Practical Application: 3 Ways Electricians Use Math on the Job

electricianmathpencilsOne of the most common questions high-school math teachers hear from their students is, “When will I ever use this in real life?” If you hope to pursue a successful career as an electrician in your life, your teacher’s answer could have simply been, “Every workday.”

While electricians perform a fair amount of important physical labor, all of their professional decisions are dictated by a knowledge of building codes, electricity-related physics, and mathematics.

The controversial math concept of imaginary numbers is even used by some professionals in electrical fields, such as electrical engineers who study the effect of earthquakes on building electrical systems.

In this blog, we list three ways that electricians use math during an average workday and which specific mathematical discipline each method falls under.

1. Measurement

Perhaps the simplest and most common use of math on an electrical worksite is measurement. Wiring must connect seamlessly and in the appropriate places in a finished structure. Electricians may need to measure room dimensions, wiring lengths, and other variables to determine the best placement for specific components.

To use these measurements, electricians may employ fundamental arithmetic methods like addition and subtraction as well as simple algebraic linear functions. All electrical projects begin with this mathematical process.

Mathematical accuracy ensures safety and regulation compliance. While many basic jobsite math problems can be done in an electrician’s head or with the aid of a calculator, many equations require a true practical knowledge of the relevant mathematical discipline. Electricians must confidently use math to guide their work and comply with all industry regulations.

Algebra may be used throughout the electrical installation or repair process. This mathematical discipline is one of the most relevant subjects of study for prospective electricians, and we’ll discuss it in more detail in section three, which is on power and voltage calculation.

2. Piping Configuration

Once initial measurements have been taken on a jobsite, electricians may need to use more complex math to determine the correct angle of pipes and circuits. To determine the correct component angles, an electrician may use geometry or trigonometry principles.

These pipes house wires and other electrical components to reduce the risk of stray electrical charges. For example, piping may be used to protect electrical wires from exposure to water in the bathrooms on a residential property.

Geometry principles may also be used to ensure correct wire configuration if the wires need to be parallel to each other or to sit at a specific angle in relation to each other.

Geometry is also used whenever electricians draw up blueprints or building plans. Creating scale representations of any structure requires the understanding of geometry principles and applications. These plans may need to be used by an entire electrical team as well as other contractors, so accuracy is essential.

3. Power and Voltage Calculation

One of the most important forms of calculation that electricians perform is to determine the force of an electrical current. Sometimes this current is expressed as power, voltage, amperage, or wattage, depending on the electrical application.

These electrical current variables determine which size of wire is needed in the project, how large the electrical box must be, and so on. Many of these calculations must be performed before even the most basic electrical work can begin.

One of the most common formulas for determining electrical current is called Ohm’s Law. This algebraic equation states that “I” (the electrical current) is equal to “V” (the voltage) divided by “R” (the resistance).

Ohm’s Law is perhaps the most commonly used formula for this purpose, but electricians may use other formulas or mathematical techniques depending on the complexity of the project. Understanding the true electrical current ensures that electricians can deliver reliable power without creating fire hazards.

For example, as mentioned at the beginning of this section, current determines appropriate wire gauge. The larger around a wire is, the more electrical current it can conduct. However, high-gauge wire is more expensive. An electrician therefore determines the smallest wire gauge that can be safely used in a specific place using current calculations.

Whether math was your favorite subject in school or you often questioned why a math education was valuable, you’ll need to achieve proficiency in relevant mathematics to excel as an electrician.

Don’t let a fear of math get in the way of your dream career. Work with an experienced teacher as part of an interactive and engaging educational environment. The right program can provide you with the knowledge you need to keep yourself, your coworkers, and your clients safe on any jobsite.

To learn the theoretical and practical characteristics of the math you’ll need as an electrician, sign up for the electrician training course at HVAC Technical Institute. Our curriculum includes 10 modules to set you up for a successful career as an electrician, including an early module on technical math and how to use it correctly.