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Working with electricity is dangerous for many of us. But so is ignoring the electrical systems in our homes. Here’s what to consider when hiring an electrician:
- Check the qualifications: Journeyman electricians are licensed to install wiring and equipment. Master electricians meet more stringent requirements and can plan, design, install and maintain an electrical system
- Hire an electrician who specializes in your need — repair, new construction, remodeling
- Verify the electrician’s license, and check ratings or get recommendations from your contractor
If you’re building or remodeling, the electrician will be working with your builder or architect. If it’s a repair, your home warranty company may have a preferred provider.
Licensing and training
When you’re having electrical work done in your home, you need someone who’s qualified. This really isn’t optional.
If you bring in a cheap cowboy or try to do work yourself, your homeowner insurance is likely to refuse to pay out for any subsequent claims you make as a result of shoddy work. That applies when you fail to get a required permit, too.
Related: What does a home inspector do?
Picture the scene the morning after your home burns to the ground. You know, the moment you’re explaining to your spouse how you’re down hundreds of thousands of dollars because you saved a few Benjamins on a wiring job.
And you’d better pray you don’t lose something infinitely more precious than all your worldly goods in such a fire.
Not every state licenses electricians, but most do. In those states that don’t, cities and counties often fulfill the licensing function.
Various websites provide overviews of licensing systems by state. However, guidelines change, consumers file complaints, and new electricians enter the industry. You may prefer to do your own online search of current data, “electrician licenses in [your state/county/city].”
You need to look at your electrical contractor’s license before any work begins. Make sure it’s current and appropriate. While you’re checking paperwork, ask to see insurance documents that prove adequate liability coverage, including workers’ compensation.
Types by training/experience
There is a hierarchy of electricians based on hours of experience and examinations passed. Precise qualifying criteria can vary from state to state but the three grades are often:
- Apprentice — A trainee whose work should be supervised
- Journeyman — Someone who has completed an apprenticeship (typically 4 years or 8,000 hours) and passed the journeyman’s examination
- Master electrician — Someone who has been a journeyman for at least two years or roughly 4,000 hours and who has passed the master electrician examination
Journeyman electricians can install electrical equipment or wiring. But it takes a master electrician to design and plan an electrical system.
Types by specialization
When you’re looking for a professional to carry out electrical work in your home, get one experienced in similar environments. That person will have encountered just about every electrical issue an existing home can throw at an owner. More importantly, he or she should know how to resolve them.
So don’t pick someone who only works in factories, stores and offices. Electrical systems in those commercial environments are typically quite different from domestic ones.
Related: Roof jobs you can do yourself, and those you can't
Similarly, someone who only installs new wiring on residential construction sites may be useless at diagnosing and fixing the sorts of problems older homes commonly have.
In other words, be sure the person you pick specializes in existing homes.
Choosing your electrician
A master electrician who specializes in existing homes should be more than capable of meeting your technical needs. But that doesn’t mean she’ll meet your other ones.
The fact she’s technically qualified doesn’t mean she knows how to run a business, deliver good customer service or stick to timetables and budgets.
One way to find any sort of contractor is to ask for recommendations from your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Even then, you need to proceed with caution. For all you know, the person recommended may have since gone through personal or business problems since the job the recommendation is based on.
People and companies can and do change over the years. Indeed, it’s possible your friend’s whole experience was a fluke.
So check out an electrical business that’s been recommended in the same way you would any other supplier. Consult the Better Business Bureau website, do an online search for complaints and check with your licensing authority. As importantly, ask for references from recent customers and follow up on those.
What are you looking for?
Do you need your work finished within a particular time frame? Of course, some work is urgent. However, it might be worth waiting for the best electrical contractor if your needs are less pressing. There’s usually a reason why a business is busy and it’s often a good one.
People who do good work should be ready to stand by it. You’re probably going to want to go with an electrical contractor that offers warranties or guarantees. Those aren’t worth much unless they’re in writing.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the chemistry you have with candidate contractors. If your gut tells you the person you’re meeting is untrustworthy, unprofessional or generally wrong, politely move on.
Even the most glowing recommendation is no guarantee you’ll get value for money from a supplier. You should get competitive quotes from at least three reputable electrical businesses. Check out each in the same way.
Use lower quotes to negotiate down your first choice’s price. If you can’t get any movement, you have a choice to make. Should you:
- Pay more for peace of mind?
- Take a risk and go with a mid-range option?
- Take a bigger risk and just go with the cheapest of all?
Only you can make that decision.
Even if you’re facing an emergency and all you want is to get your lights back on, it’s worth taking care when selecting an electrical contractor. Make sure you’re absolutely clear about all the costs you could end up paying.
It’s reasonable to charge you 1.5-times or even double the normal hourly rate for an emergency callout. There may be a minimum charge and you could be liable for a trip fee. All those can add up.
Of course, if you luck out and find a great electrical contractor for a small job, be sure to keep her number. She’ll be top of your list when you need something big.
How much does electrical work cost? There’s clearly no single answer to that question. It will depend on what you want to be done, where you live (electricians’ salaries vary widely from state to state), whether yours is an urgent callout and how much materials and parts will cost.
However, HomeAdvisor has calculated some typical costs for 2018. It reckons, as nationwide averages, electricians generally charge anywhere between $50 to $100 per hour and the average bill comes in at $315. You can click through for averages for your zip code.
Obviously, those figures are fairly unspecific. But the site gives some more detailed (though necessarily very approximate) guides, including:
- Installing a switch — $150
- Installing a socket — $200
- Repairing a generator — $250
- Replacing a breaker — $100-S160
- Upgrading a complete electrical panel — $500-$1,600
Expect major projects, such as a complete rewiring, to run into thousands — perhaps several if you have a large home.