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Electricians (From CHECKBOOK, Spring/Summer 2012)
 
Go to Updated Ratings of 20 Twin Cities Area Electricians

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Electrician

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 dangerous—and potentially life-threatening—situation. 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, we’ve found you don’t 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 don’t know what they’re doing, making electrical repairs and improvements can be a dangerous business. There’s danger while you’re doing the work, and there’s danger you’ll create a fire or shock hazard that materializes later on. Fortunately, we’ve found several good electricians in the area you can count on for help. 

Getting Great Service 

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 them—we 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 isn’t exactly headline news. But sloppy work by an electrician can leave you in a dangerous—potentially life-threatening—situation. 

Fortunately, we’ve 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 company’s 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 company’s name on our Ratings Tables and, in the details under our listing for the company, click a link to go directly to the BBB’s 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. 

Getting a Fair Price 

To avoid paying too much, try to obtain price quotes in advance. You’ll 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 $315. 

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 company’s quotes, on average, compare to the average price for all companies quoting on the same jobs. Thus, a score of $110 means a company’s 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 don’t 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. 

Table 1
Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Companies for Illustrative Electrical Work1
Description of job Low price Average price High price
Replace a ceiling light fixture with a customer-supplied new ceiling fan with light attachment $129 $189 $270
Run wiring for a new outlet for an electric clothes dryer $120 $232 $310
Install watertight double outdoor outlet with ground fault interrupter $140 $203 $280
Install a customer-supplied outdoor floodlight $98 $184 $315
Hook up a customer-supplied electric baseboard heater (to replace a burned-out unit) $90 $117 $200
1Some prices were rounded to the nearest whole dollar. For each job, companies were given additional, detailed specifications.

Here’s an important fact to keep in mind: You don’t 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, you’ll 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, you’ll 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 company’s hourly labor rate and minimum charge for a service call. Keep in mind that hourly labor rates don’t reflect differences in charges for parts and materials, and don’t 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 it’s 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 hour—either up or down—or 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? 


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