There used to be a time when the term "fly-by-night" only applied to charlatans and snake oil salesmen, but times have changed. These days, that same dubious description can also be used to label the unlicensed electrical contractors who leave their clients saddled with incomplete or subpar work, code violations, and even lawsuits. No matter how small the job, before you hire anyone to do electrical work on your property, it's vital that you verify the licensing and references of the individual you hire, so that you can rest easy knowing that your family, employees, or tenants are safe.
Here are a few tips for finding an electrical contractor who is both licensed and reputable:
- Run a quick check with the Better Business Bureau – their reports not only rate businesses with an overall report card-type "grade," but also detail any complaints that may have been filed on a particular business/individual within the past 36 months, as well as any resolutions made in response to those complaints. And if you're really lucky, the BBB report will even recommend which government offices to consult when you're confirming licensing and certification.
- Talk to your friends and neighbors. Have a friend who is (or works for) a general contractor? Ask them who they bring in to tackle the electrical aspects of their own projects. Reputable general contractors won't put their good names on the line to save a few bucks, so their go-to guys are typically a safe bet.
- Insist on seeing proof of your electrical contractor's license, as well as proof of insurance. In the event that an accident or injury occurs while they are working on your property, an uninsured contractor could turn around and sue you, even if you aren't directly involved.
- Request a quote up front, and then see what happens. Any electrical contractor living up to his or her profession will most likely give you a quote right over the phone for a simple job, or make a no-charge visit to your remises to assess and form quotes for larger or more complex projects. Hesitation or outright resistance to providing free quotes can indicate lack of experience, or be a warning that the electrician will take every opportunity to extract more money from you.
- Offer or be talked into pulling permits for a job yourself. An electrician's unwillingness to obtain permits for a project is a major red flag – most often, it signals that the contractor isn't licensed. But even if it turns out that the electrician in question is licensed, the permit issue is an almost sure sign that they'll be difficult to work with.
- Assume that just because a contractor advertises in the Yellow Pages, Pennysaver, or other local publications that they're automatically a safe and reputable person to deal with. If you see an electrician's ad that looks appealing, ask around to learn if anyone in your family, neighborhood, or circle of friends has heard anything about or done business with them.
- Unquestioningly trust in the old "don't judge a book by its cover" adage. Regardless of whether or not they can provide proof of license, if an electrical contractor arrives at your home or place of business and behaves unprofessionally, appears to be disorganized or indifferent, or has excessively poor grooming habits, keep in mind that any of these characteristics can foreshadow inferior work down the road. Bottom line: go with your gut instinct. If it doesn't feel right, don't hire them.