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How to Hire to Wire

When your home was built, were televisions, home computers and microwave ovens even invented yet? On average, people today have more high-tech appliances and electrical products – which draw more power and require more outlets – than in the past.

How do you know if your home is properly wired or in need or repairs or upgrades? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your home 40 years old or more?
  • Are you “piggybacking” plugs or using plug strips because you don’t have enough outlets?
  • Do you have only 100-amp service at your breaker box? (Generally, homes today need 200-amp service – some larger homes even require 400-amp service.)
  • Do you have two-hole instead of grounded (three-hole) outlets?
  • Do your lights frequently dim or brighten when you turn on appliances?
  • Do you have outlets near water – in your kitchen, bath, laundry room, basement or outdoors – that are not GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) equipped?
  • Do your circuit breakers trip or fuses blow frequently?
  • Do you have aluminum wiring?
  • Do you have knob and tube wiring (also known as rope and pole)?
  • Do you ever feel a tingling sensation when you plug in or unplug electrical equipment?*
  • Do you ever see sparks or smoke at your outlets?*
  • Do you ever notice a burning smell around outlets or switches?*
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s a good idea to consult with an electrician. Electrical problems can not only result in damage to your computer, TV, appliances and other electrical equipment, but they can also cause fires.

*WARNING! If you answered yes to any of these last three questions, call an electrician immediately – these are dangerous warning signs!

Choosing an electrician

A great place to start is with personal recommendations. Have neighbors or relatives had electrical work performed recently and would they use that electrician again? You could also look in the phone book and see who has been in business a long time – that’s often a good sign of a reliable contractor. Make sure they are licensed, bonded and insured. It doesn’t hurt to check with the Better Business Bureau, too.

When hiring any contractor, it makes sense to get several estimates. Make sure you’re clear on the terms. Do they charge an hourly rate or a flat bid? Do they charge travel time? If the company sends more than one electrician, is the hourly charge per person? But when making the final decision, don’t just go for the low bid – consider qualifications and experience, your personal impressions and references from happy customers.

For more information, read the “Bringing in an Electrician” article on the This Old House web site.