Selecting the right electrical contractor is not as easy as choosing someone from the Yellow Pages. The ramifications of hiring the wrong contractor can be financially disastrous and even dangerous.
First, it is imperative to know whether the contractor you are considering hiring is licensed, affiliated, and has adequate general liability and workers’ compensation insurance.
Next, you need to determine if they have experience in the type of work you need to do and if they generally consider themselves good, honest, and reputable.
The best place to start answering some of these questions is the Electrical Contractors Examining Board and / or the Division of Consumer Affairs (basically the Authority having Jurisdiction) and, of course, the Better Business Bureau.
Now let’s imagine for a moment that you have electrical work that you need to do.
It is not an emergency, maybe you are just fixing a light that stopped working.
What would you do?
Would you call a few contractors and get multiple offers? You can, but I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it.
Most people think that you should get multiple offers for each job. This is not the case and, in reality, bidding every little job can backfire.
Good contractors are few and far between, and asking for multiple bids for a small job will only alienate them the next time. Try looking at this from their point of view. Your time is probably worth around $ 100 / hour and yet you take the time to come to your residence and provide you with a free estimate for any work you may need.
Generally, a good contractor will try to offer you an “extra competitive” offer, especially the first time, only to convert you into a customer.
But how can you tell if the first contractor to walk into your home is the good contractor? Some simple rules may apply here, but remember that there are exceptions to every rule as well.
o A good contractor will usually look good. In other words, if he or she looks messy and disorganized, then it is probably indicative of the type of work he or she does. Someone who takes pride in their work generally takes pride in their appearance. Some contractors may argue this point, but remember that we are talking about generalities here and not exceptions. He or she must have some form of company identification (even a shirt with a logo would suffice).
o A good contractor will have business cards with your business name and / or your name, phone number, and license number.
o A good contractor will respond to your calls quickly and provide you with a free estimate (for most jobs) on the same day or within a reasonable amount of time, and will take the time to explain what they will do and how they will do it. .
o A good contractor will never offer to do the job without obtaining the permits and may even leave the job if the owner insists on not accepting them. Remember, permits are additional insurance for the owner that guarantees (through inspection) that the work was done safely and correctly.
o A good contractor will never cut corners or do something unsafe to fit your budget. Instead, they will offer suggestions on how to modify your plans to meet both code and security requirements and your budget. If these two can’t meet, then they will wish you good luck and quit your job.
o A good contractor will be happy to provide you with copies of their insurance certificates and references when requested. Try not to ask for them unless it is a decent sized job.
Suppose a homeowner would like to make a minor alteration or addition to their electrical system. If the electrical system is older, that part of the system may need to be updated to current code standards before it can be added or modified.
To circumvent this regulation, the owner can insist that the work be done without permits and possibly even hire someone without a license to do the work.
What he or she doesn’t realize is that if their house catches fire, they are most likely NOT covered. Your landlord’s policy probably states (very clearly) that anyone working in the residence must be properly licensed and all building, plumbing and electrical codes must be followed, and work must be performed with permits where necessary.
If you hired someone who you thought was licensed, but ultimately did not, you may NOT be covered because you did not get the permits for work and as far as the insurance company is concerned, it was done illegally.
If you decide to bid for a job, make sure the job is properly specified (in full detail) so that all contractors bid for the exact same things. Otherwise, there is no way of knowing who is offering apples and who is offering oranges. Not specifying a job correctly is probably the most common mistake owners make.
Why? Let’s say you need to have 10 receptacles, 4 lights, and 2 dimmers installed in a room.
Without specifying the exact types such as (Standard, Decora, others), amperage (15/20), location and method of use (this is used by good contractors to determine how many receptacles to place on a single circuit), types of lights, bulbs ( R30, R40, Halogen, etc.) and standard trims (for Hi Hats), eyeballs, etc., bulb wattage (determines the type and rating of dimmers used), there is no way to tell who is bidding what . And these are just some of the variables used for a pretty simple job!
o A good contractor always uses first-class, contractor-quality materials and never uses anything else, regardless of budget. Usually they will set the price and give you the highest quality items automatically. This is where they get in trouble when they bid with other contractors. Someone else may be using approved but inferior materials, allowing them to come in considerably lower than the good contractor. They probably know that you will have problems with the items installed sooner rather than later, but they don’t care because it exceeds the warranty period (if they have one).
o A good contractor will take into consideration how receptacles are being used (such as computers, entertainment equipment, vacuum cleaner, etc.) and will automatically take into account dedicated lines (price) for these items, although current codes may allow all receptacles to be wired in a single circuit.
Other contractors will not and therefore will be able to do the job cheaper. Of course, when you start to trip switches because the new receptacles are overloading the circuit, there will be nothing to do about it, because you did not violate any code at the time, and more importantly, you did not specify it. .
But how could you specify it? It is not in the electrical field and assumed the contractor would know better and take it into account.
Well, you are right. The good contractor already took this into account, but gave the job to the other.
Are you starting to get an idea of the dangers of multiple offers? Very often, it doesn’t end with the good contractor.
That’s a pretty typical bidding scenario, and it’s obvious why people are intimidated when dealing with contractors. Making the wrong move can spell big trouble.
However, if you are bidding for the job, try to have an architect or engineer specify it appropriately. A good rule of thumb would be if you get multiple bids, always choose from the middle up and never go for the lowest bid.
When you’ve finally selected a contractor, ask for a copy of their insurance policies and make sure everything (including start and finish dates on major jobs) is in writing.
Very often, smaller contractors work from their own home or garage, and many do not have workers’ compensation insurance. This may or may not be a factor. Whether they have a helper with them or send someone else over to their home to do the job, it becomes an important factor.
Without this insurance policy, you (the homeowner) are 100% responsible for accidents your workers may incur. Also, many contractors only have enough general liability insurance to meet state regulations, but not enough to pay for your home if it catches fire.
Finally, one last note of caution; As with everything else in life, “you get what you pay for”.
In other words, don’t let price be the determining factor when hiring an electrical contractor. Remember, if a plumber fails, you will have a flood, if an electrical contractor fails, you will have a fire or perhaps worse.