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Choosing the right electrician

Last updated 10th Jul 2017

Whether it’s an emergency job to replace a dangerous wiring system, or a home improvement project requiring new lighting and appliance installation, electrical work is some of the most important you can do to your home.

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Since mistakes can prove dangerous for you and the other people in your home, it's vital that you find the right electrician for your job. We spoke to some of the experienced tradesmen recommended on MyBuilder to find out the key things you should know in order to make the right choice:

  • Do some research first
  • Look up their qualifications
  • Make sure you are comfortable with them
  • Get like-for-like quotes and make sure everything is included
  • Make sure they will provide any certification if needed
  • Check for issues and plan for follow-ups

Keeping these points in mind can help you focus on what to look for when you’re meeting with tradesmen and getting quotes for the work. Carry on reading for more details on how to go about finding the right tradesman for your job.

Do some research first

It’s impossible to become an expert in domestic electrical systems with just a bit of internet research, but a small amount of background work can go a long way. If you can form an idea about what it is you want from your job, you will be better placed when it comes to explaining your job to the electricians you meet, and in a stronger position when it comes to judging the work that the tradesman does. If you’re looking to replace sockets and light switches for instance, look up different models and prices. Even being able to accurately describe any issues, by comparing it with similar problems other people have had, can help explain the job to the electrician. Peter Hughes of Manchester’s G-Mec, a sparky with more than 15 years of experience, said:

One of the best bits of advice I can give is to do a bit of research beforehand. You can’t become an expert, but if you get a bit of knowledge you’ll know what to ask for and what to look out for. That way you can help check it’s done to the highest standard, and know that you’re getting the best value for your money.

Peter Hughes, G-Mec

Look up their qualifications

With some trades, tradesman may have years of acquired experience on the job, but no formal recognition or qualifications. However, with electricians, there are certain industry standards that you need to look out for.

The vast majority of electrical work carried out in the home, and nearly all large-scale jobs that involve adding new circuits, needs to be done in line with legal standards. In order for the work to officially approved, it must be either:

  • Approved by the Building Control department of your local authority
  • Carried out by tradesmen registered with a competent person scheme, who is qualified to self-certify their work

This is to ensure that all the electrical work is safe, and will not pose a danger to yourself and other people in your home. If the work does not come up to standard, your local authority can insist that the work be corrected, while you can face difficulties selling your home if you don’t have the correct electrical safety certificates to show that the work has been done.

The section of building regulations that applies to domestic electricals is called Part P. While there are exceptions that do not need to be inspected, such as minor modifications of circuits in dining rooms and bedrooms, and telephone cabling, it is always worth checking with your local authority to see if your planned work needs to be certified.

An electrician who is qualified and registered with the following competent persons schemes is allowed to self-certify their work, issuing you with a certificate of compliance on completion, and dealing with Building Control on your behalf:

The government also backs the “Registered Competent Person Electrical Mark”, called Electrical Safety First. Designed to help protect consumers against unlicensed electricians, you can check on the site that a tradesman is registered.

Jon Midford of JEM Electrical said that checking for that qualification is vital:

The most important thing is, do they have the capability and the qualifications to do the job. So for me, it’s NICEIC, proving I’m up to date with Part P regulations - others will be through ELECSA or NAPIT, a governing body to prove they can do the job to the required standard. That qualification matters more than anything else.

Jon Midford, JEM Electrical

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Any competent tradesman should have no issue with you checking their credentials. Jon emphasised the importance of always going with a dedicated specialist rather than someone who claims they can do it all:

There are a lot of tradesmen out there who are trying different things, want to be the master of all trades but ultimately it’s about having experience in the field they are good at it. I’d be more comfortable with someone who has experience in the trade. I consider myself an expert in the job I do. People ask me to do other jobs while I’m there, and I say I can’t, but I can recommend someone who can. I’d rather be a specialist than a jack of all trades.

Jon Midford, JEM Electrical

Make sure you are comfortable with them

As well as knowing if they are familiar with your kind of job, you should simply assess how comfortable you feel with the potential tradesmen. You can do that from your first contact with them; are they polite on the phone, do they arrive for meetings at the scheduled time, do they ask lots of questions about the project?

Some electrical jobs can be expensive and time consuming and being able to maintain good communication throughout the work is essential. You don’t have to become best friends with them, but you should be able to have a professional relationship - you must feel comfortable speaking openly about any concerns that may arise, and dealing with any issues. Jon said:

Like anything in life, first appearances count. Do they look professional? Are they clean and tidy? Is their vehicle tidy? Are they presenting themselves properly? If they do, then it shows that they take pride in themselves and in their work. It’s partly tied to how you get on with the person - do you get on with them, can you trust them. You have to feel comfortable with the individual themselves.

Jon Midford, JEM Electrical

Get like-for-like quotes and make sure everything is included

For larger jobs - anything above a simple inspection, fix or replacement  - it’s advisable to meet with, and get quotations from at least three electricians. The detail and scope of their quotation can tell you a lot about their process. It’s important to make sure that all the quotations are like-for-like - do they include materials and labour and VAT? The only way to accurately compare quotations is if you are comparing like-for-like.

Taking a sample of at least three quotations can can help you spot any that seem unreasonably low - if this is the case, it could be the sign of a tradesman who wants to win the job, but will make up the true value by adding on extra costs, or is using cheap materials. Jon said:

When it comes to quotations ultimately you have to be very clear - what are you getting for your money? I do everything itemised, per point, so it’s easy to add or remove anything. It has to be foolproof and be fair and honest, in regards to warranties, and brands used, and most importantly when it comes to terms and conditions.

Jon Midford, JEM Electrical

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Jon also warns against accepting a quote too quickly, or from someone who offers one too quickly.

You should steer away from the classic ‘back of a fag packet’ quote”. I always go to the site and look around and ask lots of questions. Then I’ll go away, think about it, look at the materials I’d need, and send it over to the client and leave it with them. They can ask questions of me or make any amendments, then I’ll follow up, see what they think, get any feedback and see what I can do to help.

Jon Midford, JEM Electrical

Both Jon and Peter warn against cheap quotations. Jon said:

The price has to be realistic. Customers have to know that tradesmen need to earn a living and need to do a job to a certain standard, and that can cost a lot of money when it comes to the electrics. You get what you pay for. It’s like cars, there’s top of the line, mid range and low range, and I advise people to go for the middle. I’ve heard of people who bought cheap electrical components on Ebay, well, if something goes wrong, you can’t send it back, they’re not going to be interested. Having a guarantee or a warrantee helps down the line.

Jon Midford, JEM Electrical

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When it comes to payments, make sure you are clear with whichever tradesman you choose about how it will work - most tradesmen will not expect payment upfront, and should accept cheque or bank transfer rather than cash.

Make sure they will provide any certification if needed

As with checking their qualifications before you hire them for your job, make sure after the project is finished that they will provide all the relevant certificates that are needed - larger jobs may require an Electrical Installation Certificate, while smaller tasks will be covered by a Minor Electrical Installation Works Certificate, and some small jobs may be exempt. Keeping the certificates is important as they form the basis of future testing and inspections, and having them can help save on expensive exploratory costs. Peter said:

You have to make sure all customers are getting a certificate for every job. The certificates will show that a job was done properly and will be safe, and importantly it also leaves a paper trail - you can see who did the job and can follow up with them.

Peter Hughes, G-Mec

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Check for issues and plan for follow-ups

At the end of your job, make sure the electrician is willing to walk you round the finished job, showing you what they have done and how everything is intended to work. It’s your chance to raise any issues and have them sorted as soon as possible. You can also see if the tradesman is willing to offer any guarantee on their work, though it is worth remembering many guarantees are little more than a “gentleman’s agreement”. Jon said:

My process is to have a job sheet, show the client the work, walk them round and make sure they see what it is and how it all works so they’re happy and comfortable with it. They then sign off the sheet saying they’ve seen it, then they get the certificate and are happy with it. Then from that date, we offer a six-year guarantee on all our parts and labour so they’re comfortable and happy.

Jon Midford, JEM Electrical

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