You are the customer. Take your time. You probably don?t buy a new car without walking into the showroom, asking questions, checking the warranty, looking at the maintenance shop capabilities, taking it for a test drive, etc. Don?t hire a contractor without checking them out just as thoroughly as you would that new car.

Selecting An Electrical Contractor What to do when it is time for the 'wire to meet the walls'

| Clear Lighting & Electrical Design

You are the customer.  Take your time.  You probably don't buy a new car without walking into the showroom, asking questions, checking the warranty, looking at the maintenance shop capabilities, taking it for a test drive, etc.  Don't hire a contractor without checking them out just as thoroughly as you would that new car.

Clear Lighting & Electrical Design


So you are building a new home, building an addition, or remodeling your existing home, and you need an electrical contractor.  You start thinking about the standard who, what, when, where, and how questions.  When the lighting and electrical designs are completed, approved by you, approved by the architect, and the walls are framed, it is time to proceed with the installation of the wiring systems.

It is time for 'the wire to meet the walls".

When you begin thinking about who, what, when, where, and how for an electrical contractor, there are a range of issues and questions that you must consider.  In this document, we have compiled several areas to address, and several questions and answers to assist you in the selection of an electrical contractor.

Besides the electrical contractor that will run the wire to make the lights work, this selection guide can also be used for any contractor that installs audio/video systems, home technology integration systems, security and monitoring systems, voice communications systems, or any other electrical/electronic system that you are preparing to install.

Where Are They Located?

The Closer The Better

That seems like an odd question!  However, consider this.  If the contractor is commuting several hours to arrive at your project, what happens?  There may be weather delays, traffic delays, or any other type of action that can impact travel to and from your job site.  And guess what?  Every one of those delays cost you money and time.  Those delays cost money in the form of additional contractor's hours, and time delays on your project. And that doesn't count the additional initial cost for a contractor that is making money while they are sitting in their vehicle driving to your job site!  Or, did you think that all the time they spent driving to and from your job they were giving you for free?  Think again.

What about the additional expense for the contractor to come to the project for an unforeseen, unplanned, and out-of-hours coordination meeting?  And what about the contractor's need to review related trade concerns?  For instance, the plumber needs the electrical contractor to put some wire in a different place in order for the plumbing to meet building code requirements.  Another "paid for" trip to the job site could result in additional expense if they need to travel.

Does The Contractor Have An Office or Operate Out Of Their Home?

It's About Managing Time and Money

There are pros and cons to both sides of this question.  Contractors that operate out of their home usually have lower prices.  They don't have the operating "overhead" of rent, utilities, taxes, etc., that a contractor has when they have an office.  And yes, all those things go into the cost that a contractor charges you for your project.  So the contractor working from their home, can, or will, most likely quote a cheaper price than the contractor that maintains an office for their business. Less cost? That is obviously a positive impact.

However, by operating out of their home, a contractor will most likely have a minimal amount of supply inventory on hand.  That could cause a delay on your project if the contractor has to either take the time to go purchase, or even worse, order and wait for the arrival of, a part that is needed for the project. So check on their inventory capabilities.  Beware, even the contractor that has an office, may have no more than a "store-front" for an office, and not have any more inventory capability than a home-based contractor.  So ask them both the same questions about inventory availability.

Something that seems as simple as putting wire in walls can require a significant tool inventory.  A home-based contractor may not have the ability to store all the tools possibly required for your project, and relies on rental of some tools for the required work.  Again, just because the contractor has an office, if it is a storefront office, they may be in the same position.  Ask them about their tools, what they will be using, do they own them, will they need to rent them, etc.

If you don't have an office, where do employees report to work?  What happens if employees are supposed to report to work at the job site, and the job site is a significant distance away? (See "Where Are They Located") Communication with employees can be more difficult if you do not have an office where they report to work.  So ask how reporting and communications happen in the contractor's company.

How Long Have They Been In Business?

"Usually" Experience Counts

New contractors are new businesses owners.  And new business owners may not have the business experience necessary to:

  • Manage employees efficiently and effectively

  • Operate efficiently with general contractors, other sub-contractors, or building code enforcement officials.

  • Have the necessary relationships established with suppliers, contractors, etc

They may also have less experience in preparing and planning work, have the necessary tools, etc. (see previous paragraph) to perform the work required, etc.

Also look for contractors that are members of an organization such the National Association of Home Builders. This helps confirm their companies' commitment and interest in the home building industry.

 "Definitely" Experience Counts

Some electrical contracting business owners are great electricians however they do not have the business management experience necessary for a proper operation.

The owner of the contracting company should be informed about the latest management tools, material innovations, and have the most up-to-date knowledge regarding building code requirements necessary to produce the best possible results for your project.

How Many Proposals Should Be Requested?

Develop A Basis For Comparison

Depending on the size of the project, there should always be at least two contractors bidding. There is cost and performance advantages of have three or more proposals utilizing exactly the same plans and specifications for each contractor.

Do not add or delete items for each bidder. Upon receiving the proposals verify that the contractors proposal are for the work as outlined in the bidding documents. Consult with your builder and/or designer to review the costs and time lines. Always insure that you are making true comparisons.  Everything must be an "apples to apples" comparison.

Here are some additional, miscellaneous notes and thoughts regarding RFP's, RFQ's and the contractor response to them:

  • Good proposals are easy to read

  • Good proposals are written in non-technical terms so they are easy for the client to understand.

  • Contractors should be notified in the "Request for Proposal" of the requirements to attend the general contractors' progress meetings. State that no additional payments will be made to attend these meetings.

  • In the case of a remodel or addition project, the RFP should state that the contractor shall be required to visit and examine the existing sight before submitting their proposal

Was The Proposal Response Appropriate?

Neat, Timely, and Complete

The contractor responding to the RFP or RFQ should clearly provide the information requested, and in the format that was requested.

There should be a required response date.  The RFP or RFQ should clearly state that any response received after the stated date will not be considered.  You can always allow for some unforeseen emergency and allow a late response, but the responsibility should be on the contractor to foresee those emergencies, not you.

Clearly state to whom the responses should be directed or delivered. Provide a complete name and delivery address, and if at all possible, if it is different than the delivery address; also include a street address for possible hand delivery.

Is The Contractor's Proposal Detailed?

Do You Know What They Are Going To Do

Every proposal must include:

  • Detailed explanation of the work to be done

    • The quantity of outlets, switches, fixtures, their locations, etc.

    • The main electrical service size

    • Location of all fuse / breaker panels

  • The number of workers they will have on the job and the length of time for each segment of their work.  This should be broken down as follows:

    • Temporary power installation 

    • Main service installation

    • Rough-in wiring

    • Final device and fixture installations.

  • Detailed costs for the each segment of the work to be done

  • Detailed time frames for completing each segment of the work

  • Payment terms for the project, by segment, or other division of payments

  • Change order procedures that will be followed if the work must be modified

How Many Homes Has The Contractor Wired Similar To Yours?

Do You Want To Be "The First"

A good contractor will have the necessary knowledge to install the wiring, lighting equipment, and main service panels for most any type of installation. However, what if you are building a custom home with many unique features and characteristics?  Does the contractor have any experience doing a project similar to yours?  Get (and check!) references that support their response.

The experienced contractor will be in tune to schedules and completion dates to avoid delays affecting other trades.  And the contractor should be able to clearly explain the impact to schedules, and interaction with other trades, if your project is unique.

How Many Employees Does The Contractor Have?

Getting The Work Done

Is the contractor a "one-man operation"?  If that is the case, there is some probability that your project will only have the contractor's attention while they are on your job site.

What if they have several projects going at the same time?  You may find that the contractor spends a significant amount of time running from job to job to "put out fires" trying to juggle too many projects at once.  All of a sudden, your project is behind schedule because the contractor did not think your project was the highest priority on their list of projects.

If the contractor has several employees, it is more likely that at least one tradesman will be on the job daily to keep the project flowing. Also, if the project scheduling requires, more employees affords the contractor the ability to assign more tradesmen to your project.  The ability to add additional workforce can make the difference whether your project schedule stays on track, or starts incurring delays.

What Are Their "After Hours" Procedures and Processes?

When Can You Contact Them

Whether it is during construction, or during the warranty period when the contractors are long gone and you are enjoying your new living space, what happens when something goes wrong in the middle of the night?

A major storm occurs during construction and the work needs to be protected.  How will the contractor respond?

During the warranty period, your power goes out, the main circuit breaker has tripped, and you can't get the breaker to reset.  When will the contractor be out to figure out what is wrong?

The contractor should have dependable service vehicles, dependable methods of contacting them, and have an adequate inventory of parts to perform the necessary repairs.

What References Does The Contractor Have?

What Is Their Track Record

References speak volumes about the quality of the service that you will receive. Past projects reviews that were completed on time with client satisfaction is a must.  So check them!  Don't just get the list of references and file it away.

The contracting company owner should have a "can do" attitude. Electricians should be prepared to execute changes that you request along with the flexibility to adjust to the project as needed to achieve the desired results.

There is one more question to ask.  You won't find this name on their reference list!  Ask them what their worst job was, why that was the case, and what they would have done different.  If they can not answer that question clearly, quickly, and concisely, then that contractor is either not being totally honest, or that contractor is not managing their business as well as they could.  Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone should learn from them.

What Types, And Amounts, Of Insurance Do They Carry?

Who Is Going To Pay

What happens, should you be unfortunate enough to have a major problem, or accident, that creates a costly loss and/or delay on the project?  Which contractor or sub-contractor is responsible?  Who is going to pay?

Liability Insurance is mandatory before you hire a contractor.  Losses that are created by an under-insured contractor become the problem of everyone connected with the project.  And when all is said and done, there is a high probability that the owner, you, will be caught holding the bag.

Workman's Compensation Insurance is the law.  The contractors' employees must also be covered with workmen's compensation insurance as required by law. Insure that the contractor has their certificate of insurance on file BEFORE they are awarded the contract for the project.

What Types, And Length, Of Warranty Do They Offer?

What Happens "Tomorrow"

Most government building code enforcement departments require that contractors warranty their workmanship and materials for one year.

Ask the proposed contractor if they will provide a two or more year warranty.

A copy of the contractors' warranty must be attached to the proposal.

In Summary

There is nothing mystical or magical about hiring a contractor.  Remember, you are the customer.  If the contractor cannot provide you with the appropriate information in a form that you can clearly understand, move on.  If the contractor cannot provide you with the appropriate assurances that your project is going to be completed in the manner, and in the timeframe, that you expect, then that contractor is probably not the one you should select.

But if the contractor can provide references, show you their work, show you their scheduling practices, take you on a tour of the supplies warehouse, or any other action that give you the assurance that they are a good contractor and have your best interests in mind, then they are good candidate to handle your project.

You are the customer.  Take your time.  You probably don't buy a new car without walking into the showroom, asking questions, checking the warranty, looking at the maintenance shop capabilities, taking it for a test drive, etc.  Don't hire a contractor without checking them out just as thoroughly as you would that new car.

Clear Lighting and Electrical Design is a Vail, CO based corporation which provides a comprehensive portfolio of lighting and electrical design services.  They include designing, specifying, and managing the installation of electrical, lighting, home automation, security, data services, voice services, and audio/video systems.  They also offer clients a wide range of support services both pre- and post- design / installation.

For More Information Contact:
Clear Lighting & Electrical Design, Inc
Vail, CO,
Tel: 800-238-6823

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