Finding an Electrician
December 10, 2003 3:45 PM   Subscribe

How do I find a good electrician and how much should I expect to pay for small projects? [more inside]

I've got a nice fireplace and mantle, with a big incandescent light set in the ceiling, aimed above the mantle, and this lights up a painting quite nicely.

I'd like to flank the fireplace with three or four nice black and white 8x10's set in sleek black gallery frames, and I'd like to add two pot lights in the ceiling, preferably halogen, to illuminate the framed photographs in a similar way. It'd also be nice if the same switch that powered the existing overhead light powered the two small ones that flanked it.

It's a brand new house, so it's all nice drywall, and I'm up to buying a proper halogen unit, drilling the hole, and mounting it, but I'm no electrician.

I'm in a small town and was wondering how best to find someone to do it aside from grabbing a name out of the local phone book. Also, if anyone has done or paid for electrical work recently, what should I expect to pay to wire up a couple lights to a switch? $50? $200? more? What about the install of the lights if I didn't do the drilling or anything?
posted by mathowie to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
To find the electrician, you can do 3 things:

Ask your friends/cow-orkers for references (best)
Look up 3 electricians from the Phone book, and get bids from all
Check the BBB for your area

If you can't do #1, do #2 and go on gut feel + price (a sleaze bag guy for a cheap price is no bargain). If you're willing to put in the time, ask for references and call them up.

To do the work, the electrician will need to tear open the drywall, install the wiring, add the fixtures, and patch the drywall.

I'd expect the job to take about 8 hours total (probably not all at one time), and to pay about $50 an hour. This probably won't cover repainting.

You can probably get the same job done by a General Contractor, or able Handyman, probably cheaper and including the painting. My GC in seattle is charging $25 an hour, and could easily do the job.

An electrician is actually probably overkill for this. But the same procedure is used for finding a GC or handyman as you would use for an electrician.
posted by daver at 4:04 PM on December 10, 2003

(1) Is your town too small for Angie's List? I have used AL for electricians and had great experiences.

(2) Do not do it yourself. I knew someone who was killed two months ago trying to install a new light fixture in his new home. All told, I bet this costs you a few hundred bucks -- not worth electrocution.
posted by Mid at 4:07 PM on December 10, 2003

I dunno about cost, but I used to work at Ace Hardware and I would suggest going to a few local hardware joints and ask around who they think is best. People who work in the indi-hardwares places tend to LOVE their job and have been in it forever so they've probably heard a few names and are more than eager to help. I'm not a fan of the references that the handi-man can hand out, as my family's been screwed over by more than one with a lot of "great" references.
posted by jmd82 at 4:08 PM on December 10, 2003

Just a tip - you will find that most electricians will not be thankful that you are doing part of the job and some will not touch it under those circumstances because of potential liability etc. Not that you are not capable but, unless they know you and know that you can do the job properly, they would probably prefer to do the whole thing themselves. I have done many jobs where the customer has "helped" and they usually take longer than if I do the whole thing myself.
posted by dg at 4:09 PM on December 10, 2003

Oh, duh -- Angie's List appears to be a Midwestern thing only. I thought it was in all large cities. Sorry.
posted by Mid at 4:15 PM on December 10, 2003

I used a website called Service Magic with great success the last time I needed an electrician's help.

I'm generally a handy guy — I do most of my own electrical and drywall work — but I needed 10 Cat5e drops pulled in my house, which was too much work for me to do on my own. With Service Magic, I was able to specify my exact job requirements and get a quote from several electricians in my area quickly. They knew up front that I'd provide the Cat5e and that I was going to punch down and terminate the wires myself. The electrician I picked out came in with two guys, one who pulled the wires in the ceiling, and the other who found cut the holes into the drywall between the studs where the fishtape was dropped.

They were done in three hours, and I happily wrote out a check for about $150.

Had I attempted to do this myself (in the heat of Florida summer, no less), it would have taken me several weekends.
posted by tomierna at 4:22 PM on December 10, 2003

To do the work, the electrician will need to tear open the drywall, install the wiring, add the fixtures, and patch the drywall.

S/He might not need to do any of this if you've got attic space directly above the room--you can just cut a hole in the ceiling drywall and pop in the lights and then hook up the wiring for the new lights to the wiring from the old lights and presto!

The catch: If you're going to go with halogen/low voltage, you'll need to have a transformer somewhere, but if they're can lights in the ceiling, they might have a trasformer integral to the fixture.
posted by LionIndex at 4:58 PM on December 10, 2003

Get in touch with a local architect. Their direction could be invaluable.
posted by the fire you left me at 6:50 PM on December 10, 2003

My father-in-law's a good electrician. But he's in northern Connecticut.

Then again, he loves to drive...
posted by soyjoy at 7:26 PM on December 10, 2003

Does your local radio station have a call-in home improvement show? Mine does and the hosts often make recommendations on who to contact for the job.
posted by gyc at 8:09 PM on December 10, 2003

Shit dude, craigslist is the way to go around here...

Matt, ask around and find a young apprentice electrician who works side jobs. There are hundreds, thousands out there. Get a reference from somebody you know in the construction industry who crosses paths with electricians. Don't know a single construction worker? Do you know somebody who just built a house, opened a restaraunt, started a coffee shop? Maybe they bumped into some electrician working who seemed diligent. Try to get a few names and interview them. Make it clear you are hiring their expertise as an individual (find one with tools and belts and all sorts of gadgets!) and not their employer. Describe what you want and ask how long it might take. Pay them in cash and you'll save hundreds over a contactor, they'll save a bunch in taxes, and you can both pay it forward through more jobs/more referrals. (And if you're in Seattle, I know a great handyman/electrician I'd be pleased to introduce you to!)
posted by vito90 at 8:27 PM on December 10, 2003

Good electricians, like good workers in any trade, don't advertise in the Yellow Pages, because they're too busy working and making money. You definitely have to ask around.

On the other hand, you're a smart guy. Electrical work is EASY. For a couple of small lights you should be able to do it yourself!
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:14 PM on December 10, 2003

Electrical work is indeed pretty easy. I did a couple of small modifications in the bathroom of my apartment (adding the obligatory dimmer switch for the vanity lights and disconnecting the noisy motor on a timer that operates the fan). Hooking up a couple extra lights would be a cinch.
posted by kindall at 9:41 PM on December 10, 2003

Just make sure you kill the power at the breaker box so you don't kill yourself...
posted by Vidiot at 10:42 PM on December 10, 2003

I'd second the recommendation for Service Magic.
We needed plumbing help and ended up working with a great Scottish handyman my fiance can't help but call Willie.
posted by Jako at 7:39 AM on December 11, 2003

Compared to the drywall part of it the wiring would be very easy. In my experience it's hard to get electricians and plumbers for small jobs like that.

Electrical work is EASY. Find the breaker, turn it off, double check it with a voltmeter and you're safe. Use cable rated for a higher amperage than your breaker, make everything neat and tidy, and you're not going to burn your house down. Buy a decent book to explain it all.

I've done a bit of plumbing, some carpentry, and electrical work in my house Wiring is the easiest part and also the most fun.
posted by bondcliff at 11:00 AM on December 11, 2003

Matt, can you mount a light fixture w/ 2 aim-able lights, or use the exiting light fixture wiring to install a track? Either choice would avoid major drywall changes. I found a great electrician at the local Adult Ed. program teaching a weekend class. Or ask at the local hardware store.
posted by theora55 at 10:14 AM on December 12, 2003

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