When you have a small home improvement project, a remodel or building your new dream home you always have to carefully select the contractors working on your home. You probably heard some of the countless horror stories that are out there and it scared you enough that you decided to put a little effort into your selection process.
Type of Electricians:
Electricians, like many other trades come in several different flavors.
- Handyman: Someone who knows a little of several trades. They do not typically come from electrical background. If they did they would be an electrician and make more money. You can find someone working for less money but you often get what you pay for. They charge by the hour and if it takes them longer you end up paying the same or more. More complex electrical installations will likely be done wrong. If you need new switch plates put in or have a few outlets replaced with new a one, than some handymen can do a good job. However, I see a lot of 3-way switches, GFCI outlets installed wrong. Not to mention any more complex wiring issues. By law they are not allowed to do any projects where they charge more than $500.
- General Contractor: Some general contractors have a lot of experience and may even come from an electrical background. If you live in a state where contractors need a license to operate, check if they have an electrical license maintained as well. Otherwise their knowledge may be outdated regarding the latest electrical code. You can trust them if you only have a few simple electrical issues. By law, they can only do things that are related to their overall projects. It may just be easier than hiring an electrician. However, you can be more confident and in most cases save some money if you hire a licensed electrical contractor when you have a bigger project.
- The Lone Electrician: Almost every electrician does side jobs. They have a day job. In addition, after hours or on the weekends they do electrical projects. You may save some money. They do not have much of an overhead. Many times they use their employer’s tools and truck; they may even use some of the material. On the down side they are not licensed, they do not carry a bond, they do not carry insurance. If they cause any property damage, they or someone else gets injured as a result of their actions; the home owner is the one paying the bills. They probably will take much longer, since they only have limited hours to work on your project. You also have to be able to make a judgment regarding how good of an electrician they are. If you live in a state where electricians get certified, certainly check if they are certified by the state. The state issues a card that you can ask for as proof. Make sure you can find them in case the job was not done properly or the person just did not show up any more.
- The One Man Show: Almost every electrician wants to be his or her own boss. Many get an electrical contracting license, buys some tools and a truck and they are an electrical contractor. Most of them have a very solid technical background.If they are licensed (the state may require a bond, check if they are bonded), carry insurance and most importantly, reputable. One of the biggest disadvantage is that more often than not, they take as many jobs as they can. They start all of them and they may not finish for a long time. Since they can only be at one place at a time they will work on each project here and there. You may not see them for weeks. One way to check is to see if they carry worker’s compensation (see in a later section on how to check contractor’s license).
- The Reputable Electrical Contractor: The best solution for electrical projects (especially bigger, more challenging projects) is to hire a reputable company. Make sure that the contractor carries a license if there is one in your state and insurance. See Below how to do all that.
How to do your research:
Sources to find contractors:
- People you know: The best sources are your family, friends or neighbors. Other contractors that you have done business with are usually a good source of referral.
- Business organizations: The BBB (Better Business Bureau, http://www.bbb.org/us/), your local chamber of commerce or a local BNI organization might also be a good resource.
- Referral services: Most referral services do not do any checking. If you use them, find out what their process is for accepting contractors. Many of the big ads in the yellow pages are also referral services. The quality changes greatly. Home improvement stores (Home Depot etc.) do not have a rigorous selection process either. The smaller stores are referring based on their relationship. In either case you do not get to see them reviewed. Some newer websites like Service Magic, Yelp, Google Places, Angie’s List gives you customer reviews (as shocking as it may sound some of those may not be real), that may be a good indication. Try to check out the contractor’s website. A well designed website is often an indication of quality in other aspects of the business as well.
- Check the license: Find out if your state requires a license. I google search should be able to answer that. For example in California, electrical contractors receive a wall certificate and a credit card size plastic card as a proof of their license from the California state license board. Check the expiration date on it. A better way of doing it is to get online: https://www2.cslb.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CheckLicense/LicenseRequest.asp enter the license number and see the most up to date information on the license. Make sure the license number is the same on the vehicle, marketing information, etc. Check if it is active and when it will expire. The class should say C10, description electrical. You can see the bond information and the worker’s compensation information as well. If there were complaints or the license was revoked, the information would show up there as well.
- Ask for the insurance information: Double check if the company carries insurance as well. Especially for bigger projects or projects where height is involved it is a good practice to ask for the insurance information. Accidents happen and the best electrician can make a mistake. All it takes is a spark. It is a general practice to carry insurance of $1 Million. You can ask for the certificate or the contact information of the insurance person. For bigger commercial projects the customer often requests from the insurance company to be placed on.
- Find out what the warranty is: See what the warranty period is. If it is for parts as well as labor. A 6 months parts and labor warranty is not a bad thing to have. You may not find out if everything is installed properly right away.
- Ask for references: Ask for the contact information of previous customers. Call the references and see how satisfied they were. Find out if they finished the project on time, if everything was in working order, if they had any technical issues, how they handled changes, how well they coordinated with other trades, how they handled warranty issues if they had any. Ask for recent customers who had similar projects. You can also check the BBB (Better Business Bureau, http://www.bbb.org/us/) or your local chamber of commerce.
How to make your selection:
Price versus insurance: Try to get multiple bids whenever possible. However, do not always just take the lowest bid. Cheap may not be cost efficient. A reputable contractor may complete the project on time, not going to ask for more money down the road and won’t leave you there half complete or worse, stuck with bad quality work. Do your research as outlined in the previous section. However, sometimes you have to compare apples to oranges. How much more you are willing to pay for a better contractor or how much risk you are willing to take with a less expensive one is always a judgment call you have to make. Consider the possible negative consequences as well as the positive ones. What will happen if someone gets injured on the job, if there is an electrical fire as a result of the project, if the project does not pass inspection, if the fixture does not work a month after the project is completed.