"Hello? I'm having electrical problems, and I was wondering if you provide a free electrical estimate."
It's a question we get all the time. In fact, it's a question all electrical contractors get—almost daily. In a nutshell, our answer at Clements Electric is, "No, not if we have to come out." But we'd like to lay a little foundation first.
While it might seem like a simple yes or no question, it isn't simple every time. We believe that good communication is a great start, so in this article, we'll answer the question, "Do electricians give free estimates?"
The answer to that question will vary from one contractor to the next, and we know we don't speak for everybody. But we want to sum up the general sentiment in the industry as we see it.
How Much Will It Cost?
First, asking about cost is a completely reasonable question. Nobody likes surprises when it comes to a contractor's invoice. We get that. You want to know in advance, at least as close as possible.
For most electrical contractors, when we get a call and hear, "How much will it cost?", the first thought is, "We really need something to base it on." We need to know what the job is.
Here at Clements Electric, like many contractors, we provide two kinds of service: Installation and Troubleshooting. And they are very different animals.
Installations involve things like adding a few outlets to your home, installing a backup generator, changing out a breaker panel, etc. Those are relatively easy to estimate. We know the average time it will take, and we know the cost of materials.
On the other hand, troubleshooting involves an issue you're having that needs figured out. A flickering light, a small shock when you touch the dishwasher, a tripping breaker, etc.
Those are completely different situations because we can't do it over the phone. We can ask questions and narrow it down, but we can't determine the problem until we find it. It could be a loose connection (an easy fix, once we find it), or it may involve replacing something (once we find it).
Electrical Estimate vs. Electrical Quote
For installation or upgrade, a contractor can give a pretty accurate electrical estimate. Many times, they'll still want to come out and have a look before giving a quote to make sure there's nothing unusual that might throw the labor estimate off.
The first number, usually given over the phone, is an estimate. Once the contractor has come to the site, they can usually give a firm number. That number is a quote.
When it comes to troubleshooting though, there are too many variables to give an easy answer. There's an old joke in business about when a customer asks about cost but there's nothing to base it on, it's like asking, "How long is a piece of string?" Silly, right?
The fact is, we don't know what the electrical problem is until we actually do some work to figure it out. And contractors have to charge for their work. So what's the solution?
Time and Materials
For troubleshooting, what many contractors do is to charge a flat fee per hour. It will often include the first hour of work to find the problem, and then so much per hour after that.
This way, a contractor is protected from doing a bunch of work for free, because everyone has agreed to a known number (per hour), but the hours are unknown. An experienced contractor may be able to give you a price range up front, based on what their experience.
For example, they may say, "It's a common problem, and in most cases, we see anywhere from 1-3 hours to track it down. Based on that, we estimate between X and Y dollars, plus parts if needed."
In most construction and skilled-trade industries, this method of charging for the unknown is called Time and Materials.
Keep in mind that it's not at all uncommon for a contractor to have a small charge for an estimate. Especially on smaller jobs where they have to drive to you to do the estimate.
The reason is that they are charging for their time. Time is the lifeblood of their business. But they will absorb that cost if you accept the estimate.
The Element of Trust
It can be a little unnerving when hiring an electrical contractor you don't know. So the natural question to ask is, "Can I trust that this company won't take advantage of me?" Here are a few clues to know if you can trust your contractor.
Are they experienced? How long have they been doing electrical work?
Are they licensed and bonded? In the electrical field, this is a must.
What's their "bedside manner?" Are they willing to talk to you professionally and ask questions about your issue?
Check review sites, like Home Advisor or Angie's List and look for good reviews from other customers. These sites are also a good source for finding electrician costs.
Are they up-front about pricing?'
Trust is the magic word here. See if they are willing to talk to you and put your concerns to rest. Any company wanting to earn your business should be willing to do that.
The Bottom Line
In the end, getting an electrical estimate for upgrades and installations is often straightforward and done at minimal charge. But when it comes to trying to hunt down a problem, be prepared to pay for time and materials.
Clements Electric has been in business since 1982. We work hard to earn and keep our customers' trust, and our customer reviews prove it. Our dedication to good service has won us the Angie's List Super Service Award five years in a row.
If you're wondering about electrical inspection cost, an electrical upgrade or simply need an electrical estimate, you can book us online or give us a call at 817-673-7984. One of our friendly professionals will be happy to help!