If you need to hire a pro for electrical work, choose your contractor carefully.
In our surveys of area consumers who have used electricians, too many comments
include the words incompetent, messy, no-show, overcharged, and
unresponsive. Unlike some home-improvement services, lousy electrical
work can give you more than a service headache: Sloppy work can put you
in a dangerousand potentially life-threateningsituation. Our Ratings Tables list all the area electricians for which we received 10 or more
ratings in our surveys of consumers. Although the ratings reveal outfits
to avoid, they also identify several you can count on.
We found dramatic price differences among companies for the same work.
To replace a light fixture with a customer-supplied ceiling fan, our shoppers
were quoted prices ranging from $129 to $270; price quotes for replacing
a porch light with an outdoor floodlight ranged from $98 to $315.
The key to getting a good price is to get several bids. Fortunately, weve
found you dont have to pay more to get good service. Companies that receive
positive ratings from their customers are just as likely to charge low
prices as companies that receive lower ratings.
Before using any contractor, ask for proof that it is licensed and carries
both liability and workers compensation insurance.
There are do-it-yourself projects and then there are better-left-to-professionals
ones. For most of us, electrical work falls under the latter category:
The idea of doing any electrical work beyond replacing a switch or simple
fixture makes us a bit nervous.
This fear is usually well-founded: For those who dont know what theyre
doing, making electrical repairs and improvements can be a dangerous business.
Theres danger while youre doing the work, and theres danger youll create
a fire or shock hazard that materializes later on. Fortunately, weve found
several good electricians in the area you can count on for help.
Some area electricians do shockingly bad work. About these outfits, we
often hear tales of sloppy work, poor communication, missed appointments,
lack of response to problems, and charging fees above estimates
They made a lot of mistakes and took a long time to fix themwe were without power for a long time. Many things did not work afterward. Inspectors failed most of their work. We had to have another contractor redo all the work to pass inspection.
There is no project management. You have to constantly keep after them.
They are either too busy or totally unqualified for the work they offer.
They seemed to be interested in selling me more services than in getting my small job done.
Scheduling is awful. They missed their appointment without notice. Did not complete the work in the time promised and left items that they never came back to complete.
Overcharged for work not completed. Did not get permit that was paid for and asked for payment upfront before work was done...Work still not done to code.
Had to come back three times to get the job done properly, and final bill was double the estimated cost.
Of course, finding cases of lousy workmanship among home-repair services
isnt exactly headline news. But sloppy work by an electrician can leave
you in a dangerouspotentially life-threateningsituation.
Fortunately, weve found several area electricians worthy of your trust.
On our Ratings Tables, we report ratings from area consumers (primarily
CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers) for electrical contractors
that received 10 or more ratings on our surveys. The table shows what percent
of each companys surveyed customers rated it superior (as opposed to
adequate or inferior) on several questions: overall performance,
doing work properly, starting and completing work promptly, letting
you know cost early, and advice on service options and costs. As you
can see, there is big company-to-company variation in scores. (Click here for more details on our customer survey and
other research methods.)
For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our
Ratings Tables also show tallies of complaints we gathered from the
Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent three-year period. Where we were
able to, we have also reported on our Ratings Tables complaint rates,
calculated by dividing the number of complaints by our measure of the number
of full-time-equivalent technicians performing residential electrical work
for the firms. The complaint rates take into account volume of work and
the fact that companies that do more work are exposed to a greater risk
of incurring complaints.
You can check current BBB complaint information on any company by visiting
www.bbb.org or calling 651-699-1111. You can check current customer
survey ratings by clicking on the companys name on our Ratings Tables
and, in the details under our listing for the company, click a link to
go directly to the BBBs most up-to-date report on the company.
When using the complaint information, keep in mind that complaints are
not always justified; sometimes customers are unreasonable. Also be aware
that some companies are at greater risk of incurring complaints than others
because of the specific types of work they do. And remember that the measure
of business volume we use in calculating complaint rates (the number of
full-time-equivalent technicians performing electrical work) is at best
a very rough indicator.
Before authorizing any work, ask the contractor to provide proof that it
carries both liability and workers compensation insurance. Insurance companies
readily issue such certificates. And make sure the company is licensed.
By choosing a licensed contractor, the threat of license cancellation can
be used as one form of leverage in working to resolve a dispute.
To avoid paying too much, try to obtain price quotes in advance. Youll
likely find dramatic price differences from company to company for the
same work. To replace a light fixture with a customer-supplied ceiling
fan, our shoppers were quoted prices ranging from $129 to $270; price quotes
for replacing a porch light with an outdoor floodlight ranged from $98
To compare companies prices, our researchers (without revealing their
affiliation with CHECKBOOK) called the companies that were evaluated in
our last full, published article and requested price quotes for five installation
jobs; the ranges of prices quoted are shown on Table 1. We used the prices
we collected to calculate a price index score for each company, shown on
our Ratings Tables. The scores, which are adjusted so that the average
for all companies equals $100, tell you how each companys quotes, on average,
compare to the average price for all companies quoting on the same jobs.
Thus, a score of $110 means a companys quotes average 10 percent above
the all-company average. The price index scores can steer you to good candidates
for reasonably priced installation work. But dont rule out companies with
relatively high price index scores. We find that in many cases, companies
with high prices on some jobs have low prices on others.
Heres an important fact to keep in mind: You dont have to pay more for
good service. The companies on our Ratings Tables that received above-average
marks from their surveyed customers for quality were as likely to have
low prices as companies with lower ratings.
The key to getting a good price is to get several bids. For simple jobs,
youll be able to get bids by phone. For more complex jobs, an estimator
probably will need to come to your home. Time spent getting at least two
or three bids usually will pay off, especially for large jobs. The second
bid you get may be higher than the first, but as often as not it will be
lower. For example, getting two additional bids on the outdoor floodlight
installation job we shopped would have, on average, cut the cost by about
$55. For larger jobs, two more bids may save $250 or more.
Although it is always best to get a fixed-price bid, companies usually
will come to your home to provide free price quotes for only relatively
large jobs, and you can get bids by phone only when you know exactly what
needs to be done. So for many small installation jobs, and most repair
jobs, youll have to pay on a time-and-materials basis.
To give you an idea which companies are likely to be least expensive for
jobs done on a time-and-materials basis, we report on Table 2 each companys
hourly labor rate and minimum charge for a service call. Keep in mind that
hourly labor rates dont reflect differences in charges for parts and materials,
and dont account for the speed at which different companies work.
When comparing hourly labor rates and minimum charges, check several details
Does the company have a minimum charge for service calls? If so, how much
is it? How much time does it cover? Is travel time charged against this
minimum? Most companies charge all their customers the same minimum service
fees regardless of where they live, but its a point worth checking.
Into what increments does the company divide its billing time (for example,
quarter hours or half hours)?
How much does the company charge per time unit?
How does the company handle fractions of time units? (For example, does
it round to the nearest half houreither up or downor always round up
to the next half hour?)
How many electricians does the rate cover?
Does the company ever charge for a service call based on a flat rate rather
than actual hours?