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So Many Estimates So Little Time
January 30, 2011 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Help Me Choose an Electrician.

Hello Hive Mind,

I was hoping you could give me a little advice about choosing an electrician. I have some major work that needs to be done (replacing several outlets, upgrading a panel, installing some new fixtures). I've gotten some recommendations for electricians, collected some estimates, now I need to make a decision.

What should I be looking for in the estimates I've been given?
Are there any follow up questions I should be asking?
What are yellow or red flags I should be aware of?

Thanks!
posted by brookeb to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I am an electrician.

Is your electrician licensed? Are you applying for a building permit?
Increasing the amperage of your service (up-grading your main panel) requires a permit.

There are lots of guys out there who own a bunch of tools, and they think that makes them a professional contractor. Then people hire these guys, and curse all contractors when they get poor service.

Hire a professional. Professionals have license numbers (which you check on-line for any complaints). Professionals have insurance and bonding. And professionals do things correctly, which includes pulling a permit and having an having an inspector from the building department review their work.

Yes, it can cost more when permits are involved. It can cost more to do it right. The vast majority of guys with a license do very good work.
posted by Flood at 2:37 PM on January 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Get references and actually call them. You will learn who answers his/her phone calls, who tends to increase the price of the service once you've committed, who is willing to come back to fix something that wasn't quite right and who disappears without finishing the work.

As for an estimate - you might ask a third party like a contractor or architect who can tell you what questions to ask and the likely price range for the work.
posted by paindemie at 2:48 PM on January 30, 2011


This does not sound like major work to me - I would think that you would be ok with any licensed, bonded contractor who is straightforward about following code and the applicable rules and will negotiate on price for a lump sum for all the work to be done. In my jurisdiction, I don't think a permit would be required for this work.

I check all of these types of service providers (plumbers, electricians, masons, HVAC, etc.) on Angie's List, and it has more than paid for itself.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 3:48 PM on January 30, 2011


I don't know where you got your recommendations from, but one of the best places to find these sorts of professional service people is by reading reviews on Angie's List.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:22 PM on January 30, 2011


I strongly disagree about Angie's list.
As a contractor, Angie's List has asked me several times to be on their list. I have refused.

Angie's List takes a considerable percentage of the job money. I understand they have to make money too, but you can not raise the price of the job just to get Angie's List share of the money.

That means, any contractor who is working with Angie's List is taking a sizeable pay cut to get your job. That means either they will cut corners to make up the difference, or they they are desparate for work and can not find any work on their own.

Of all the contractors that I know - and I know a bunch being in the construction industry - none of the top guys would ever sign up for Angie's Scam
posted by Flood at 4:44 AM on January 31, 2011


Flood, as a contractor, your interests are different from those of a person searching for reputable service providers. You could make the same argument about the costs of, for example, liability insurance. Just because something costs a contractor money doesn't mean that you should search for contractors who don't have to bear those costs.

I was not aware than Angie's List "takes a considerable percentage of the job money." That sounds like a difficult thing to manage - how does Angie's List know that I am reaching out to a contractor with a certain rating and directly arranging for him to work with me? You may be thinking of their special deals, where they offer a specific service from a specific contractor at a discounted price.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 9:38 AM on January 31, 2011


Ratings on Angie's List can be faked easily. Set-up an account from your home computer, then reveiw your own company for some imaginery jump. You can give yourself an A+ rating for the $5 membership fee. Plenty of contractors have done this.

Angie's list solicits contractors to advertise on their site after they have been reviewed. So, unless you dig around, the first reviews you see are the ones paying to be shown first.

Angie's List also does not verify licensing and bonding. You can find and hire unlicensed contractors off Angie's List.

Angie's List also runs a referral service for contractors - and this is where they take the sizeable fee. There are better referral services for contractors, and good contractors survive on word of mouth anyway.

Admittedly, it is harsh to call Angie's list a scam. But it is not as good a service as it often presents itself to be.

The key is hiring licensed professionals - not relying on some internet reveiw company. The state licensing board does a pretty thorough job of vetting out unqualified people. It is a serious process to become a licensed electrician - it does not just happen. People would never go to an unlicensed doctor, or an unlicensed day-care center. But they are willing to hire unlicensed electricians all the time.

You want good work - the main key is to hire a licensed contractor.
posted by Flood at 10:50 AM on January 31, 2011


iknowizbirfmark writes "This does not sound like major work to me"

Any work involving replacing a panel (whether sub or service) is going to be major work even if it isn't major in a disruptive way. Permits should definitely be pulled.

iknowizbirfmark writes "In my jurisdiction, I don't think a permit would be required for this work."

Where the OP lives the law requires pulling a permit even if you are just changing a light switch [PDF] though of course no one does for such trivial jobs. Upgrading a panel is well over the line.

"What are yellow or red flags I should be aware of?"

In NYC I'd be skeptical of anyone unable to maintain a City Electrical licence. You can search for a licence online. Even if you elect to perform the work under the radar a professional electrician who can't maintain a licence in their area is to be suspected.

"Are there any follow up questions I should be asking?"

If it isn't clear already you should ask whether any damage to walls will be your or the electrician's responsibility. Repairing unavoidable damage is often not included.
posted by Mitheral at 4:04 PM on January 31, 2011


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