Do It Yourself is an option for most home improvement and repair projects. But most of us pull the plug on DIY electrical work, and for good reason. It’s a dangerous task — and not only because of the shock hazards you can create while doing the job. If you do it poorly, you can also create fire or health hazards.

Unfortunately, you’ll face the same dangers if you hire the wrong electrician, so you’ll want to choose carefully. Fortunately, there’s good news: You don’t have to pay premium prices for premium electrical service.

In its evaluation of local electricians, Washington Consumers’ Checkbook surveyed customers, and its undercover shoppers collected price quotes on an array of carefully specified jobs. Many of the companies rated highly by their customers for service were also among the lowest priced. In fact, companies that received Checkbook’s top rating for quality were more likely to charge low prices than companies with lower ratings.

Until June 15, Checkbook is offering free access to its ratings of area electricians to Washington Post readers via this link:

Keep in mind that in some cases, companies with high prices on some jobs have low prices on others. Bottom line: You can save a bundle by getting at least two bids on electrical work, and better yet to get three, especially for larger jobs. Even for small jobs, it’s worth your time to shop around.

For example, Checkbook’s shoppers found that among local electrical contractors:

  • To replace a ceiling light fixture with a customer-supplied new ceiling fan with light attachment, prices ranged from $150 to $525.
  • Prices for replacing six wall outlet receptacles and one light switch with new outlets and wall plates ranged from $125 to $729.
  • To install a customer-supplied outdoor floodlight, prices ranged from $125 to $482.

Whenever possible, Checkbook recommends you get a fixed-price bid for home improvement jobs. If you know exactly what needs to be done, you can get estimates over the phone or via email (details and photos or videos will be helpful). For very large or complicated jobs, an electrician may need to evaluate the project in person. For small installations and many repair jobs, you might have to pay on a time-and-materials basis. If so, to avoid price surprises, ask these questions up front:

  • Is there a minimum charge for a service call? What does it cover?
  • After the minimum charge, how much will I pay per hour of work?
  • What time units are used: quarter hours, half hours? How much is charged per time unit, and are fractions of units rounded to the nearest unit or to the next higher unit?

Of course, price isn’t the only factor when it comes to electrical work. You want work done carefully and safely. Be careful when selecting a firm; the customer ratings Checkbook collected varied widely on overall quality and in completing work on time.

Avoid paying a down payment even for large jobs. The more money you can withhold until the end of the job, the more leverage you’ll have to make sure the job is done well and according to your agreement. If possible, pay by credit card. If you are dissatisfied, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.

Finally, whatever firm you choose, be sure ask for proof that it is licensed and carries both liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

Kevin Brasler is executive editor of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook and, a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. See Checkbook’s ratings of local electricians free of charge until June 15 at

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