How to Judge an Electrician's Work Quality
Unlike the highly visible and familiar work of a trim carpenter or house painter, the product of an electrician's craft is largely unseen. It's hidden inside walls and behind switch plates and access panels, or it's running through areas like attics and crawlspaces that you don't visit on a normal house tour. Even if you could see all the wiring at a glance, how would you judge the work quality of an electrician if you're not an electrician yourself? You can do it by gathering information from a few different sources, such as former clients, other trade professionals and perhaps even some on-the-job investigative work.
Interviewing past clients is a recommended step when hiring any home improvement professional. For an electrician search, this can be especially helpful due to the technical, behind-the-scenes nature of the work. Be sure to ask specifically about the clients' impressions and experience around the electrician's work quality: How smoothly did the work progress during construction? Were there any snags or problems that indicated a lack of foresight or attention to detail? Did the electrical work pass inspections easily or were changes routinely required? Finally, ask whether the clients are happy with the quality of the products used, as well as the installation and layout of everyday things like switches and outlets.
Talk to Trade Professionals
In addition to talking with fellow consumers, you can get the inside word from building professionals who aren't necessarily electricians but are familiar with household electrical systems and know what to look for in terms of work quality. These include general contractors, architects, building and electrical inspectors and other tradespeople-like plumbers and carpenters-whose own work overlaps with electrical. Likewise, owners and experienced staff at local electrical supply houses get to know dozens of electrical contractors and can steer you toward those with the best reputations for your type of project.
Visit Current Jobs
If you're up to the task, you can ask to visit a prospective electrician's current job to assess the work quality firsthand. Granted, you're not an electrical inspector and aren't there to determine code compliance, but you can get a sense of the general work quality and attention to detail merely by looking at the installations. Are the cable runs neat, straight and fastened at consistent intervals? Are the switch and outlet (receptacle) boxes plumb and extended beyond the framing consistently (about 1/2" is standard, so the box edge will be flush with the drywall surface)? Are the numerous cable runs neat and orderly where they converge near the service panel (breaker box)? Does the index on the service panel door seem clearly and thoroughly labeled? In general, neatness counts, and it's pretty easy to tell the difference between a consistent, methodical work style and a lazy, "looks good from my house" kind of ethic.
Good Work = Good Reputation
As much as electrical work is a straightforward, by-the-book sort of discipline, there are countless ways to cut corners and many examples of hidden hazards even though all seems fine on the surface. But as with all professional services, the work quality of an electrician ultimately is revealed in his or her reputation-with clients, coworkers, supervisors and local businesses. Any investigative work you can do before making a decision will be time well spent.
The more you know about the electrical industry, the more you will be able to tell whether an electrician is worth hiring. Read a professional's take on electrical wiring and get an understanding of electrical panel wiring.