Lights flickering? Circuit breaker broken? Outlet on the fritz? It's time to call in a pro! Only the most savvy homeowners should consider a DIY approach to electrical issues. The rest of us -- and that means pretty much all of us -- should make haste to call a licensed electrician. But considering the complexity of most home circuitry, even calling an expert can be an intimidating process.
But it doesn't have to be. Electricians are people, too! Understand how they think -- and the semisecret things they wish all homeowners knew before whipping out the iPhone. So follow these pro-approved tips. Your electrician will thank you. And you'll thank us! (We call this a win-win.)
1. Bad tempers are not cool
You don't have to be best buds with your electrician -- but a good attitude and friendly questions go a long way toward making both parties more comfortable. Yes, electrical problems suck big-time. But do everything you can to keep your frustration private.
"We know when the homeowner is irritated," says Sean Dore, the owner of Mr. Electric in Lafayette, LA. "But the worst customers let the problem get the best of them, and treat us like we caused the problem."
Instead of getting furious about the situation, ask questions. Understanding the root of the issue might help prevent its reoccurrence.
"Showing interest in learning about the things that could be wrong in the home makes a customer awesome," Dore says.
2. Kindness -- and tips -- are never forgotten
Speaking of making your electrician happy: If workers have gone above and beyond, don't be afraid to show them some love (figuratively speaking, that is).
Dore says when his electricians receive tips (or baked goods -- brownies seem to be a particular electrician fave), "they just adore that! They come back and they brag about it. It's very encouraging for them."
And while it's certainly not mandatory, cash is a great way to show appreciation for a job done well. Tips are generally considered not only acceptable, but also desired.
A less obvious but no less fantastic form of gratitude: breakfast.
"I remember -- this is crazy, but it's the truth -- I got to a job one morning, and the family was getting the kids ready for school," Dore says. "They insisted I sit down and eat breakfast with them. I had biscuits and bacon and eggs. Those kinds of relationships are cool."
Cool is good. When electricians feel appreciated, they are likely to do their best work. Right?
3. Buying an old home? Call an electrician first
Old homes present a scary tangle of potential electrical challenges, including faulty wiring, code violations, and broken circuit breakers. Home inspectors can't see inside the walls and may not be trained to spot complex electrical problems. Hiring an electrician early on for a safety inspection prepurchase is the best way to know what kinds of obstacles you face.
Dore says to keep an eye out for common problems such as knob-and-tube wiring common before the '50s ("a fire hazard, seriously no good," he says) or old-style screw-in fuses, which are expensive and difficult to maintain.
4. Go ahead, pay attention to ratings
Word of mouth is the best tool for finding a great electrician, but online ratings come close. It's a valid tool to separate out the maestros from the bottom feeders.
"Look at all their reviews," Dore says. "If it's consistently four or five stars, and a sizable amount of them, they're probably doing pretty well."
If there are only a handful of ratings -- and those are all raves -- that could be a bad sign, too.
"It could have been a mother-in-law," he says.
Another important consideration: How does the company respond to negative reviews? Do it sound professional, or would you bet the reviewer got a lawsuit notice delivered the next day? Even the best companies have disagreements with their customers, so pay careful attention to their reactions.
5. They're not your handyman, tech support, HVAC guy, cable company, or shrink
You might find this surprising (but hopefully not): Electricians deal with electricity, not your appliances, air conditioner, or computer.
"You'd be surprised at how often we get called out to repair appliances or electronics," Dore says. "Even though electronics and electricians sound the same, it's very different."
Another common mistake, Dore says, is thinking an electrician can restore power after an outage.
"We have no ability to do that," he says. "Call the company you're purchasing the electricity from."
6. They're not dummies
Electrical work can be expensive. No one wants to pay a ton of money to figure out why their lights are flickering, but unfortunately it's the way the world works. So don't try to haggle because you think you have some kind of upper hand. And don't ever assume the profession is full of dummies.
"We're sometimes looked at as just 'these dirty tradesman,' but these guys are well-educated and well-trained," Dore says. "People all too often treat them like some grimy guy that's coming to do a simple job."
The electrical field is always changing, requiring new knowledge and skills.
"LED technology is blowing people out of the water," Dore says. "Generally, we're always being re-educated, gaining new abilities, and learning new techniques. We put in the time to learn, and that's what people are paying for -- coming out, finding the problem, and fixing it. Maybe you could have done it after four days of research, but we did it in 45 minutes. And no one got hurt. That's why you paid us."
A large bill might be a pain -- especially when the solution seems so easy -- but be thankful for the expert on your side.