My employers need an electrician. I need advice on hiring one!
June 28, 2012 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Hooray! I got my employers' approval to get some electrical work we've badly needed for a long time in our lab/office suite done. I have no word-of-mouth recommendations of local electricians to go on, so I'm checking around online and trying to get quotes. As such, I have a few questions on how to most effectively screen for quality, recognize a fair price for the work, and deal with the etiquette aspects of the quoting process.

[Background]: As a hardware engineer at a smallish (but growing) biotech lab, one thing I often end up dealing with is the matter of where and how to plug in various pieces of equipment. We've been in this building since 2010 and are really outgrowing the space at this point -- but as long as we're here, we need to be able to operate our various fridges, incubators, fume hoods, and centrifuges reliably and safely. The problem is that this suite was not originally constructed to be lab space, and thus, we've got entire rooms where ALL the outlets along a wall go to a mere 1 or 2 circuit breakers. Which means that the more equipment we get, the more we end up with tripped circuits.

Anyhow, yesterday I got permission to seek and hire an electrician to run some additional lines from less-loaded circuits to a few new outlets in the lab area. I contacted one company (which had a decent number of good reviews on Angie's List) this morning and while he definitely sounded like he understood the nature of the job, he can't come out to look at the site until next Tuesday.

...but all that said, herein lies my question: I'd really like to get at least 2 or 3 quotes to compare, but as I've never done this sort of thing before, I'm a little nervous about the etiquette of potentially having to tell the first or second guy, "sorry, we decided to hire someone else".

I'm really good at being blunt and straightforward and not overly worried about offending people, but I DO want to make sure I go about this professionally as I will be speaking on behalf of my company in this matter. Any tips there would be appreciated.

I'd also be very interested in tips folks might have for, in general, what factors aside from word-of-mouth recommendation tend to indicate "this is a great electrician who will do awesome work!" Like are there certain pointed questions I can ask? Thanks!
posted by aecorwin to Work & Money (8 answers total)
Best answer: Commercial electrical work and residential electrical work are very different. There are electricians who do both, but most good ones specialize in one or the other. I'd assume that the reviews on Angie's List are for residential electricians, so they might not be your best bet for commercial work.
posted by primethyme at 12:20 PM on June 28, 2012

Best answer: You start out with that at the beginning. "Hello, Awesome Electrical, I'm gathering a few quotes and you were recommended (popular on Angie's List/whatever) -- my project is for X Labs and we need someone to come look at our current overloaded mess and see what we can do to fix and improve things. Are you interested?"

They can decide whether to come give you a quote or not. Some people do get a little disgruntled when they don't know that they are bidding against other contractors. But, so what? Do they want the work or not? Also: my gut feeling is those guys aren't great to work with. But, just be up front. Don't be scared – they want your business!

Other questions: they need to be licensed and bonded. It should state this on their website or promotional material – double check that this is true. They should have experience with jobs this size and if they can point to similar jobs that they did, then great. On Angie's List, look for similarly-sized jobs to yours for happy reports. A homeowner who had a light installed is not in the same ballgame as a commercial business who had their system expanded and upgraded which is what you'll probably be doing.
posted by amanda at 12:20 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Does your company own the whole building? If not, you might want to ask around to find out if other tenants have had electrical work done, or if the building manager recommends anyone in particular, and if they have any tips on the process. If you have neighbor companies in your industrial park/whatever they might also have tips.

I agree that the "collecting quotes" script is the way to go. It's a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
posted by mskyle at 12:34 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

you might also start with asking for 'ballpark' quotes over the phone first...make a bullet point list of what needs to be done and call at least three contractors. If they tell you they can't give a quote without looking at it, let em...but most should at least have a general idea of cost they could tell you.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:43 PM on June 28, 2012

Response by poster: Hi folks, thanks, this is exactly the sort of advice I'm looking for (e.g., commercial specialization vs. residential, building ownership issues, etc.). I've been making sure to look for an indication that they even service commercial facilities on the websites of various potential providers, but if anyone has a recommendation for a search utility specifically for commercial stuff I'd love to hear it (I actually just made an Angie's List account for the purpose of looking up electrician reviews because I was having trouble finding much coherent/trustworthy-seeming info on Yelp, etc., but I'm sure there's stuff out there I've never heard of).

Regarding building ownership: no, we don't own the whole building. We're renting one suite out of around 8-10. The suites here do have their own utility closets, though, with breakers wired specifically for the circuits in that particular suite. I'll see about possibly asking other tenants but I don't think I would go with the manager recommendations, because the last people we had over through them were pretty bad (neither responsive nor thorough). Do you think it would be okay if I just went over and knocked on doors and asked about electrical work, though? I mean from a professionalism standpoint.
posted by aecorwin at 1:23 PM on June 28, 2012

I've been making sure to look for an indication that they even service commercial facilities on the websites of various potential providers...

Ask them about projects they've completed and references from their clients, then go visit them (don't call them, if you can avoid it -- a really shady contractor could give out fake phone numbers).

Do you think it would be okay if I just went over and knocked on doors and asked about electrical work, though? I mean from a professionalism standpoint.

Absolutely. It won't take more than five minutes out of someone's day. If it really troubles you, see if your boss will spring for some Starbucks gift cards or whatever to reimburse your neighbors for their time.
posted by Etrigan at 1:55 PM on June 28, 2012

Wait, this is rented space? Does your company have permission from the owner/landlord to do this electrical work?
posted by shiny blue object at 2:02 PM on June 28, 2012

Response by poster: Yes we have permission. I wouldn't have asked this question if we didn't. Sorry for not being clear!
posted by aecorwin at 3:43 PM on June 28, 2012

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