I can’t tell you how many times I have been approached by customers with plans in hand that ask me to bid the installation of electrical in their new home, and after asking a few questions, the conversation usually ends with …”I guess we need to find that out.”
So I decided to write a brief list of things that are good to know ahead of time.
Often the plan that the homeowner hands me is simply a floor plan drawn on paper or professionally drawn without any electrical details. Without the electrical details, it is virtually impossible to bid an electric installation. The only way to bid off plans like these is simply taking the square footage of the structure and multiplying it by a guesstimated cost which results in an inflated price. Most small electrical contractors will use this process anyway because of the cost of sophisticated software, but it can result in the homeowner paying much more than they need to, because the contractor has to factor in the unknown. The flip side of square footage bidding is the homeowner may think they are getting a great deal, but often ends up paying thousands extra in “change orders” because items were either overlooked or unknown. Electrical contractors like the latter because their goal is to secure the contract for the job, then sort out the expensive details later. So think ahead and have a detailed electrical detail. You will also need to provide information such as size, amperage and number of heating and air units. Is the house completely electric? If not, which appliances are? Also think about lighting and what types you will be installing; for instance, is your under cabinet lighting low voltage or high voltage? What types of fixtures will you be using? The more detail you can provide, the better.
This also brings up the point: ensure the details are covered in your agreement and make sure you have it in writing. This gives you some leverage with your electrical contractor if things aren’t they way you want them. I guarantee you, the contractor will refer to the agreement when something has to be moved or there is a problem and it isn’t covered. More than likely, he will bill you for it as a change order and I have to say from a business standpoint, they will be in the right if it wasn’t covered.
Finally, get a warranty, again, in writing! Most reputable electrical contractors will warranty their workmanship and materials for some period of time. The standard is usually the same as the general contract, which is one year from completion of work.
Often the general contractor will hire his electrician and won’t bore you with the details of dealing with a subcontractor. This applies to all of the trades; after all, that’s what he does. You do not have to agree to this. What happens sometimes when you let the general contractor give you a turn key house is, he will hire Joe Schmoe electrical contractor to wire your house for a rock bottom X amount of dollars. The contractor will, in turn, tack on 10 or 20% and put that in his pocket. Joe Schmoe may be a great guy but has agreed to do a job because he needs the work and is making very little profit. Joe, who has no workman’s comp and the state’s minimum in liability insurance (for Oklahoma it’s $5000.00), will go out and bring cousins Larry, Darrel and his other brother Darrel, who know a little about wiring but don’t have a license to wire your house. Joe will “supervise”, while going to check on the 10 other houses he’s doing so he can stay in business and when the job is what he considers done, disappears, to never be seen again. This causes the homeowner much aggravation, frustration and money because they give up and call a reputable electrician to finally get the problem repaired.
My point is, if you are wondering what kind of people are working on your house, ask for references, or better yet, show up on the job site and ask to see the work permits and their licenses. Even an apprentice is required to carry a license on his person that is issued by the state.
In closing, building a new home can be very stressful for the homeowner, but it doesn’t have to be if you prepare yourself ahead of time and do your homework.