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AGO 1988 No. 22 - October 13, 1988
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

ELECTRICIANS ‑- ELECTRICAL CONTRACTORS ‑- LICENSING

 1.         One must be a licensed electrical contractor or be certified as an electrician to contract with a homeowner to install the electrical service lines on the homeowner's property, even when ownership of the service lines will revert to a utility for operation and maintenance. 

2.         Contracts to install electrical service lines on homeowner property are subject to the permit and inspection requirements of the Department of Labor and Industries.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

                                                                October 13, 1988 

Honorable Joseph A. Dear
Director
Department of Labor & Industries
805 Plum Street SE
Olympia, WA 98504-9519

Cite as:  AGO 1988 No. 22                                                                                                                

 Dear Mr. Dear:

             By letter previously acknowledged, you requested our opinion on two questions we have rephrased as follows:

             1.         Must one be a licensed electrical contractor or be certified as an electrician to contract with a homeowner to install the service lines on the homeowner's property, when ownership of the service lines reverts to the utility for operation and maintenance?

             2.         Should the Department require a permit and inspection of this installation?

             We answer both questions in the affirmative.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Question 1:

             Must one be a licensed electrical contractor or be certified as an electrician to contract with a homeowner to install the service lines on the homeowner's property, when ownership of the service lines reverts to the utility for operation and maintenance?

             Chapter 19.28 RCW requires that certain types of electrical work be performed by licensed electrical contractors or licensed electricians.

             A person must be licensed as an electrical contractor before that person may "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."  RCW 19.28.120;see RCW 19.28.005(8).1/

              Similarly, state law requires that individual electricians obtain a certificate of competency to engage in the "electrical construction trade."  RCW 19.28.510.  The electrical construction trade "includes but is not limited to installing or maintaining electrical wires and equipment that are used for light, heat, or power and installing and maintaining remote control, signaling, power limited, or communication circuits or systems."  RCW 19.28.005(7).

             Your question relates to the installation of service lines from the source of power at the roadway to the building to be served.  Such installations fall within the kinds of work described in RCW 19.28.005, 19.28.120, and 19.28.510.  Therefore, such installations must be performed by licensed electrical contractors or certified electricians unless an exception to the general requirements of chapter 19.28 RCW applies to this situation.

             Your question appears to be limited to residential property.  We therefore will not analyze exceptions to the licensing requirements of chapter 19.28 RCW that pertain to the business-related activities of property owners.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

             RCW 19.28.200 contains the following exemptions to the licensing requirements for both electrical contractors and electricians:

             No license under the provision [sic] of this chapter shall be required from any utility because of work in connection with the installation and/or maintenance of lines or wires for transmission of electricity from the source of supply to the point of contact at the premises and/or property to be supplied, or for work in installing or maintaining or repairing on the premises of customers, service connections and meters, and other apparatus or appliances used in the measurement of the consumption of electricity by customers, or for work in connection with the lighting of streets, alleys, ways, or public areas or squares, or for the work of installing, maintaining or repairing wires, apparatus or appliances used in their business, or in making or distributing electricity, upon the property owned or operated and managed by them; or for the work of installing and repairing ignition or lighting systems for motor vehicles, or as exempted in RCW 19.28.010.

             Nothing in RCW 19.28.200 exempts from licensing requirements a person hired by the owner of a residence to install service lines from the road to the residence.  Thus, electrical contractors must be licensed and individual electricians must be certified in order to do such work.

             With respect to the licensing of individual electricians pursuant to RCW 19.28.510, additional exemptions apply.  RCW 19.28.610 states in part:

             Nothing in RCW 19.28.510 through 19.28.620 shall be construed to require that a person obtain a license or a certified electrician in order to do electrical work at his or her residence or farm or place of business or on other property owned by him . . . And Provided Further, That nothing in RCW 19.28.510 through 19.28.620 shall be deemed to apply to the installation or maintenance of telephone, telegraph, radio, or television wires and equipment; nor to any electrical utility or its employees, in the installations and maintenance of electrical wiring, circuits, and equipment by or for the utility, or comprising a part of its plants, lines or systems.  The licensing provisions of RCW 19.28.510 through 19.28.620 shall not apply to persons making electrical installations on their own property or to regularly employed employees working on the premises of their employer:  And Provided Further, That nothing in RCW 19.28.510 through  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]19.28.620 shall be construed to restrict the right of any householder to assist or receive assistance from a friend, neighbor, relative or other person when none of the individuals doing the electrical installation hold themselves out as engaged in the trade or business of electrical installations. . . .

 (Emphasis supplied.)

             Pursuant to these provisions, a homeowner who personally installs service lines on his property clearly is not required to obtain an electrician's license.  The question you pose is whether this extends to someone engaged in the electrical construction trade who is hired by the homeowner to install the service lines.  We answer this question in the negative.

             The Legislature took some care to clarify the scope of the exemption for persons performing electrical work on their own property.  The licensing provisions of RCW 19.28.510 through 19.28.620 do not apply to the regularly employed employees of a person performing work on his business premises.  Nor do these licensing provisions apply to assistance received from a friend, neighbor, or relative if these individuals do not hold themselves out as engaged in the trade or business of electrical installations.  A contractor or an electrician hired by a homeowner for the specific purpose of installing service lines does not come within these exemptions for property owners.  Therefore, an electrician's license is required to perform this work.

             The exemptions for utilities contained in RCW 19.28.200 and 19.28.610 do not change our conclusions that one must be a licensed electrical contractor or certified electrician in order to contract to do such work.  As we understand it, until recently, the utility district in question routinely used its own employees to install service lines.  Neither this fact, nor the fact that ownership of the service lines reverts to the utility after installation, affects our analysis.  The exemptions in RCW 19.28.200 and 19.28.610 not only require the utility's ownership of the installation, but also require that the utility's employees perform the work.2/

             Because these exemptions apply only when the utility's employees perform the electrical work, they have no application here.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

             In answer to your first question, we therefore conclude that if the homeowner chooses to hire someone to install service lines on the homeowner's property, chapter 19.28 RCW requires that a licensed electrical contractor or a certified electrician perform the installation.

 Question 2:

             Should the Department require a permit and inspection of this installation?

             The inspection authority of the Department of Labor and Industries is very broad:  "The director [of the Department of Labor and Industries] shall cause an inspector to inspect all wiring, appliances, devices, and equipment to which this chapter applies."  RCW 19.28.210.  Chapter 19.28 RCW applies to "[a]ll wires and equipment, and installations thereof, that convey electric current and installations of equipment to be operated by electric current, in, on, or about buildings or structures . . . ."  RCW 19.28.010(1).  With respect to installations subject to the Department's inspection authority, utilities are not permitted to connect electricity unless a permit issued by the Department is displayed on the installation.  RCW 19.28.210.

             The installation of service lines from the roadway to a residence falls within these provisions.  Accordingly, a permit and an inspection are required unless an exception applies.

             The primary exceptions to RCW 19.28.210 are in RCW 19.28.010(1) and (2), 19.28.360, and 19.28.370.  The only relevant exception is in RCW 19.28.360, which permits local governments and their agencies to adopt and enforce ordinances requiring equal or higher standards than those required by chapter 19.28 RCW.  Thus, if there is such local enforcement, inspection would not be performed by the Department but by local authorities.  In either case, the installation of service lines is subject to the permit and inspection requirements of chapter 19.28 RCW.  We therefore answer your second question in the affirmative.

             We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General 

JEAN M. WILKINSON
Assistant Attorney General 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/In order to obtain a license, an electrical contractor must employ an electrical contractor administrator who has successfully completed a competency examination.  RCW 19.28.120(4), 19.28.123.

 2/See AGO 1951-53 No. 203, in which the Attorney General concluded that contractors hired by utilities to do electrical work on the utility's property do not fall under the exceptions for electrical contractors set forth in RCW 19.28.200.

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