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Sign electricians handle the installation, maintenance, repair, and upgrading of the outdoor billboard lighting and electrical signs.
They work with both building-mounted and stand-alone signs.
These electricians wire up the lighting that illuminates conventional non-electric signs.
They also handle more advanced electronic signs, such as message signs used at airports, on roadways, or safety signs at road work sites.
Sign electricians can also work with altering and erecting signs and towers they are mounted on.
The Work of a Sign Specialist Electrician
Sign specialists work with wiring designed to withstand extreme weather and wind since these signs should serve for years without maintenance.
Sign installers are using long-life LED bulbs more often now.
These bulbs can last for 50,000 hours before they need to be replaced.
Sign specialist electricians also install and maintain street lights and other outside overhead forms of lighting.
Their maintenance routine includes changing bulbs and cleaning covers.
This work is physically demanding since it involves a lot of lifting and climbing.
Sometimes, electricians have to work in hard-to-get locations.
Sign installers work in any weather conditions.
Sometimes they have to work overnight to put and set up the signs to run during business hours.
Sign installers usually know how to operate cranes, bucket trucks, and lifts since they often work on tall tower signs that should be seen from far away.
Some signs are installed at hundreds of feet height and need to be accessed by a ladder.
It means you should know how to work safely at heights.
Electrical Codes and Restrictions
Sign specialist electricians should be familiar with and adhere to electrical codes for sign installations.
The installation of equipment, wiring, and conductors for outdoor electrical signs is governed by article 600 of the NEC (National Electrical Code).
In includes such topics as:
- Equipment marking and labeling.
- Power disconnect accessibility and marking.
- Grounding and bonding protection from lightning.
- Minimum distances between elements.
Sign installers should also be aware of local codes that can be specific to the industry or cover outdoor advertising restrictions.
A framework for restricting certain types and sizes of signs within 600 feet of interstates is outlined by the federal Department of Transportation.
However, local and state authorities sometimes enable stricter rules on locations and sizes of signs.
Sign electricians should know these restrictions and consider them while getting permission for the installation or during the installation itself.
Sign installers are also restricted in the systems they can deal with regarding interconnections and voltage.
For example, in Florida, they can’t work on the systems exceeding 250 volts.
They are also allowed to work only with the primary electrical service to the site.
The exception is when a billboard isn’t attached to another structure and has the load below 25 kilowatts.
How to Become an Electrical Sign Specialist
The licensing requirements for sign specialists vary by state.
The licensing process, typically, includes three levels – apprentice, journeyman, and master electrician.
Usually, the path to a master sign specialist starts with an apprenticeship.
During the program, new electricians work under the supervision of more experienced electricians for two to four years.
The program includes classroom training as well as extended on-the-job training and experience.
There are also specialized courses in safety training and high-angle rescue for working at heights.
Apprenticeships can be administered by private companies dealing with the installation and servicing of signs.
They are also managed by local unions or joint committees including providers of electrical education and local unions.
The National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee provides apprenticeship through local chapters of IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and the NECA (National Electrical Contractors Association), which are partners in this committee.
Many electricians receive their education through trade school programs at community colleges before they enroll in apprenticeship.
However, most colleges don’t offer certificates or degrees specific to sign specialists.
But through their general electrician education associate’s programs, you can get to the sign electrical field.
Some jurisdictions issue general or commercial electrician licenses which cover the electrical sign work.
Others, however, offer electrical sign specialist licenses with different requirements.
For example, in Oregon, apprentice sign specialists should take from 84 to 144 hours of classroom training per year and 8000 hours total of on-the-job training before becoming a journeyman.
Commercial Driver’s License
Since sign specialist electricians mostly work from crane trucks or large bucket trucks, they are required to hold a Class B or better Commercial Driver’s License.
Being familiar with basic hand tools and being mechanically apt are also essential skills for prospective sign electricians.
Salary and Job Outlook
Most specialists work in privately-owned companies that provide the installation and repair of the electric signage.
There are also positions available at local and state government agencies.
For example, transportation departments responsible for installing and maintaining highway and street signs.
The pay is usually in the same range, but the job security and benefits are better in government agencies.
The pay that apprentices receive is usually 50-60% of what journeymen electricians make.
Depending on the location, it can widely vary.
In the following examples taken from the listings of August 2016, you can see the range.
The ads are provided only for illustrative purposes and don’t represent job offers or assurance of pay:
- Sign Installer in Minneapolis-St. Paul – $25/hour.
- Sign Technician Helper in South Carolina – $10/hour.
- Journeyman Sign Installer in Colorado – $22 to $28/hour.
- Electrical Sign Maintenance Technician in Connecticut – $17 to $22/hour.
- Highway Signal Electrician in Minnesota – $53,014 to $61,429/year.