Dealing with electricity and wiring is intimidating, and with good reason—you are placing your family and home at risk if it is not handled properly. This is not the area for cutting costs by doing it yourself, or by choosing the lowest- priced service provider. Think of Chevy Chase putting his Christmas light cords into one giant, sagging cluster of adapters in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Hilarious, but a little close to home, right? Quality, reliability and experience should be the determining factors in selecting an electrician for your needs.

Most electricians do both commercial and residential work, small repairs and large renovations. This versatility means that once you have found a professional that you like and trust, he can help you with all of your electrical needs over the years.
  • Renovation Work
  • How to Choose an Excellent Electrician
  • Check the References
  • Important Pre- and Post-Project Considerations
  • Licensing, Insurance and Permits
  • On Cost
  • Guarantees and Service Agreements
  • Save Money by Saving Time
  • The Buzz on Circuit Breakers

As with any renovations, your general contractor (GC) is typically responsible for choosing all of the subcontractors. When you are embarking upon a larger project or renovation, your relationship with your GC becomes key in the success of the project because he will maintain the relationships plumber, millworker, etc.). Most GCs have several electricians with whom they prefer to work on a regular basis. For the most part, if you are pleased with your selection of a GC, you should entrust the process of choosing the subcontractors to him. Of course, you should also feel comfortable asking your GC to include another electrician in the bidding process if you feel strongly enough about that person. (Perhaps you have heard some wonderful things about an electrician whom several friends have used for years with great results.) This also helps to make estimates competitive. You want the electrician who wires your entire residence to be the professional you use for general maintenance and repair work in the future because he will establish warrantees and gain familiarity with your residence.
When doing renovation or installation work, your electrician may suggest adding additional wiring for future use. This may sound like he’s just trying to charge you more, but it’s actually a very good idea. It is easier to add wiring and setups in the beginning for that dreamed-of central air conditioning system or six-line phone system or computer network you envision in your future. This avoids the headache of having to tear up walls and loors several years down the road, and saves a great deal of money, too.
It is very common for your electrician to work closely with your A/V specialist, telephone system analyst, computer consultant and security company when installing wiring. Your GC coordinates all of this, but you will need to think about exactly what you may require before everything starts.
If your renovation is relatively small and a GC is not involved, get several estimates for the proposed work. As with hourly rates, lowest is not necessarily best. Quality is very important, since this work will affect your entire family’s comfort and health.
Of course, recommendations from friends and contractors can be very useful in deciding which electrician to hire, but the final decision rests with you. Whether you are having an outlet rewired for a larger appliance or rewiring an entire renovated wing of your residence, quality and service should be your first priorities.

A good start is to contact each electrician you are considering. Do they return your calls promptly? Are they willing to provide references? Do they listen well? If they take days, even weeks to return your calls, this may be a good indication of the level of professionalism and attention you will receive once they are on your project.

Ask how long they have been in business and in what types of work they specialize. Most electrical professionals do both commercial and residential work, dealing with both large renovations and smaller repairs. Specialties and focuses vary from professional to professional, so it is best to look to someone who has experience with your type of electrical job.

Since an electrician’s work is virtually invisible, the best way to get an idea of quality is to speak to others who have had electrical work done. When asking the electrician for references, inquire as to whether they have worked on any projects similar to yours, particularly if it is a large and complex project. Most will be happy to provide you with these.

When you are speaking with the actual references, a few areas that are useful to discuss are timeliness, cleanliness and reliability. Were they respectful of the surroundings while they were there? Did they clean up when they left, or did they leave their tools everywhere until they came back the next day? Did they show up when they were expected or always arrive late? Did they inish the project on schedule? Did they come in on budget? These are good questions to ask of an electrician’s references.

Many times electrical work requires cutting into a wall to gain access to the wires. There are two issues to think about here—cleanup and repair. Sheetrock debris and plasterdust are very dificult to clean up, so the electrician should either inform you of this at the time or put up protective plastic sheeting to keep dust from iniltrating your entire house. Some will repair the wall with plaster, but will they sand and repaint it? Would you prefer your painter do it? Be sure to discuss this beforehand, clearly identifying the extent of the electrician’s responsibility—and get it in writing.

Also, before your electrician leaves, remind him to label everything properly or you will never know which switch controls what. Do not let him disappear without doing this because he is the only one who knows how and where something is wired.

You should only consider a full-time licensed professional for your electrical needs. A license from the Department of Labor is required for any electrical work, and all work must be iled with the city. This includes any installation related to light, heat and power.

Upfront, you should ask your electrical professional to provide you with an estimate describing the work to be done, the price and the payment, the contractor’s guarantee as well as proof of worker’s compensation and liability insurance.

Your electrical contractor should always be responsible for obtaining all permits necessary for your job.

When hiring an electrician for a larger project, each electrical contractor submits its bid to the GC, who will then incorporate it into an overall bid which is submitted to the client. All of this should be available to you upon request.

For smaller jobs, most companies will charge an hourly fee, which is typically between $45 to $125 an hour, not including materials. Hourly fees may be deceptive, however, as extra charges may be added for transportation or for additional workers. For example, one company may charge $75 per hour for one man and $125 per hour for a larger team. Another may always charge $70 per hour, regardless of the amount of people on the job. Yet another company may charge $115 for the irst hour, then $75 per hour for each additional hour. Some companies charge a set fee for a visit, then have lat-rate charges for each task performed, such as $25 per outlet or ixture changed or rewired. Others insist on doing a consultation to provide you with an estimate before work is started. Be sure to ask about what is included. In the end, it should come down to the company with the best reputation for quality and service, not the lowest hourly rate.

Before any work is begun, request a written estimate. Keep in mind that it is easier to estimate the cost of an installation than a repair. Even seemingly simple electrical repairs may require extensive labor and troubleshooting procedures.

Your service provider should always stand behind all work that is done. Be sure to ask about service agreements. Many electrical professionals provide regular “checkups” and inspections. It may seem like wasted money at irst, but over time these measures can prevent an emergency.

With a little preparation, you will be able to save money by saving the time of the service provider. Many times an electrician will need to cut into walls to gain access to wires or to replace ixtures. This is something you should think about before the workmen arrive. You may want to move or cover up that priceless antique sideboard near where the sconces are being installed rather than leaving it to the electrical crew.

Consolidating working hours will save time and money, too. Think about any jobs that may need to be done throughout the house and compile a list. Present the list to the service provider upon arrival so he can prioritize the various tasks, allowing his team to work simultaneously, if possible. This prevents having to call the professional back in several weeks for another minor repair.

If the electrician needs access to the electrical panel in a closet or a ixture above the sideboard, clear out the area beforehand to avoid wasted time and possible damage to any objects that may be there. By taking care of these little things in advance, your electrical professional will be able to get right to work, you will not have to worry about the safety of various objects and your billable time will be less.

By following these general guidelines, you can help any future electrical projects run smoothly. And remember, an electrician’s work—if truly successful—is invisible.

It’s tripped. What now? Check the breaker in the panel and reset. All breakers should be labeled, marking the locations of the outlets, light ixtures and other energy users on the circuit. If it trips again, you can troubleshoot for:
  • An overload: Unplug or turn off the circuit’s big energy users. Some users may have to be split onto a different, less crowded circuit.
  • A Short caused by connections that have pulled loose in electrical boxes.
  • A short caused by frayed or nicked insulation that exposes wires (can be repaired with electrical tape).
  • A short caused by using a lightbulb with higher wattage than required for the ixture (this melts the wire insulation).
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