Part Two: What you should know before hiring an electrician to install or replace your electrical panel

In Part 1 of this article, James Croffut of Big Frog Electric shared his advice for hiring an electrician to upgrade your electrical service or install a new circuit breaker panel. In Part 2 we’re going to pick up where we left off, and we’ll carry on by talking about why some electricians can charge a lot less than others, why James turns down some jobs, why you shouldn’t keep resetting that tripped circuit breaker, and why you should be concerned if your electrician uses contractors.

Before choosing an electrician to install a 200 amp electrical service for your home…

James warns us to ask the following questions:

  • Will they be bringing your home up to the currently enforced electrical code?
  • Do they have the right insurance?
  • Do they use employees or subcontractors?
  • Are their employees on salary or sales commission?

Some common mistakes when upgrading services or changing out electrical panels

Today’s electrical code requires that an overcurrent device, such as a main electrical breaker, be installed on the outside of the house. However, many homes built in the 80s or early 90s don’t have this overcurrent device because it wasn’t required at the time. Why should this concern you, you may ask? James told us, “It means that the wire that goes from the electrical meter outside all the way into your home’s electrical panel indoors is unfused, unprotected, and can cause a house fire.”

How does this affect you when getting an estimate to upgrade your service?

Let’s pretend that you have an older home with no overcurrent protection on the outside. If you want to upgrade your service, you’ll need to install an outdoor main circuit breaker by law. However, an inexperienced electrician may simply change out your panel and NOT install an exterior means to turn off your power. Now you can see why their quote will be cheaper. But remember, this won’t pass an electrical inspection and will create a potential fire risk.

Many inexperienced electricians do not realize what else is required after the installation of the exterior breaker. When an electrical panel is installed and an exterior breaker is added, the rest of the house’s wiring needs to be brought up to code as well.

That means that:

  • The electrical grounding must be brought up to code.
  • GFIs must be added and installed per the code.
  • Smoke detectors must be added and installed per the code.
  • Any 110-volt outlets that are replaced or 110-volt circuits that are added in the living area now require arc fault circuit breakers.

Now you can see why estimates to upgrade an electrical service or change the panel out can vary a lot in price. An inexperienced, unlicensed electrician might overlook all of these necessary code requirements. This is why you have to make sure to compare “apples to apples” and not just look at the price alone.

Why James may say no thanks to some electrical jobs

A licensed electrician is held responsible for ALL of your wiring if they do any work on your home. This means if your electrical contractor tells you about risky wiring or code violations but you don’t want to fix them, a professional electrician will walk away from the job. James told us that he will not work on homes that have old Federal Pacific breaker panels or aluminum wire unless the homeowner is willing to update their system to today’s code.

“It’s my license, it’s my livelihood, it’s my reputation, and it’s my conscience,” he said. “I don’t want to work on a house with existing bad wiring that’s a fire risk that the customer isn’t willing to pay to fix. We have walked away from a lot of business because of this.”

He went on to explain that this is another reason that his company loses bids. “We may lose the job because the customer is not comparing apples to apples on the bids. They are comparing panel change out quotes that do meet the code with lower priced quotes that don’t meet the code.”

James reminds us that the national electrical code is the minimum requirement for doing electrical work. The absolute minimum. On the other hand, James likes to install electrical work above and beyond the minimum. This protects you as a homeowner. Does the contractor you’re considering have a similar philosophy?

Do you have a circuit breaker that keeps tripping?

An inexperienced electrician may just reset the circuit breaker without finding out why it tripped. The problem with that is that constantly resetting the tripped breaker will eventually weaken the overload protection mechanical device inside the breaker. In short, that means that the breaker is no longer protecting you. That’s why James trains his people to find out WHY breakers trip. He teaches them to open up the panel and the device to see what the problem is. Why does he do this? James understands that when an electrician touches an electrical system, he or she is held accountable for anything that happens afterward.

Another mistake an inexperienced, unlicensed electrician might make is to simply put in a larger fuse or circuit breaker to prevent it from tripping again. But the wire is rated for the original breaker size only. This means that a bigger breaker will allow more electrical current than is safe. It could heat up the wire and cause a house fire.

The lesson? Hire only licensed electricians to work on your home’s wiring.

Do they have valid insurance?

It is important to verify proof of insurance. With today’s technology, anyone can print out a piece of paper that looks like an insurance policy. James suggested, “You should actually call the insurance company to see if their insurance policy is valid and paid up-to-date. Remember to insist on checking both general liability insurance as well as workers’ compensation.”

Do they use employees or subcontractors?

James told us that some electrical contractors are trying to save money and use subcontractors to do the work. However, many of these electricians are undocumented workers that do not pay taxes or have insurance. So they can charge a lower rate to wire your house.

That’s why James insists on hiring legal workers that pay taxes and that are covered by insurance. James believes in paying his workers a livable wage, not $50 a day like many are making as subcontractors. James said it’s hard to compete against illegal subcontractors. So, be sure to ask if employees or subcontractors will be working at your home. If the company will use subcontractors, ask to see proof of insurance that covers them all.

Are their electrical workers on commission or salary?

It’s surprising, but many local electrical businesses pay their installers a commission to sell you things, just like a car dealership would pay a car salesman. If your technician has a financial incentive, they may try to sell you things that you don’t need. That’s why all of James’s people are salaried employees. This means the customer has no need to fear being upsold. The electrician’s job is to educate you as the customer so you can make informed decisions.

Electrical fires are one of the biggest causes for home insurance claims. Take the time to research your electrical contractor before hiring them. We hope these tips will be helpful to you in choosing the best electrician to upgrade the panels or electrical service for your Atlanta home! To get in touch with Big Frog Electric, check out their website!  

If you’re looking for insurance for your home, we can help! Contact us today by calling or filling out our quote form and we’ll get you a free quote and make sure that all of your insurance needs are covered.