The Ultimate Guide To Hiring An Electrician

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The process for finding a qualified electrician is often hazy and difficult to pin down, and business owners can struggle with knowing how to find the best electrician for their project, what type of qualifications an electrician should have, and how to vet a contractor thoroughly.

Business owners and homeowners alike will have ongoing electrical needs. It’s critical to find a licensed, experienced, and reputable electrician for any electrical needs as they occur during the course of home or business ownership. Our guide will show you how to find and hire a qualified, local, and professional electrician for your business or residential needs who can handle an array of complex projects. We’ll show you the difference between a residential and commercial electrician, where to find a qualified electrician, what types of questions to ask your contractor, and more. By the end of the guide, you’ll know exactly how to find and hire the right electrician for your job.

The Differences Between Commercial and Residential Electricians

Commercial and residential electricians use different equipment and wiring processes to meet a range of load demands and energy needs. The amount of electricity your home needs is much different than the load demands for a large-scale commercial operation, like a resort or a healthcare facility.

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What qualifications or licenses do residential and commercial electricians need?

Unlike other construction-type jobs, electrical work requires more extensive education and licensing requirements. Electricians must work as apprentices for a period before they can become licensed electricians. It does not matter whether an aspiring apprentice wants to specialize in either a commercial or residential electrical work. Becoming a licensed electrician requires three steps:

  • Complete a four-year apprenticeship program.

  • Complete one year of formal training and work under a journeyman electrician for hands-on training.

  • Once an apprentice completes their formal training, they must pass two location-specific exams to receive their license and master electrician certificate.

Once an apprentice completes these three steps, they will have the required licenses to practice their trade on their own without the supervision of a journeyman electrician. It’s important to note that different states and local governing bodies will have different sets of licensing requirements for electricians. Some states will require more extended periods of working under a journeyman electrician which can influence when and how an apprentice can become authorized to wire either commercial or residential buildings.

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What types of jobs do commercial and residential electricians do?

A commercial electrician installs complex security, power, and fire protection systems in commercial buildings such as offices or stores. A residential electrician will do electrical work in homes, typically installing wiring and power outlets. Commercial and residential electricians will use different materials and wiring methods to complete their work.

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For example, a residential electrician will use single phase power supplies in either 120 or 240 volts. They will run Romex cable and wrap their wiring in sheathed insulation that is hidden behind walls and in rafters. Hiding the wiring is a safety measure to reduce the risk of shock, and to protect the wires from wear and tear. A residential electrician will often complete the following types of electrical jobs:

  • Install or replace outlets

  • Install or replace panels and breakers

  • Rewire homes

  • Install ceiling fans, lighting, and other fixtures

  • Add outdoor or indoor lighting

Commercial electricians install wiring in a three-phase approach, where two smaller wiring “legs” will run on one voltage, and the third larger “leg” will run on a higher voltage. Power levels can be either 120 volts/208 - 240 volts, or 277/480 volts. Voltage levels will depend on the business’s specific electrical needs. Commercial electricians will often complete the following types of jobs and more:

  • Repair large motors, equipment, or control systems for businesses

  • Update or install lighting, fixtures, and security systems

  • Install or repair generators

  • Plan and wire commercial buildings as they are constructed

  • Install surge protection

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Homes have much different electrical needs and power loads than large-scale commercial buildings. For business owners, it is essential to hire an electrician with experience working in commercial buildings. The activities that happen in say, offices, restaurants, and hotels tend to be hard on electrical systems. For business owners, they will need sturdier electrical materials from someone who has experience working with heavy-duty electrical systems. On the other hand, homeowners will want wiring that is thin, small, and can fit into unseen spaces.

Are there certain safety precautions electricians must take?

Electricians suffer higher rates of injuries than other contractors and construction workers. Rarely are injuries fatal, but electricians are often burned, shocked, or fall while on the job. To prevent the risk of injury, electricians will often wear durable, protective clothing such as safety glasses and thick rubber boots and gloves while working.

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When is the right time to get an electrician?

It’s best to look for a qualified electrician before you experience a power emergency and need immediate work. Finding the right electrician for your needs can take time, and being rushed to get an electrical problem fixed asap can cause problems down the road. A business could end up with an electrician who does not have the experience necessary to meet their electrical needs, or an inexperienced homeowner can end up with a contractor who takes too long and costs too much.

With that said, the right time to get an electrician is before a problem occurs. Before you sell a home, you may want to have a qualified electrician check the breaker box and the wiring to make sure that the house will pass a buyer’s inspection. Home and commercial remodeling work will often require an electrician’s expertise. Natural disasters can wreak havoc on complex wiring systems, and it is emergencies like these where a homeowner or a business owner will need the assistance of a licensed electrician.

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Things to Know and Ask When Calling an Electrician

Before contacting an electrician, there are a few things you will need to know so you can relay relevant information to your contractor. Have an overall concise summary of your job, such as, “I need three new outlets as part of a kitchen remodel,” “I would like to install a dishwasher,” or “I need to install a security system for my condominium.”

An electrician will also need to know how much electricity is already available in the room and panel if, for example, you want to have a few new light fixtures installed or put in a new appliance. Older homes may have small electrical panels with minimal loads that may not be able to service high-power, modern appliances. Your electrician will need to know how many volts are required to power a new appliance, and if the existing panel is adequate. Also, let the electrician know where the circuit breaker is located and if it is easy to access.

What won’t an electrician do?

Electricians will perform a diversity of tasks for both residential and commercial buildings. They will update outlets, install new outlets, plan the wiring for new business structures, and more. But there are a few things that electricians will not do.

For example, an existing structure that needs old knob and tube wiring replaced may require the electrician to remove parts of a wall to get rid of old wires and run new wires into the structure. While an electrician may take down parts of the wall, they will not patch or put up new sheets of drywall. Homeowners who plan to replace old wiring with new, safer wires may be in for a bit of a shock if they don’t plan accordingly for this type of job.

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What questions should business or homeowners ask the electrician?

Homeowners and business owners should ask the electrician a few questions as well. Knowing how long the job will take, and how many people will work with the electrician is essential.

Depending on the work you want to be completed, the electrician may need to drill holes in the wall to tap an existing electricity source. If that’s the case, the owner will need to figure out a plan for how to patch the holes once the job is completed. Budgeting for electrical work may not be enough, and homeowners may need to set aside funds for repairing, replacing, and repainting walls.

Some of the questions you may want to ask your electrician are:

  • What certifications, licenses, credentials, and experience do you have?

  • How much, if any, drilling will need to be done?

  • Will you be working primarily indoors, outdoors, or both?

  • How many people will work on this job?

  • Does the owner need to be present while the work is completed?

  • Will inclement weather influence the duration of the job?

  • Will you need to order additional parts or accessories to complete the job, and how long will it take to get them?

  • How long will the job take to complete?

If you discover old knob and tube or aluminum wiring, if the lights flicker when you turn on a new, modern appliance, or if you're about to build an investment property, you’ll need an electrician. You do not want to hire someone off the street for this important and crucial work. It’s critical that you thoroughly vet an intended electrician, so you know they have the experience and knowledge to handle your job. Electricity is dangerous if mishandled by someone who doesn’t know what they are doing. Anytime you need electrical work completed, and you’ll need the services of a reputable, licensed electrician.

How do you find an electrician?

Ask trusted friends and family for referrals, check online referral sites,  or search your local area for a licensed electrician.

How do you vet an electrician?

When you first contact an electrician, you’ll need to discuss their area of expertise. It may not always be clear on their online profiles or business card what types of electrical work they do. Some electricians may primarily handle construction jobs, while others have years of experience working in residential homes.

Before you hire an electrician, one of the first things you should do is check to make sure that the electrician you have in mind is licensed in your state to practice either commercial or residential electrical work, depending on your job. Make sure the electrician is not only licensed but bonded and insured for the job, as well.

Even if a person you trust gave a referral to a specific electrician, you still want to check for licensing and insurance. Ask to see a copy of their license and if they have liability insurance. You may want to contact their insurance provider to make sure the policy has not lapsed. Also, check third-party reference sites or the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against the company.

A good electrician will also offer a warranty on any work they complete. Ask your intended electrician what type of warranty they provide before you hire them.

How much can you expect to pay an electrician?

Rates will vary significantly by region, the work required, and how long an electrician has been in business. Electricians may also charge you based on an hourly rate or per-project rate. Residential and commercial electricians typically charge between $50 and $100 per hour. However, commercial electrical work is often more complex and extensive, and projects will usually cost more than a residential project.

Can you negotiate with an electrician?

Negotiating with a contractor, including an electrician is possible. For example, a residential electrician who has not been in business for very long may offer a discount for homeowners who can give referrals. Large-scale commercial electrical jobs will typically have less wiggle room for negotiations.

How long can it take for certain electrical jobs?

The time it takes to complete different types of electrical work will vary significantly. For example, replacing an outlet can take as little as thirty minutes. Installing a new outlet can take a few hours, and rewiring an entire house can take several days to weeks depending on the needs and desires of the homeowner. Installing a generator in a commercial building can take several hours.
Choosing the right electrician for either a residential or commercial task is no small feat. But if you know the kind of work these two types of electricians do, and you know the right questions to ask, you’ll be able to find a skilled and knowledgeable electrician for any job you need to be completed.