B- 901 (7)
Work that requires an electrical permit:
- All circuit wiring
- Motors larger than 10 horsepower
- Meter bases or masts
- Thermostat wiring
- Burglar alarms
- Fire alarms
- Telecommunications systems
- Permanent home stereo systems
- HVAC/R equipment
- Swimming pools, spas, hot tubs
- Septic pumping systems
- Other electrical equipment as defined in RCW 19.28.041
WHO CAN DO THE WORK?
Can either a general contractor or a non-electrician subcontractor take a light fixture down to paint behind it even if the power is shut off?
No. This is considered an exposure to hazard and can only be done by the property owner or a licensed electrician.
Can either a general contractor or a non-electrician subcontractor remove a light switch cover or receptacle plate cover to paint behind?
Either can do the work. According to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ (L&I) Division of Occupational and Safety Health (DOSH), the removal of a plate cover is not considered an exposure to hazard and an infraction would not be given for that alone during inspection.
Can a property owner have a non-electrician employee perform electrical work that does not require a permit?
A property owner could have a full-time employee (not a contractor or subcontractor) perform some electrical work that does not require a permit without that person being an electrician. However, for example, a property management company could not have an employee perform this work because the company only manages the building and is not the owner.
What types of inspections look for these types of infractions?
- E-CORE Inspection (Electrical Compliance, Outreach, Regulation and Education) – E-CORE performs unscheduled inspections to find unlicensed electrical contractors, uncertified electricians, and those who fail to get electrical permits.
- Electrical Inspection – For electrical work requiring a permit, the property owner or contractor must request an inspection from L&I to check the work under the 2020 National Electric Code (NEC).
- DOSH Inspection – DOSH performs scheduled and unscheduled inspections to check for unsafe work practices.
- Contractor Compliance Inspection – Ensures compliance with contractor registration, plumber and electrical licensing, prevailing wage and industrial insurance laws.
What is the fine for violating electrical law?
A life safety violation is $1,000 for the first offense and increases with each offense.
What happens during an inspection?
During an electrical inspection that is scheduled or unscheduled, the inspector will look for the proper permits on site and that all engaged in the installation of electrical equipment are properly licensed and certified. During an electrical inspection, the inspector will evaluate whether or not the installation is compliant with all national and local electrical codes. If individuals are not properly licensed and certified the inspector, either E-CORE or an electrical inspector, may also issue citations for non-compliance with the RCW.
If you have questions about whether your work is in compliance with these laws or whether or not your electrical work needs to be done by a licensed electrician, please contact L&I Electrical Program at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 902-5269.
Interested in learning more about what to expect during DOSH inspections?
Register for the “DOSH Inspections: Don’t be caught unprepared” seminar taught by ROII Safety Services Director Bob White on how to prepare in advance for L&I compliance inspections. Learn more at biaw.com/classes.