Those always-flickering bathroom lights. That bedroom that mysteriously has just one electrical outlet. The fact that you can’t blow-dry your hair and run the dishwasher at the same time without tripping a circuit. Your home’s electricity can be shockingly complicated. And while hiring an electrician to help fix or expand it can be expensive, it’s generally a better idea than facing the high-wire might-cause-a-fire issues that come with DIY. Our ratings of local electricians can separate pros who will illuminate things from those who will zap you with bad work.

Review Our Ratings

Although some outfits received abysmal ratings from many of their customers, fortunately we’ve also found several great contractors. Our Ratings Tables report reviews we collected from area homeowners. We primarily surveyed Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers, but also other randomly selected consumers we invited to participate. Our Ratings Tables report results for companies that received 10 or more ratings on our surveys.

Our Ratings Tables report the percentage of each company’s surveyed customers who rated it “superior” (as opposed to “adequate” or “inferior”) on several questions: “overall quality,” “doing work properly,” “promptness,” “letting you know cost early,” and “advice on service options and costs.” As you can see, scores vary greatly from company to company. Click here for further discussion of our customer survey and other research methods.

Are They Licensed and Insured?

Before authorizing any work, ask the contractor to provide proof it carries both liability and workers’ compensation insurance. Also make sure the company is licensed. By choosing a licensed contractor, you can use the threat of license cancellation as one form of leverage in working to resolve a dispute.

Check for Complaints

Our Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington Office of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period and complaint rates relative to the volume of work companies do. Click here for more information on reported complaint counts and rates.

Don’t Get Zapped by High Prices

To compare companies’ prices, our undercover shoppers called local companies and requested price quotes for four installation jobs; the ranges of prices quoted are shown below. We used those prices to calculate a price comparison 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 comparison scores can steer you to good candidates for reasonably priced installation work. But don’t rule out companies with relatively high price comparison scores. In many cases, companies with high prices on some jobs have low prices on others.

You don’t have to pay more to get good service. The companies listed on our Ratings Tables that receive our top rating for quality were actually more likely to charge low prices than the companies with lower ratings.

The key to getting a good price is to obtain several bids. For simple jobs, you’ll be able to get them by phone or email. For more complex jobs, an estimator will usually visit your home. Time invested getting at least two or three bids usually pays off, especially for large jobs. The second bid may be higher than the first, but it’ll often be lower.

Although it is always best to get a fixed-price bid, companies usually visit homes to provide free price quotes for large jobs only; you can get bids by phone only when you know exactly what needs to be done. For many small installation tasks, 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, our Ratings Tables indicate each company’s hourly labor rate and minimum charge for service calls. 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 impose a minimum charge for service calls? If so, how much? How much time does it cover? Is travel time charged against this minimum? While most companies charge all customers the same minimum service fee regardless of where they live, 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?)
  • 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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Avoiding Common Service Problems

If possible, before work begins get a written, fixed-price quote, rather than an estimate based on material costs plus an hourly rate. A fixed price will protect you against a surprisingly high bill after the job is complete.

Make sure the proposal specifies exactly what you want done, including:

  • Makes and model numbers of all supplied fixtures.
  • Where new wiring will run.
  • Who cuts holes in the wall, patches the holes, and repaints over the patches. If this type of work isn’t covered in the proposal, it won’t get done.
  • If permits are required, make sure that the company must secure them.
  • When work is to begin and how long it will take.
  • Negotiate for the best possible warranty. Seek at minimum one year.
  • For large jobs, try to withhold as much payment as possible until all work is completed. Companies that let you withhold a substantial portion of the price of an installation job until completion indicate that they are confident they can satisfy you. And you also get leverage to prod the company to do the job right if you are dissatisfied. Such a payment arrangement also cushions the blow if the company abandons your job.
  • If possible, pay by credit card. If you are dissatisfied, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.