During week 7 of our renovation, we got to the point where we needed an electrician to come in and fix/add quite a few things for us. We made a list of everything that needed to be done and decided to hire a professional. Both my brother and dad have experience with electrical, they’ve played around with it, learned it through books and had the opportunity to watch professionals do it and ask them questions many times over. They are pretty comfortable with it and know what they are doing and how to do it properly making sure to be safe along the way. BUT neither of them had ever done the extend of work needing to be done for us on an older house nonetheless so we all agreed it would probably be safer to hire a professional and worth the extra money.
Being in 2015, having access to the internet and the multitude of TV shows such as Holmes on Homes where Mike Holmes does nothing but warn home owners to choose their contractor/trades wisely, make us, the consumers, more aware and more knowledgeable than ever before. Factor in the fact that I work in the construction industry and spend my days drafting house plans and contacting trades, and you’d think we’d know how to pick an electrician, but we didn’t.
Even though I have many contacts through work, we set out to contact my mom’s uncle first. He is an electrician with many many years of experience in the field who is now retired but still has a valid electrician’s license. He knows what he’s doing plus he’s family. I remember Christmas parties way back from when I was 5 or 6 years old and he’d sit me down on the edge of his knees, hold my hands and make me go on a “horse” ride, moving his knees up and down, making me jump. He’s a jolly man, always cracking jokes and fun to be around. All that to say, we didn’t think twice and simply asked him if he’d be interested in doing the job, assuring him we would pay him to do so.
The scope of work needing to be done was as follows:
- Add 3 outlets for pendant lights above kitchen island on one switch (beside side door);
- Fix movement activated light outside and make sure it is indeed connected to a switch beside the side door;
- Make sure the kitchen sink light fixture is on a 3-way with one switch beside the kitchen window and one beside the side door;
- Add 2 electrical plugs (horizontally) on the half-wall above the kitchen island;
- Make sure the dedicated plug for the refrigerator is where it needs to be;
- Make sure the dedicated plug for the microwave is where it needs to be;
- Add a dedicated plug for the dishwasher;
- Make sure all counter-top plugs are in the proper positions and at the proper distances as per the valid building/electrical codes;
- Add a plug above the pots and pans drawer (between the stove and side door);
- Replace the broken dinning room dimmer;
- Find out what the extra switch at the bottom of the stairs is connected to;
- Find out what is the purpose of the extra wires, not connected in the dinning room switch box (blank side).
He came over to check out what needed to be done, we agreed on a hourly rate and he offered to go buy all the necessary materials for us as he knows what he will need much more than we do. We gratefully agreed as this would save us time and we’d be sure he’d have the proper materials.
The next day I dropped him off a key and he got to work. He made some progress but ended up needing a few more items so he went to the store and came back the next day to finish up the rest of his work. Up to then everything was fine, he called me after the first day to give me an update and he even brought pigtail lights he owned over and connected them in every room so it would be easier for us at night which was really nice of him.
We didn’t hear from him at the end of the second day (as he was there only in the morning), but Lee got to the house in the afternoon and found a letter stating that he couldn’t find what the mysterious wires were connected to, an X amount of money for the materials, another X amount of money for his labor (8.5 hours worth) with a note stating these amounts were “so far” as he was still waiting for my brother to be able to come help him install the pendant lights wires and junction boxes through the attic. Lee snapped a picture of the letter and sent it to me with slight panic as the amount was already a lot more than what we had planned to spend on electrical. Like double what we had planned.
Almost half of the total amount was for materials but he didn’t leave us any receipts for the items he purchased so we had no way of verifying if this amount was correct. He also spend 8.5 hours instead of the 5-6 tops he had originally told us it would take. These items may seem small but when you’re doing this big of a renovation on a first time home buyer’s budget, every penny counts. But hey, the work was done right away and he’s family so to not make this awkward and start a fight, we settled on the fact that we would have to fork out extra money for this and cut elsewhere later on.
Lee started going through the list to make sure everything was done as doing so started sending me picture of a bunch of thing she thought weren’t quite right as indeed they aren’t.
1. For starters, there is no electrical plug for a dishwasher anywhere in sight…
2. He did a really shitty job, clearly not caring about it as he destroyed and ripped the insulation in little pieces instead of simply using a knife to cut the paper and lift the insulation before putting it back in place like a meticulous person would have done, therefore adding costs on our end as we now needed to replace the insulation in this entire section of the house. He also didn’t use the garbage which was in the center of the room, simply leaving pieces of wire, packaging, tape, etc. on the floor as he went. Now I understand on a construction site which has a clean up crew but in a private house, doing work for someone in your family, we found this incredibly disrespectful.
3. The ground wire of this dimmer which isn’t even close to resembling the other dimmer in the dinning room (look/model wise) wasn’t even connected.
4. He used bigger wire for the plugs above the island, as in baseboard heater wire, with standard plugs, which isn’t safe. Also charging us unnecessarily an extra 42$ for this length of wire instead of using the regular white wire from the 150′ roll he made us buy. Which it seems he realized was wrong afterwards as he made us buy a roll of white electrical tape and taped the entire wire from the panel itself all the way to where it disappears into the wall. That in itself was probably the most frightening thing about his work.
5. The blank plate he got to cover the unused wires in the dinning room switch box which he claimed not being able to figure out what they were for was scratched. My brother simply took a few second to read what was written on the wires themselves: “to use only for 3-way installation”. Our dinning room light is not on a 3-way therefore those wires aren’t needed/connected. So simple, it boggles my mind and experienced electrician couldn’t explain that.
6. The switches by the side doors aren’t the same model, the left one turns on/off by pressing left-right whereas the right one turns on/off by pressing up-down. How inconvenient and uncomfortable that is.
7. The wire for an outlet that ended up needing to be moved passes in front of the wall stud rather than through it… I don’t even know how to explain that one…
8. And finally the mysterious switch at the bottom of the staircase which I had asked him to see if he could figure out what it was connected to and he told me he tried but couldn’t… My brother gently pulled on the wire attached to it to make it move as it is passing in the laundry room’s unfinished ceiling in order to see if he could figure out which wire it was on the other side of the wall and follow it to it’s location… And this happened,,, The wire wasn’t connected to anything at all, it went up in the ceiling for maybe an inch or so and was cut right there. This means our electrician didn’t even try to figure it out or he would have immediately told me it wasn’t connected to anything… Makes me wonder how many hours of labor I was charged for him to “look into this” when he didn’t even.
I was furious when I saw this. I’m not an expert but I know enough to know this is wrong. And now what? At this point, we were already over budget, we’d lost all trust in our electrician and didn’t want him touching anything else in our house. We sent pictures and text messages back and forth between myself, Lee, my mom, my brother and my dad. We all agreed the work was horribly done and he should definitely not be back to do more. My brother volunteered to fix and complete the electrical for us which was beyond amazing as we knew that he would do it right and we wouldn’t have to pay more labor only materials.
This whole situation was quite infuriating but we have decided to move past it and simply learn from our mistakes.
What we learned from this:
- Always agree on a set price rather than a hourly wage before agreeing to have work done and request that any extra amount be approved by you before they proceed. This will give you a better control of how much money you will be spending and prevent the good old “I’m paid by the hour so I’ll take my time”. We trusted the time estimate we were originally given and built our budget around it only to be charged 1.5 times the original amount of labor.
- Request that any receipts of materials be given to you and any leftover materials be left for future use. Our electrician bought two different rolls of tape and left with both when we paid for it. These don’t cost much at all but it’s an extra few dollars we could have saved as we ended up needing to go buy some shortly after. He also made a mistake of 40$ in his favor while adding the different receipts together, getting a copy of those before paying him ended up saving us that 40$.
- Don’t hire family. Even though he originally gave us a good price for the job, it ended up costing a lot more and the job done is really shitty which now puts us into a bad position as not paying him or talking negatively about his work could offend other family members and create an unnecessary divide. We paid him in full just so this could stay between us as I didn’t want it to cause any issues with other family members but I am definitely not happy about it. It would have been much easier to tell a contractor that I refused to pay due to the shitty quality of the work than it is with a family member.
- Have someone there while they work. Had we refused to let him in the house without one of us present, we would have been better positioned to confirm the amount of time he spent working as well as keep a close eye at the quality of what was being done and could have told him to stop mid-way and got someone else to come finish rather than be stuck dealing with it afterwards, wasting more time and money.
- Be very specific with what you want. I didn’t think it was a necessity for me to mention that the dimmers and switches should all be the same, perhaps if I had specifically mentioned it he would have paid closer attention to those details.