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HomeAdvisor's Guide to Hiring an Electrical Contractor

While any homeowner should know how to replace a burned out light bulb or reset their breakers, there are some cases where you will need to call a professional electrician, whether out of preference or due to legal requirements.

Some jobs that often require an electrician include:

  • Installing new electrical fixtures such as lighting
  • Installing electrical outlets and switches
  • Replacing a breaker box
  • Home rewiring
  • Home electrical inspections

Tips on Hiring an Electrician

When it comes to hiring an electrician, there are some things that you want to consider. Hiring the right person for the job is very important, as electrical problems are a major cause of house fires. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Is this the right person to call? There are generally two types of electricians: those who do repair work and those who specialize in new construction. Be clear about the job so that the electrician you’re talking with knows what sort of work you need done.
  • Gather at least three quotes. Three to five quotes should be all you need. Compare prices, but also compare experience. Cheaper isn’t necessarily better.
  • Talk with former clients. Ask for references. Follow up on these references and find out how professionally the job was done, how easy it was to communicate, and whether or not they would use them again.
  • Talk to retailers if possible. Retailers in electrical fixtures and appliances work with electricians on an almost regular basis. They may be able to point you to some good ones.
  • Experience over price. When in doubt, choose the more experienced electrician over the cheaper one. Electrical problems are a leading source of house fires, and that’s not something you want to take a chance with.

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Questions to Ask Your Electrical Contractor

  • Are you licensed, insured, and bonded? – An insured and bonded contractor protects both of you. If someone gets hurt at the worksite, insurance keeps you from being held liable. Likewise, if your property is damaged during the course of the work, you can be reasonably sure of being compensated for any loss. Being sure to use a licensed contractor means that you can expect things to be done up to code without having to tear everything out.
  • What certifications do you have? – Different electrical projects require different levels of expertise. Just because an electrician knows how to replace a breaker panel doesn’t mean that he also knows how to install a home automation system. Also be sure that the person with the certification will be the one doing the job. Some electricians use subcontractors, so be sure who will be doing the work.
  • If you use subcontractors, are they insured? – Subcontractors might not be covered by the contractor’s insurance. Both the electrician and any subcontractors should be insured for at least $500,000.00.
  • What’s included in the estimate? – It’s not unusual for an electrician’s estimate not to include repairing drywall that had to be removed to get at the electrical system. Discuss everything that may come about due to the job such as clean-up, wall repair, and other incidental work.
  • Will permits be needed, and who gets them? – Permits help ensure that the job will be inspected and done right. Usually the electrician will be the one to obtain the permits.
  • Do you offer a guarantee or warranty? – A good electrician will be willing to stand behind his work. With installing fixtures, some will offer a warranty on the fixture only if they bought it through their own accounts.
  • Can you provide references? – You will want to see the results of your electrician’s work before committing to hiring. Talk to the former clients and ask about how professional the electrician was, how easy they were to communicate with, and whether or not they would use them again.

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What Type of Electrical Project Are You Doing?

An electrical system is a must in any home, old or new, before your home can be considered legally “livable.” A home must have a breaker box sufficient to handle the expected electrical load on the house, and there are regulations covering the number and placement of switches and outlets.

  • Electrical Panels – Also known as “breaker boxes” or “breaker panels,” they replaced the old fuse boxes, which were a serious fire hazard. Adding rooms to your home might require a new breaker box as the electrical demand on your house will increase.
    • Purchasing an older home also often calls for an inspection of the breaker box. A home built in the 1970s was not wired with the expectation of computers, recharging stations, USB ports, and other aspects of our modern lives.
    • Upgrading an existing breaker box costs around $1,000.00. It can take about 8 to 10 hours to complete. This cost can go up if the electrician notices worn wiring or other safety issues that should be tended to.
  • Lighting Fixtures & Switches – Some fixtures and outlets require a bit more knowledge beyond the simple task of killing power to the switch and replacing it. Installing new outlets, fixtures, or switches involves regulations regarding the placement of these things such as height, proximity of other features such as plumbing, and what kinds of support will be needed.
    • Installing a new switch or outlet costs around $143.00, but as most electricians charge by the hour, you can often save money by bundling the installation with other small electrical jobs. Installing a new lighting fixture can cost around $541.00. Before buying the fixture, check with your electrician to be sure your house can handle the extra load, and make sure it will fit where you want it.
  • Large Appliances & Projects – For the sake of practicality and time as well as safety, all large appliance installations and projects should be left to professionals. For example, switching from a gas stove to an electric one requires an electrician to wire the house to handle the added load as well as ensuring that the outlets are installed correctly. The cost of such projects and the time they take varies widely, so be as detailed as possible when seeking a quote.
  • Exterior Lighting – Exterior lighting can be anything from porch lights to decorative landscape lighting. Many DIY products are available, such as solar lights to illuminate pathways, but custom lighting or lighting with specific purposes or requirements are often installed by a professional. The cost to install 6 exterior lighting features is usually from $350.00 to $700.00. Remember that they should be weather-proofed.
  • Adding Electricity to A Room – If you convert your attic or basement into a livable space, you will be adding outlets and switches where there probably were none before. Unlike adding them to a bedroom or living room, new wiring must be run as well as installing the fixtures. This can cost about $235.00 for a single outlet. Determine how many outlets and switches you will need and discuss the total cost with your electrician. It may cost less to bundle a number of fixtures into the job.

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Common Electrical Repairs

If you have electricity, you’re going to have electrical issues that need attention. While not all are life-threatening, they should all be seen to as soon as possible and, in some cases, immediately. Here are some common electrical repairs that you may encounter in your home:

  • Blown Circuits – This happens when you have too many appliances plugged into one outlet. The wiring along that line can’t take the load and the breaker trips into the off position. The quick-fix is to unplug a few things and reset the breaker switch. However, if you need more power, you need to contact an electrician who will contact the utility company and will replace your breaker box to handle the increased demand. He will also add any necessary outlets. The overall project can cost from $1,000.00 to $2,000.00 depending on the amount of extra power and number of extra sockets you need.
  • Redundant Wiring – Some DIYers install their own electrical systems, making changes without removing old wiring. A light fixture that was moved may be wired correctly, but if the old wires weren’t removed they could be a fire hazard hiding within your walls or ceiling. Removing old wiring involves cutting through the drywall, locating the redundant systems, and physically removing the wire. A home electrical inspector costs about $200.00, but you should budget up to $400.00 to cover larger houses. If the inspector finds problems, the cost of repairing or removing dangerous wires varies according to how big the problem is. Electricians generally charge $50.00 to $60.00 per hour.
  • Warm Or Humming Outlets Or Switches – This is a very dangerous situation that must be seen to immediately. Some houses are wired with aluminum and must have switches and outlets that are rated for aluminum. If your switch or outlet has an “AL” in a circle on it, it may be used for aluminum. A “CU” in a circle means that is rated for copper wiring. Some will have both and may be used in either situation. Using the wrong switch or outlet can result in a fire or electrocution. Electricians will most often charge by the hour for these jobs. The length of time it takes depends on how many switches or outlets need replacing.

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Electrical Terms to Know

Sometimes it can sound like a contractor is speaking a foreign language. Indeed, some unscrupulous ones might use fancy jargon to get you to pay for things you don’t need. Most are just using terminology common to their trade, however. Here are some terms to help you understand what they’re talking about and to better know how electricity works in your home:

  • Amps or Amperage – This is the strength of the flow of electricity. It can be compared to the strength of water coming from a hose. The higher the amps, the stronger the flow.
  • Breaker Box – Also called an electrical panel, this houses the breakers that, when a large draw is detected in the line, “break” the circuit and help prevent fires. They replaced the old fuse system of older houses.
  • Current – This is the electricity coming into your home from the power company.
  • Electrical Receptacles – These are the outlets that you plug your appliances into. They are rated by the amount of voltage they are designed for, 120v or 220v.
  • Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter – This is an outlet with a built-in circuit breaker. It’s designed to be used near water, such as near sinks and in bathrooms. If the circuit gets wet, whether by moisture in the air or by the appliance falling into water, it will break the circuit before the household current can do any harm.
  • Voltage – This is a measure of the potential power provided from a source such as a battery or the power company. For example, a car battery has 12 volts, while the power company may be providing 120 volts. Various appliances will use step-down transformers or converters to allow only a certain amount of voltage through.
  • Watts – Watts are a measure of electrical power. A 25 watt light bulb uses less power than a 75 watt light bulb.

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