DIY is an option for most home-improvement and repair projects. But most of us pull the plug on DIY electrical work, and for good reason.
It’s a dangerous task — and not only because of the shock hazards you can create while doing the job. If you do it poorly, you can also create fire or health hazards.
Unfortunately, you will face the same dangers if you hire the wrong electrician, so you will want to choose carefully.
Fortunately, there’s good news from Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook and Checkbook.org:
You don’t have to pay premium prices for premium electrical service.
Good service, low prices
In its evaluation of local electricians, Checkbook surveyed customers and its undercover shoppers collected price quotes on an array of carefully specified jobs.
Many of the companies rated highly by their customers for service were also among the lowest priced.
In fact, companies that received Checkbook’s top rating for quality were actually more likely to charge low prices than companies with lower ratings.
Until May 5, Checkbook is offering free access to its ratings of area electricians to Star Tribune readers via this link: Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Electricians.
Keep in mind that in some cases, companies with high prices on some jobs have low prices on others. Bottom line: You can save a bundle by getting at least two bids on electrical work, and better yet to get three, especially for larger jobs.
Even for small jobs, it’s worth your time to shop around.
For example, of the jobs Checkbook’s shoppers checked, they found that among local electrical contractors:
• To replace a ceiling light fixture with a customer-supplied new ceiling fan with light attachment, prices ranged from $85 to $400.
• Prices for replacing six wall outlet receptacles and one light switch with new outlets and wall plates ranged from $125 to $350.
• To install a customer-supplied outdoor floodlight, prices ranged from $85 to $350.
Whenever possible, Checkbook recommends that you get a fixed-price bid for home improvement jobs.
How to avoid price shock
For large jobs, companies will come out to your home to prepare proposals. For smaller jobs, you can get phone bids — but only if you know exactly what needs to be done.
For small installation and many repair jobs, you might have to pay on a time-and-materials basis. If so, to avoid price surprises, ask these questions up front:
• Is there a minimum charge for a service call? What does it cover?
• After the minimum charge, how much will I pay per hour of work?
• What time units are used — quarter-hours, half-hours? How much is charged per time unit — and are fractions of units rounded to the nearest unit or to the next higher unit?
Of course, price isn’t the only factor when it comes to electrical work. You want work done carefully and safely.
Be careful when selecting a firm — customer ratings Checkbook collected varied widely on overall quality and completing work on time.
Closing the deal
Even for large jobs, avoid paying a down payment.
The more money you can withhold until the end of the job, the more leverage you will have to make sure the job is done well and according to your agreement. If possible, pay by credit card. If you are dissatisfied, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.
Finally, whatever firm you choose, ask for proof that it is licensed and carries both liability and workers’ compensation insurance.
Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate. See Checkbook’s full electricians report, including ratings of local electricians, free until May 5 at Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Electricians.