Finding the right electrician can be as much a matter of safety as getting your money's worth, since electrical problems are among the leading causes of house fires. Electrical work must be done by the book -- specifically, the National Electrical Code book -- and follow all code requirements of your city's building department. Asking these 10 electrician questions will help you find a qualified pro with the right experience and business practices for your needs.
1. Are you licensed?
Electricians are required to be licensed in most states and municipalities, so don't consider one who isn't properly licensed. There are two basic levels of licensure: A master electrician has at least two years of professional experience and is licensed for both design and installation of electrical systems. A journeyman is licensed for installation only. In some areas, journeymen must work alongside masters.
2. Are you insured?
Certainly one of the deal-breaker electrician questions, given the potentially high liability for this work. Electrical contractors should carry at least $500,000 in liability and workers' compensation insurance.
3. What kind of work do you do most?
Like many contractors, electricians often specialize in one area or another. As an example, if your project involves finished spaces, look for someone who specializes in remodels as opposed to new construction.
4. What special training/experience do you have for this kind of work?
This should be one of your electrician questions if your project calls for specific expertise, such as installing voice/data cabling, home automation systems or solar equipment. Even if another contractor handles the specialty stuff, it's helpful if your electrician has experience working with those systems and protocols.
5. Will you provide references (for past jobs similar to mine)?
References are particularly important for hiring electricians; it's hard to judge the quality of their work when you can't see most of it and don't really know what to look for (see item 10 for tips).
6. What does your estimate include?
In addition to pricing structure, be sure to discuss incidentals, like repairing drywall and other things affected by the electrical work. Chances are, you'll be responsible for them.
7. Do I need a permit? Who will obtain it?
A permit ensures electrical work will be checked by a city inspector -- an important safeguard for homeowners. It's standard for electrical contractors (not homeowners) to pull permits.
8. Who will perform the work?
Don't assume the person you talk to will be the one doing all the work. Ask about the hourly rates for different qualifications (master electrician vs. journeyman/apprentice, or any combination of workers). If you feel your job requires a master's expertise, discuss this up front.
9. What will you guarantee/warranty?
Learn how well a pro stands behind his electrical work. Also be aware that electricians typically assume responsibility for fixtures, devices and other equipment they buy for you through their professional accounts.
10. May I see a work in progress?
Depending on the nature of your project, it might be helpful to visit an electrician's current job, for a behind-the-scenes look at his work. In general, you're looking for evidence of orderly, methodical installation:
- neat cable runs near the service panel (breaker box)
- clear labeling of circuit breakers
- regular anchoring of cables
- switch boxes that sit squarely and finish flush to the drywall surface, etc.
Like a plumber, doctor and auto mechanic, a trusted electrician is a valuable member of a household maintenance team. As you cover your list of electrician questions, listen for a panel-side manner; you want someone who explains what he's doing and why, and who will help you understand the essentials of your system (or as much as you care to know). Ideally, the electrician you hire now will be a good source to call for emergencies and other projects down the road.