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How to Hire an Electrical Contractor

Perhaps you want to add outdoor lighting for your patio or entryway. Or maybe you want to brighten up your home decor with a ceiling fan or a wall sconce. Whatever the task, do-it-yourself home rewiring electrical projects can be intimidating. A small mistake can have disastrous results. Be sure to follow the electrical safety tips at the end of this article.

Often the best option will be to contract with a licensed electrician. Start your search by asking friends, neighbors and coworkers for references for electrical contractors. Often they've been through the process and have some good pointers on starting a home rewiring project.

Whether Large or Small, Plan Your Home Rewiring Project

Save time and money by combining electrical projects. Think of extra outlets, lighting or computer wiring that you may want for the near future. Make a list of your specific needs. Draw a diagram, or lightly mark your walls or ceiling using a pencil.

1. Set a Budget

Know how much you want to spend for your total project, including parts and labor. You may need to wait for estimates before you can complete your budget. It's a good idea to always be prepared to go over your budget by up to 20 percent.

2. Pre-Screen Potential Electrical Contractors

Call the electrician and get some background information before scheduling an estimate. Write notes on everything that you find out. Ask questions such as:
  • How long has the company been in business?
  • Is there a permanent business address and telephone number?
  • Is the electrician bonded and insured?
  • Is the electrician licensed and certified?
  • Can the electrician give at least three references?
  • Is the work guaranteed in writing?
  • Is the contractor a member of the Better Business Bureau?

3. Check the Contractors' References

Contractors will usually give references, but many people will not check them. It's important to contact the references and add this information to your notes. Here are some questions that you may wish to ask:
  • How was the quality of the work?
  • Was the estimate accurate?
  • Was the work performed as scheduled?
  • How would you describe the contractor's work ethics?
  • Would you use the electrician again?
Check with the Better Business Bureau for the contractor's reliability report. Keep in mind that members are pre-screened, properly licensed and free from a pattern of complaints.

4. Schedule Estimates

If you received positive feedback from your initial contact and references, schedule to meet with the contractor. This is your time to gather critical information and see if the contractor seems ethical. If the estimate is not free, be aware of any costs.

Schedule at least three estimates. Since costs for labor and materials may fluctuate throughout the year, get all of your estimates within a short span of time.

5. Meet with the Electrician

Ask the contractor to bring proof of bonding and insurance. You want to be sure that you aren't responsible for any on-the-job injuries or damage to your home. Also ask to see proof of licenses and certifications. Find out if the person giving the estimate will perform the work. If not, ask for the qualifications of the crew or subcontractor. Take written notes.

Get the estimate in writing. It should include costs for materials, labor and permits. Make sure that all the work you want done is included. Also see that it includes a tentative time frame. Find out who is responsible for any repairs such as holes cut into the wall.

Beware of high-pressure sales tactics! Some contractors may offer a discount if you sign the contract on the day of the estimate. A fair estimate should be good for more than one day, so do not sign a contract on the same day as your estimate.

If the contractor recommends additional work, get opinions and estimates from at least two other electricians.

6. Compare Your Estimates

The lowest bid is not always the best value. There are other considerations. The materials used should be of good quality. The contractor should be honest and prompt. Thoroughly evaluate your notes before accepting a bid.

7. The Contract for Your Home Project

Read the contract thoroughly. For this type of work, never count on a handshake or verbal agreement. The contract should contain the following requirements:
  • Material list - all purchased by contractor.
  • Labor costs.
  • Exact description of work.
  • Assurance that building permits will be obtained (contractor's obligation).
  • Start and completion dates.
  • Payment terms (some states set limits on down payments).
  • Guarantees.

Electrical Safety Tips

Have a qualified electrician periodically check your home. Faulty wiring and improper use of electrical appliances can cause fires. Use the following home safety tips to keep you and your family safe from electrical fires:
  • Replace frayed, cracked or cut power cords immediately.
  • If a switch or outlet is hot or discolored by heat buildup, immediately shut off the circuit.
  • Only use extension cords as a temporary measure.
  • Turn appliances off before plugging them in.
  • Keep electrical appliances away from wet areas.
  • Keep heaters and halogen lamps away from draperies, clothing or other combustible materials.
  • Remove lint from clothes dryers.
  • Do not place power cords under rugs, carpets or furniture.
  • Do not overload outlets.
  • Replace any item that causes electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or produces smoke or sparks.
  • Use only three-slot outlets for appliances with three-prong plugs.
  • Don't allow children to play around electrical appliances.
  • Use safety closures to help child-proof outlets.
  • Buy products which meet the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) standard for safety.
  • Have a working smoke alarm.