How to choose an electrical contractor

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t relish the thought of choosing a qualified electrical contractor. You might have some idea of what’s wrong with your electrical system, but you’re probably not an electrical technician. The mechanics of the system might intimidate you – let alone the tactics of high-pressure contractors eager to make a buck.

Thankfully, most electrical contractors are specialists in some type of project. Depending on your need, a professional should be easy to find. Hopefully you don’t have an emergency, but there are contractors to meet every need and time frame. Specialized systems can also be addressed by specialized contractors. Some contractors specialize in homes, others in businesses, and still others in specialized facilities like factories. Even though you might have an urgent situation, begin your search for a contractor by thinking of a few words to describe your specific needs.

Once you have determined your specific need, you will be able to narrow down your list of possible contractors. This still may be overwhelming, so make sure that you can choose some “finalists” who have some important qualities. These include technical proficiency, a good reputation, and communication skills that show they can understand your needs.

Technical Proficiency

When considering technical proficiency, it is vital that your contractor can provide an installation that is both safe and reliable. Therefore, make sure that your chosen contractor directly performs the work himself or herself, and be sure that all of his or her employees follow recognized, high-level standards of safety and quality.

While searching for a contractor, you may have come across the RBQ. The RBQ issues a license only after it has verified the professional qualifications and integrity of the applicant. Obviously, you will want to make sure your contractor is licensed within the Montreal and Quebec areas. This licensure means that the contractor fully complies with the RBQ regulations and that the work will be inspected under the standard. This means you will have a safe installation!
Especially if you are now dealing with the annoyance of an unreliable system, you know that reliability is important. You’ll want to be confident that the installed electrical systems will continue to perform exactly as they were designed over a long period of time. For this reason, NECA publishes the National Electrical Installation Standards, ™ which establish a level of quality for installing electrical products and systems. To date, twenty separate standards have been published; they cover various systems such as lighting, panelboards, and distribution equipment. Most of these standards have gained ANSI approval and have become national standards.
The people who install your electrical work must be well-trained to insure safety and reliability. Most commercial electricians who are employed by RBQ contractors have succeeded at an apprenticeship program that includes at least 1,000 hours of classroom instruction and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training! Many of these professionals continue with journeyman education classes throughout their careers. An RBQ electrical contracting professional will provide you with well-trained electricians and technicians who have just the right skill set for your work. Be certain to inquire about the specific electrician(s) or technician(s) that the contractor will send in order to make sure their skills meet your demand.

Reputation, reliability and stability

Obviously, you want a contractor with a good reputation, and one who is not in financial trouble. RBQ electrical contractors are local, Montreal-based businesses, and have made both a financial investment in and a personal commitment to your community. Make sure you talk to customers in your industry who have done business with the contractor. Be proactive in asking for and using references. Use sources like Angie’s List to see what previous customers have said.

Questions to ask

Be sure to ask about warranties and insurance, and get all of this very important information in writing. What does the contractor guarantee? Will the contractor fix work that is not up to code, free of charge? Do not start the process without obtaining a written estimate and a copy of the contractor’s insurance certificate. Does the proposal or contract stipulate that the work to be performed will comply with the RBQ? You should know the answers to all these questions before you hire a contractor.
If you have the right contractor, you will not only save money, but you will enjoy piece of mind.

Larry Knickman, director of the electrical program for Vatterott College’s Sunset Hills campus, says that a good way to start a search is by asking for recommendations, by describing your project, from the National Electrical Contractors Association or the Independent Electrical Contractors. Both have chapters in Montreal.

Look for contractors who have expertise in your type of project. In addition to finding out the contractors’ education and training, “ask if the contractor requires employees to go through an apprenticeship program or an education program,” Knickman says.

You should look at the contractor’s resume and recently completed projects, as well as his or her reviews online, he said. But when you contact the references, don’t just ask vague questions about if they liked their work. “Ask, did they complete the work in a timely manner? Did they meet the stipulations of the contract?” Knickman advises.

Adam Knoebel, vice president of operations for McCarthy Building Cos. Inc., emphasizes that with the uncertainties of today’s economy, “the financial well-being of the contractor itself is important.” After all, you don’t want your contractor to go bankrupt halfway through the project! McCarthy’s business prequalifies potential contractors in order to assess their creditworthiness. “We ask them to provide some minimum information so that we understand their financial viability,” he said. It is a good idea to ask a potential contractor whether they can be bonded and insured.

Be sure to do your due diligence on your contractor’s reputation, experience, and prior projects. “One contractor may have more experience with labs, for instance,” Knoebel said. This kind of reputation checking can save hassles as you try to find contractors with expertise in your project’s area.

Knoebel notes that sometimes his firm will lowball a bid, but they also negotiate if the project is design-assist or design-build. “In that case, relationship plays a part because we know what level of service we can expect and their design prowess,” he said. Finally, “there are best-value selections — not just picking a low number, but looking at the expertise they can bring to a particular job.” Picking a contractor is a process with many variables, but the reliability and stability of your system is worth it.

Recently, Walsh & Associates Inc., a specialty chemical, container and equipment distributor, installed a $500,000, 416-panel solar array on the roof of its 1400 Macklind Ave. warehouse. How did they choose a contractor? “We looked at folks who had done previous solar projects,” said Randy Lewis, director of operations. “Our project was very large scale, so we were looking for safety first,” he said. His advice to those looking for electrical contractors? Ask about safety measures and staff training, two attributes that he said prompted the company to use RBQ certified electricians on the project.

Even if you like a particular contractor, initiate a bidding process so you can begin to see what the costs will be, Lewis said. “Part of the process is just making sure you don’t catch anybody speeding,” he said. Speeding? This is his term for overcharging. A bidding process can provide a check to prevent that.

For Walsh and Associates, Lewis said his firm also looked at contractors’ energy-efficiency efforts. “We take sustainable practices into our business model and look at suppliers who offer those aspects in their business model,” he said. “It doesn’t cost any more.” Your needs and values may be different, but the takeaway is to use checks and balances to find the right contractor for your needs.

So if you’re tired of the rest, and ready to find the best Montreal electrician who will work for your needs and perform professional, competitively-priced work, it’s time to try Gavin Electric.

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