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Frequently Asked Questions

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Q: How do I know I'm hiring a qualified electrician?

Q: I have one high estimate, one low and one right in the middle.  How do I choose?

Q: Why are the estimates so different from one electrician to another?

Q: I need some electrical work done as part of a small remodel, but I don't want to pull a permit because I don't want my property taxes to go up.  Can't I just skip the permit?

Q: Why are electrician's prices so high?

Q: Someone recommended an electrician from the next town over.  Shouldn't I hire an electrician from my town?


 

Q: How do I know I'm hiring a qualified electrician?
A: Most importantly, the electrician you choose must be licensed in the state where they are performing the work.  It is illegal for an unlicensed person to perform any type of electrical work, even minor.  Also, no electrician should balk at being asked to pull a permit.  It is the law that permits be pulled for electrical work in homes and businesses.  If an electrician is avoiding it, he’s breaking the law—so check with the town and check his license.  It’s easy to find out if your contractor is licensed and in good standing.  First, ask for their license number—then go to the appropriate State Board of Electrical Examiners website and enter the license number.  We’ve included links here to help you.

MassachusettsNew HampshireMaine

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Q: I have one high estimate, one low and one right in the middle.  How do I choose?
A: When asking an electrician to estimate a job—be sure to give him as much detail as possible—let him decide what’s relevant.  Be sure to provide the exact same information to all contractors—otherwise they are essentially bidding on different projects, and you will get disparate bids.  You should receive detailed estimates—are they all the same—does each one include a permit fee?  Be careful to note whether you are required to provide fixtures or if they are provided by the electrician.  To make your final choice, consider your personal response to each person, their overall professionalism and presentation, check their license, and references and make your decision based upon all of those factors together with their estimate.  For more information on how to hire and work with an electrician, click here.

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Q: Why are the estimates so different from one electrician to another?

A: There are many facets to this answer - but the basic issue comes down to overhead costs and how the individual contractors are running their companies.  Here's a long list of the big items that we believe affect the estimates:

Labor Pay Rates - is a contractor paying its employees competitive wages?  Or to look at it another way, is it just one guy, no apprentice and he's not paying himself just to get going in the business?  If he's paying lower wages, does he have quality employees?

Employee Benefits - Consider this item from your own perspective on your workplace.  Your employer probably offers at least health insurance and probably other benefits such as 401k, vacation, sick time, Dental, Disability, Section 125 plans, etc.  For many employees employer-provided health insurance is a major factor in choosing a workplace; would you be able to work in a company that did not offer it?  Many smaller contractors do not provide these benefits, and now that Massachusetts has required citizens to have health insurance, they can rely on the state to pick up the tab, while their competitors are doing the right thing and providing it to their employees at great cost.  Folsetter Electric has always provided health insurance, even when it began as just the owner and one apprentice.  We also provide paid vacation, Section 125, disability, and a tool and boot reimbursement program.  And we continue to work towards offering additional benefits as we grow.

Insurance Coverage - All companies with employees in Massachusetts are required to carry Workers Compensation Insurance.  This is not enforced well, and a number of contractors don't comply.  Additionally, they may not be carrying adequate levels of liability insurance or not carrying any at all.  Did you know that if the contractor is not covered in either of these areas, and one of their employees is injured on the job at your home, the cost will come from your homeowner's insurance.

Quality of Vehicles - We're sure you've noticed many contractors vans on the road and seen the few that look like they won't make it another mile.  If they don't demonstrate care and pride in their vehicle, are they going to show that on your job?

Quality of Materials - There are differing levels of quality in many items electrical contractors may install in your home or business.  This is especially true for fixtures and devices.  Some contractors will use this area to cut costs on your job - but you will ultimately see the effects.  At Folsetter, we believe in installing only the highest quality materials for your safety and so that you get the best value for your money.  We've seen from experience that when inexpensive fixtures are installed, we often have to return to repair or replace them or repair damaged wiring because the fixture malfunctioned.

Material Markup - This is another area that contractors use to improve their profit or compete on price with their competitors.  Some may add a large markup on materials if they think they'll lose money in labor.  Others may charge all materials at cost or below just to get a job.  We believe this practice hurts the industry; a small, reasonable material markup is necessary to run a profitable business.  Consider this from your employer's perspective again - do they provide their products at cost?  Probably not, and you wouldn't expect them to.

Level of Service - When you call your contractor, are you getting his cell phone voicemail because he runs his entire business from his truck, or do you get a friendly, knowledgeable receptionist who can assist you and make sure you get what you need?  Is their filing a billing system a crate on the passenger seat of their truck and a pen and paper or do they have secure file cabinets (to protect your information) and customer management and billing software to better serve you and provide detailed accurate estimates and invoices.

Attention to detail - This is an area that is very hard to see before actually hiring a contractor.  After the work is done - you'll see lots of evidence of attention to detail or lack of it:  Are all the outlets at the same height, were the switches placed in a sensible location (if possible), did they clean up after themselves?  All of those items take just a tiny bit more time and effort and so will affect the price.  Prior to hiring a contractor - note whether he "actively" estimates.  Does he check  your panel, is he testing the problem outlet, is he asking questions, showing interest in your project, making suggestions, bringing up items you may not have thought of?  All of these behaviors show attention to detail and speak to the kind of work he'll provide.

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Q: I need some electrical work done as part of a small remodel, but I don't want to pull a permit because I don't want my property taxes to go up.  Can't I just skip the permit?
A: Permits are required for all electrical work done in your home or business.  This is to ensure that the work is done properly and safely by a qualified, licensed electrician.  It means an inspector will come to your home for a rough inspection of the work while the walls are still open, or before a fixture is replaced so that he can determine that the work done is correct and will not cause any harm to you or your home.  Then, once the electrical work is completed, he will return to inspect the final product.  Additionally, electricians are required by law to pull a permit on all electrical work they perform.  If you ask your electrician to not pull a permit, you are asking him to break the law!  He could lose his electrical license for doing so.

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Q: Why are electrician's prices so high?

A: Much of the answer to this question is similar to the answer to "Why are the estimates so different from one electrician to another?".  We believe that there is also generally a perception that it's easy to become an electrician, that it is something someone does who is not highly educated and that it's just a guy and his truck, so how much overhead could he have?

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Remember it is considered a "skilled trade".  It takes years of apprentice hours on the job before one is allowed to test and become a journeyman.  Additionally, the apprentice must put in the same years of classroom hours learning complicated electrical theory, load calculations, safety, and techniques.  The journeyman electrician test is not one that everyone passes on the first try.  Additionally, the master exam requires further schooling hours on more complicated electrical theory and in depth training and education on running a business.  All licensed electricians are required to maintain their status every 3 years with additional school hours.  A conscientious electrician will also spend time keeping current  with non-required education on industry developments.  Bottom line:  being a quality, trained, effective electrician has costs associated with it that result in necessary hourly rates in order to be even modestly profitable.

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Q: Someone recommended an electrician from the next town over.  Shouldn't I hire an electrician from my town?

A: We understand the desire to hire someone from your community, and if that company is qualified, and you like them, then you should hire them.  However, don't choose someone just because they live in your town and don't exclude an electrician because he's from a couple towns over.  Most electricians have a very large service radius and can easily accommodate customers from nearby towns.  Click here for more information on how to hire and evaluate an electrician.

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