Determining 'Value' with your Electrical Contractor

Electrician Installing Wires

Recently I was involved in a conversation with some fellow tradesmen (I was the only Electrical Contractor (EC)) on the topic of "Value". The topic was really about how to explain to a client about the value of work that is not seen - not "lipstick and mascara" as it is often referred to in construction which seems to garner most, if not all of the attention. 

So for the average home buyer or homeowner, the end state is all that they see (or want) and may not realize the work behind the walls or underground that is needed to get to that end product. Even beyond that, many may not be aware of the difference in the quality of materials or installation techniques to get their vision to reality. 

So to help explain some of the differences in the electrical area I will offer up what I perceive as "Value" in electrical work (and perhaps contracting in general) that you may want to consider for future renovations or builds. Before I get into some of the specifics, it should be understood that regardless of the intended level of craftsmanship that is expected, the homeowner should fully pre-screen any EC to ensure that at the least you are dealing with fully licensed and insured companies and not comparing them against some "trunk-slammer". Consider the following:

  1. Is the EC fully licensed and insured?  Based on my previous comment, this seems like a no-brainer; but are they really?  In all provinces in Canada you have to be licensed to be an electrician (in some form or another) but there are additional requirements in many provinces and municipalities that are necessary to conduct business as an EC. How many homeowners even know what a contracting license or journeymen's ticket looks like?
  2. In the Province of Ontario as an example, you have two venues to confirm your EC says who he is. The first being the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) Hire a Contractor website The website gives anyone the ability to see if in fact the guy standing in your kitchen is really an EC. The second is the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) Public Register website This site lists every qualified tradesmen and apprentice in the Province of Ontario. 

    Let's be clear, just because an EC and his employees are in these databases, it does not mean they will do quality work, it just means that they are legal to do electrical work (in this case in the Province of Ontario). 

  3. Every EC should be doing code-compliant work. Like most everything in the world, there are several ways to achieve the same goal. So it should go without saying that it is expected that every legitimate EC will do an acceptable job that will "pass inspection" by the local authorities. Having said that, there are different ways to tackle a project which will have various cost implications. Most EC will default to their preferred method of doing an installation; so if that is conduit, they will likely suggest a conduit solution, where others may suggest a wire installation. Some will suggest a "tear out" while others will suggest a repair. 

So beyond the first two items how do you measure value in electrical work?

  1. Quality of materials is one area. While for the most part wire is wire is wire, there are different types of wire and different ways to install wire that can be considered a value added cost. Metal verses plastic boxes is another consideration. Quality of devices such as switches, receptacles, fans, smoke detectors, etc. 
  2. Installation methods. While the typical homeowner likely does not know the difference between a "craftsmen like" installation and a "quick and dirty" installation; both can be code-compliant. One of my comments about this area is conduit size. While a code-compliant installation will properly size the conduit, does the conduit allow for future additional use or expansion?  Another is wire supports (stapling). While the code indicates the maximum distance between supports, does the wire hang all sloppy, twisted and criss-crossed?  Are the wires run straight and square or are they just fitted in wherever?  Did the EC terminate the wires on the screws or did they use the "quick connects" on the back of the device?
  3. While all of these items are code-compliant, there is an added level of craftsmanship (which likely adds up to additional labour) that is being completed in work like this. One could argue that sloppy work is a sign of poor planning while others may argue that neatness is wasted because it is hidden behind drywall or in the bottom of a trench. 

  4. Communication before during and after the project. As an EC I like to have a good business relationship with my clients; but in all reality, the majority of clients need me for a short period (to solve their problem) and until something happens again I am absent from their minds. Any EC that is willing to put in the additional effort to communicate professionally with you along the entire project is looking for a professional relationship. That communication starts with a formal review of the project and is backed up by an estimate or if possible a quote. 
  5. Once that is done, there should be formal communication about schedule and deadlines. If the project is large enough, there should be formal communication about the progress of the project. 

    Finally there should be communication regarding the finished product, whether that is a copy of the inspection documentation, thank-you letter with the invoice, warranty dates on certain items, etc. If an EC is prepared to put this "behind the scenes" work in, chances he is in it for the long haul and will be around when you need him. 

  6. Talking in laymen's terms about the problem or requirements. It is easy for any professional to talk way above anyone's head to make one feel important; it takes someone with depth of thought and intelligence to be able to explain to a client what needs to be done so they understand where their hard earned money is going. 
  7. Although this could be considered communication, really it is about sharing knowledge and being prepared to take the time to share that knowledge. For the most part the EC is a stranger in your home or business; you have the right to know what is going on and what needs to happen. The last thing you want to be done to you is being talked to like a four year old or felt like a complete idiot because you don't know all jargon while standing there. Treating clients with respect is important. 

  8. Clean up the mess. While some clients see the time and money spent on an EC for cleaning is wasteful and costly, others appreciate the efforts strangers make in cleaning up their mess. Communicate to your EC the expectations for clean-up; if you want to do it, great. The EC should be cleaning up their own mess, certainly to a point short of mopping the floor or something like that. 
  9. Respect for your property and belongings. Many times when working in people's homes an EC has to wade through boxes of stored items, old sports gear or piles of "yet to be used" material. While I would not expect work to be easily completed in a hoarding situation, your EC should respect your belongings by covering or moving them. 
  10. It is always best if you can move as much as possible out of the way (this ultimately saves money in the long run), how the EC treats your home (do they walk around with dirty boots on your carpets) and your belongings is a good indicator of the quality of the men the EC uses. 

  11. Level of professionalism. Does the EC have uniforms, business cards, proper vehicle etc?  How does the EC or his employees talk to you?  Do they use foul language; make improper comments or suggestions, etc?  How do they talk between themselves; do they treat the apprentices and labourers with respect?  Do they have all the right tools and materials?  Are they organized; do they have to leave to get more material or tools?
  12. While all these questions may seem obvious, if there are doubts, it is likely that is the level of effort they put into their work. The quality of your job should have started long before they came to your home or business; at least for planned work. If you are paying top dollar for work, you would expect it to be carried out in a professional manner. 

  13. Giving back to the community. While there are any number of causes your EC may contribute; the issue is not so much whether you agree with their choice of recipient but more of the fact that they are giving at all. Any business that either contributes directly to a community or through various discount programs is a supporter of the community and provides a value to the community, even if indirectly. 

So as an EC, I try to assist clients in determining value for their electrical work. It is up to you to decide if those items are of value. While some things can be negotiated such as quality of materials or installation methods, others such as level of professionalism likely cannot. 

When you are looking at the ECs that you have short-listed, try to see beyond the dollar amount you are paying for the work and look at the value. You might be surprised that the most expensive price might be the best deal. 

About the Author

John Kuehnl-Cadwell is a Master Electrician and an owner of Datawise Solutions Inc., an electrical contracting company located in Ontario. He has been licenced as a Journeyman Electrician since 1992.

Posted by: John Kuehnl-Cadwell
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