Shoud I use an unlicensed electrician?
February 22, 2011 6:59 AM   Subscribe

I might hire an unlicensed electrician to work on my home. Is this bad? Worst case scenario?

This guy I know does home electrical work, but he isn't licensed. I'm thinking of hiring him for a home remodeling / wiring project. What are the risks of using an unlicensed electrician? ..The home is in Hot Springs, Arkansas, if that makes a difference.
posted by thisisdrew to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No license means no permit and no insurance. A license doesn't guarantee that the work won't be faulty, but an insured contractor will be more likely to be able to pay for the damage.

Risks of unpermitted work detailed here.
posted by mkb at 7:05 AM on February 22, 2011

Worst case scenario? Your house burns because of some sketchy shortcut. There's a discussion hashing through the risks and so forth here.
posted by jquinby at 7:06 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Actually, your house burns down and your insurance company rightfully refuses to pay.
posted by PickeringPete at 7:23 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

As they said, the worst case is your home burns down and your insurance doesn't cover it due to unlicensed work. Also, if another contractor needs to pull a permit and an inspector comes by, he may inquire about the electrical work. This could cost you a lot of time and money.

That said, this isn't much different than doing your own wiring, something many people do. But should your house burn down, are you prepared to take responsibility for it? You can't very well turn around and sue "this guy I know."

For me it would depend on the scope of the project. Is he just relocating or adding a couple of outlets or is he running cable back to the panel and adding breakers? Is he doing all manner of complex wiring? What's the current state of your electrical work? Is it all neat and tidy or do you have pennies stuck in the fuse sockets and frequent brownouts.

You sound like you have some doubts. If you're not 100% confident in the work (this is my rule of thumb for doing things myself) then you should probably not go through with it.
posted by bondcliff at 7:28 AM on February 22, 2011

Most handymen can run some copper wire and hook up sockets/switches/lights. You may have no problems at all, but this is probably not worth the possible hassle/danger.
posted by Brodiggitty at 7:32 AM on February 22, 2011

The work involves replacing a few circuits and installing a new main panel. Its a tough call, because the other quotes I received for the work were much higher. The unlicensed guy, I could save some bank.
posted by thisisdrew at 7:42 AM on February 22, 2011

Most handymen will make splices outside of boxes and all manner of other code violations. A lot of electricians will, too. Very annoying.
posted by wierdo at 7:42 AM on February 22, 2011

And on not-preview, hire the electrician. That's serious work right there.
posted by wierdo at 7:43 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The work involves replacing a few circuits and installing a new main panel. Its a tough call, because the other quotes I received for the work were much higher. The unlicensed guy, I could save some bank.

Licensed electricians are more expensive because they are licensed in their trade and have the liability insurance to back it up. Your guy is cheap because he doesn't have either of those things.
posted by crankylex at 7:51 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Replacing a light switch can be done safely by a handyman. Installing a new main panel? That's real electrical work. Hire the licensed contractor that has good references.
posted by COD at 7:52 AM on February 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I would hire a pro for this. Installing a new main panel (are you sure you don't mean a sub-panel?) is not something you want just anyone doing.

The extra money you pay for the pro is for peace of mind.
posted by bondcliff at 7:52 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Do not hire the low bidder, particularly if unlicensed. Find the people who clean up after guys like that botch the job (construction defect inspectors and attorneys) and ask THEM who to hire.
posted by slidell at 8:03 AM on February 22, 2011

Low bidder is often a bad way to choose a contractor. Usually there is a good reason the quality guys cost more. I would avoid an unlicensed electrician for anything more complicated than changing a lightbulb. I trust my self to properly replace a GFI Outlet even tho I am unlicensed, but I wouldn't trust some guy I don't know and is unlicensed.
posted by MrBobaFett at 8:08 AM on February 22, 2011

The cheap man pays twice. Once to have the work done and again to fix it.
posted by unixrat at 8:09 AM on February 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

Like just about everything else in life, you typically get what you pay for. If you're willing to cut costs at the risk of shoddy, unlicensed, unsafe and potentially lethal work (houses do burn down), then go with the cheaper guy. You might get lucky. Or you may have to hire someone else to come in later and fix the mess the cheap guy left, that will definitely cost you more.
posted by cgg at 8:12 AM on February 22, 2011

It is a main panel. Yeah. Thanks for all the advice. I poked around with google and found a listing of legit electrical contractors in central arkansas. I think I might go with this electrician in Hot Springs.
posted by thisisdrew at 8:13 AM on February 22, 2011

Doing a main panel replacement correctly calls for having the electric company come and take you off the grid, then hook you back up. This in turn requires a licensed, bonded electrician. Yeah, ixnay on the andymanhay.
posted by notsnot at 8:30 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

To reconfirm you in your decision, the house a few doors down from me just had a major house fire apparently from faulty wiring (I don't believe the final report has been completed yet). $35,000 of damage and the fire stayed pretty confined to one area of the house. They've been living in a hotel for around six months now. And we live four blocks from a firestation, so that's the damage on a housefire that got put out FAST.

Because the work was licensed, insurance is paying for the $35,000 in home repairs, the replacement of their lost possessions, the smoke remediation, and the months-long hotel stay.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:58 AM on February 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm reading your question and it sounds like you are looking for specifics that could happen. One possibility is that the handyman uses cheaper 12 AWG on a 50 amp circuit because he doesn't know any better or thinks that it's no big deal because there won't be any big appliances on those outlets. The breakers WILL work fine if the load goes over 50 amps, but the wiring will probably overheat and cause a fire. A licensed, bonded electrician wouldn't do this because they're used to doing it according to the NEC and there's all manner of recourse against them if they cut corners.
posted by crapmatic at 9:22 AM on February 22, 2011

For referrals - we've had decent luck with Angie's List for that sort of thing. Once you find a trustworthy electrician and/or plumber, guard them for dear life!
posted by jquinby at 9:46 AM on February 22, 2011

The unlicensed guy, I could save some bank
1. Saving of $400 on installation.
2. House burns down.
3. ???
4. Loss.

It's really that simple. Consider the fact that you may be inside your house when it burns down. Burning to death.
posted by dougrayrankin at 9:53 AM on February 22, 2011

"Burning to death."

hmmm. when you put it that way...
posted by thisisdrew at 9:54 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Worst case scenario #2 is what happened down the street from me: Unlicensed (and uninsured) guy electrocutes himself and dies, and you have to sell your house to pay for the lawsuit.
posted by turducken at 10:21 AM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just in case you need any more convincing:

Doing this would probably void your homeowner's insurance, so when your house burns down, no coverage.

A time will come when you want to sell your house, or take out a home equity loan. The bank doing the financing will require you to produce a Certificate of Occupancy to demonstrate compliance with building codes. Unlicensed major electrical work? No C.O., major trouble financing, big headache.

Save money on some other part of the project. Electrical work is not where you want to cut corners.
posted by Corvid at 11:42 AM on February 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go with a licensed guy. In addition to the insurance or bond, they also have a license to protect and some incentive to make sure it's done right. While you're at it, you may also want to determine whether you need a permit to do this work. Yes, it's more expensive, but so are problems with the city and issues that may potentially impact the value of your property in any future sale.
posted by Hylas at 11:55 AM on February 22, 2011

I have an unlicensed person do all my minor electrical work: me. But then...

The work involves replacing a few circuits and installing a new main panel.

I'd pay extra for the licensed pro for a job like this.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:37 PM on February 22, 2011

Unlicensed drywall guy: OK
Unlicensed electrician: No way.
posted by schmod at 1:05 PM on February 22, 2011

having an unlicensed electrician install a new main panel is one of the worst ideas i'veever heard. I'd second the high potential for the guy to electrocute (injure!) himself on your property and then you'd be SOL.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:43 PM on February 22, 2011

I have used licensed and unlicensed electricians. My unlicensed one has been used by me for years and quite frankly, very honest if he feels something is best done by a fully bonded, licensed electrician. The level of work for him included new outlets, lighting and installing light fixtures and limited upgrade of knob and tube to romex. Never used an unlicensed electrician unless you have worked with them for years and have sussed out their limitations with multiple jobs that start small and build on complexity. Unknown quantity unlicensed electrician is way more risk than necessary.

Now for my remodels and house extension including new panels, full to code upgrades and laying new wiring for some heavy duty lighting I used a fully licensed, bonded electrician. I never regretted the decision.

Use something like Angie's List to shop and compare. Its OK to take your time to get the right electrician. Seriously, you and yours are worth some bank when it comes to safety.
posted by jadepearl at 5:23 PM on February 22, 2011

I've recently spent $4K getting all the wiring here fixed that some nincompoop installed — my guess is the previous owner's retired father, mad uncle, etc. It turns out because some of the work was way off code we'd effectively had no insurance during the year we rented the house out after purchase and the six months we'd been living here to that stage. And because we'd had a house inspector give the place the once-over ("terrible wiring"), we'd be completely stuffed claiming we had no knowledge of this. Ask yourself if your house burning down without insurance would alter your financial profile.
posted by Wolof at 3:17 AM on February 27, 2011

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