How to choose a contractor
Selecting a qualified electrical contractor for your home or business can be challenging. It’s a little like taking your car into a car dealer or going to the doctor. You know something is wrong, but you lack the expertise to diagnose the problem yourself – and you are at the mercy of the supposed expert. You also might have difficulty describing your problem completely, or be confused by the jargon used by the professionals. We can’t help you with the auto mechanic or the doctor, but NECA would like to take a little of the mystery out of selecting and dealing with electrical contractors.
Most electrical contractors are specialists to one degree or another, so it helps to identify your particular need before you start calling. Is your need for new construction or major renovation? Are you looking for service or repair of existing electrical items? Is the work needed for your home, a small business, or a major facility? Does this need represent an emergency, or are you concerned about a dangerous condition that exists? Does your work include specialized systems, such as fire alarm, security, sound, video, communications, wired or wireless networks? Answering a few of these questions, at least in your own mind, will help you first to select a qualified contractor, and then to describe your electrical needs to the person that you call.
Once you have defined your specific need, your goals are to find a contractor that is
- Technically proficient,
- Reputable and financially stable, and
- Has a thorough understanding of your business.
On the technical side, the two most important considerations for any electrical installation are electrical safety and electrical system reliability. So it is critical that the electricians that directly perform the work and the contractors that employ them follow recognized standards of safety and quality.
- The National Electrical Code™ (NEC) is the nationally recognized electrical safety standard and has been adopted by the wide majority of building inspection authorities at state and local levels.
- It is important to know that your electrical contractor and the contractor’s employees are licensed in the jurisdiction where your project is located. This means that the contractor fully understands and complies with the NEC and that the work will be inspected under the standard, resulting in a safe installation.
- Reliability means that you can be sure that the installed electrical systems continue to perform the way they were designed over a long period of time. For this reason, NECA publishes the National Electrical Installation Standards™ that establish a level of quality for installing electrical products and systems. Twenty separate standards have been published to date covering various systems such as lighting, panelboards, and distribution equipment. Most have received ANSI approval as national standards.
- It is equally important that the people who install your electrical work are adequately trained to insure safety and reliability. Most commercial electricians employed by NECA contractors complete an apprenticeship program that includes a minimum of 1,000 hours of classroom instruction and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training. Many continue with journeyman education classes throughout their careers. You can depend on a NECA electrical contracting professional to provide well-trained electricians and technician with the right skill set for your work. Make sure you discuss the nature of the work you need with the contractor and ask about the specific electrician(s) or technician(s) that the contractor will send.
Reputation, reliability and stability
You’re looking for a contractor that is sound financially and has a good reputation. NECA electrical contractors are local businesses, and have made both a financial investment and personal commitment to your community. Make sure you talk to customers in your industry that have done business with the contractor. Ask for and check references.
Finding a good fit
The best fit is someone who understands your business needs. Your local NECA chapter can help find a qualified electrical contractor with the right experience. Ask the chapter manager to recommend a NECA member that knows your industry.
Questions to ask
Finally, inquire about the contractor’s warranty and insurance, and get it in writing. Does the contractor guarantee that the work will be installed to meet code? Will the contractor correct work that does not meet applicable standards? Insist on a written estimate and a copy of the contractor’s insurance certificate. Make sure that the proposal or contract specifies that the work to be performed will comply with the NEC and NEIS.
To help consumers and businesses find qualified electrical contractors anywhere in the United States, NECA has developed NECA Connection, an online searchable database of contractors that provide safe, reliable installations.