“The guy who is installing my drywall said he could install my electric.”

The Electrical Safety Foundation International reported in 2015 that an estimated 51,000 fires were caused by home electrical fires. Of those 51,000 there were nearly 500 deaths. Faulty home wiring is just a fire waiting to happen. It’s one of many reasons hiring electrical contractors is so important, however not every contractor is created equal. It’s true, anyone can call themselves a ‘contractor’ and perhaps the guy hanging your drywall knows how to attach two wires to a receptacle—but wiring is not black-and-white, it is not “either the light comes on, or it doesn’t.” Actually, wiring is an interdependent network, meaning, if done wrong could affect an entire room, even an entire home.

More often than not, problems occur. Even choosing what receptacle, for an electrician is a calculated decision. If the wrong amperage is used, this could cause damage to appliance motors and electronic gears which may destroy that appliance. Do your lights flicker when you turn on an appliance? Partially overloaded circuits or breakers can trip fuses or can shut down a circuit entirely. These are just a few of the problems that can be avoided by knowing when you should hire a qualified electrician.

Master Electrician vs. Journeyman

Master Electricians have at least two years of experience and has passed a standardized test, however, within the last decade there has been a shift in the term “standardized test.” An example of this is older master electricians may have taken a local test, a shorter test that is by far more straightforward than the current; Whereas, the International Code Council (ICC) test or Prometric is arduous with over two hundred questions, knowledge of the latest code, and mathematics skills that go far beyond your standard trigonometry. A master electrician is fluent in the National Electric Code (NEC) and any/all modifications made to it. Also, they must hold liability insurance and keep their license up-to-date.

A Journeyman is licensed by the state and has not qualified to be a master electrician. In some states, it is a requirement that a journeyman work under a master electrician for a certain number of hours, sometimes even years. One of the critical differences is, they have law-binding restrictions that don’t allow them to design electrical systems; however, they are able to installations.

As a homeowner, there are a few added safety measures you could take when hiring out a contractor. Most electrical work requires pulling a permit issued by your local building department which differs from each township. Secondly, an inspection after the work is complete will make sure all the work complete is done correctly and up to code.

Choosing the Right Electrician

It has become the new trend to rely on contractor sites like Angieslist.com or HomeAdvisor, however, you still must choose the right electrician for the job. What these sites provide is a general list of contractors in your area, reviews, and vetting—all of which are great but you, as the homeowner, need to do more research. Some electricians specialize in different area’s whether it is generators, new construction, commercial, and even industrial conversely in my opinion an exceptional electrician is equally good at each aspect of their trade. Here are just a few questions and tips that will help you narrow down who is right for you:

Ask to see a copy of their license. Asking for their licenses ensures that they are qualified. Each state is different, some leave it up to municipalities like Pennsylvania where others issue state licensing. If they cannot provide the information? Then it is more than likely they are not an electrician and may lack the necessary knowledge, skill, and liability that is required to complete your project safely.

Ask to see proof of insurance. This, to me, is the most critical question of all. Insurance and liability are what keeps both you and the contractor safe in case of accidents. What is your home worth if it burns down? A typical residential electrician should carry at least a $500,000 policy.

Ask for references. It isn’t frowned upon to ask for recommendations if they have not already been referred to you. If they cannot provide more than two references than you probably shouldn’t hire them.

Hiring electrical contractors is a struggle and partly due to lack of knowledge, research, and horror stories. Ask the tough questions, don’t be afraid to shop around, and do your research. When it comes to something so interdependent, you do not want to leave it into the hands of someone who doesn’t have the knowledge, skill, or licensing.