Tips for saving money when hiring an electrician?


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Old 07-28-14, 08:03 AM
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Tips for saving money when hiring an electrician?

I just purchased my first condo, built in 1970, which Im currently in the process of renovating. Im at the point where I need to find an electrician for a list of maintenance and upgrades I'd like to have done. I've had a couple offer to do side work, but the HOA mandates they be licensed and insured (which I'd prefer anyhow!). I don't have a large budget, but I'm not 'cheap', I won't cut corners to save a buck.

Here's the electrical list:
  1. Inspect breaker box, replace if needed (1970 Square D box).
  2. Replace bathroom exhaust fan. Access to attic crawl space.
  3. Install 7 can lights (kitchen, living room, and hall). Access to attic crawl space.
  4. Wire office outlets to their own breaker, if needed.
  5. Install power outlet in closet next to TV. Separate breaker, if needed.
  6. Relocate bedroom power outlet for TV (raise 5 feet, same stud).
  7. Relocate living room power outlet for TV (raise 5 feet, same stud).
  8. Install new power outlet in bedroom closet.
  9. Install new power outlet in office closet.

Here's the low voltage list:
  1. Relocate coax panel to closet next to TV
  2. Install HDMI panel in closet next to TV
  3. Install HDMI panel behind TV
My Questions
  1. I've heard the markup on electrical materials is very high, and that I should provide my own. Is this a good idea? Will this piss off my contractor? Are there specific things I should provide, and things I should let him provide?
  2. Since there's quite a bit of work here, I should be able to have the work performed under contract rather than T&M, right? I'd really prefer they stick with the quote, and it seems this is the way to go. Any advice here?
  3. Do most electricians charge for travel time? If so, I should factor their location into my selection process, right?
  4. Should I hire a separate low voltage guy, or have the electrician do the work?
  5. I'm pretty handy, and I have free time I could use to help, if it'd make the job cheaper. Is this an option?
  6. Do you have any sort of ballpark as to what I should expect to pay for this?

Thanks in advance!
 
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Old 07-28-14, 08:24 AM
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Square d type qo is the best panel you could have. Look inside ...tighten all screws.....
 
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Old 07-28-14, 08:59 AM
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Square d type qo is the best panel you could have. Look inside ...tighten all screws.....
Why are you suggesting this person open up their breaker box and stick a screwdriver inside a live panel ?!! That's pretty irresponsible and dangerous advice no?

FOr the OP, the cost of electrical work will vary greatly around the country. You'll need to get a few estimates from the local contractors, that is the only answer that will really help you with looking for a price. Plus the scope of your "to-do" list is impossible to judge without seeing what you have there.
 
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Old 07-28-14, 09:06 AM
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Also when you get your estimates, ask the contractor if there are things you can do to lower the price like maybe drill holes, pull the cables or install boxes. Pretty much you can do any of the work as long as the licensed contractor is willing to sign off on it.
 
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Old 07-28-14, 09:10 AM
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Pretty much you can do any of the work as long as the licensed contractor is willing to sign off on it.
I don't know of many electricians who are going to warrant their customers handywork. If your going to hire a professional, let the professional perform his craft. All this will do is likely increase the time the electrician will be there having to work with an amature installation.
 
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Old 07-28-14, 09:19 AM
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Maybe it's a southern thing but I know several electrical contractors that will work with their customers. The contractor will specify how the homeowner is to do the work and charge extra if he has to fix something the homeowner did wrong although most will balk at having someone else do any actual hooking up of circuits or devices.
 
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Old 07-28-14, 09:21 AM
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Thanks guys, calling for quotes is my plan a little later today. I made the post hoping I could get some insight before I talk to the electricians. I'd like to know what to expect, or at least know enough to spot dishonesty (though this is doubtful, I'm calling reputable places).
 
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Old 07-28-14, 09:29 AM
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The best ways to find someone reputable and honest is, no. 1, ask other people who they've used and would recommend, and no. 2, is to find someone local. Most towns, neighborhoods or whatever's in your area, have a local newspaper and/or phonebook. Just look for someone that's lives in your area and has been around for years.
 
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Old 07-28-14, 06:20 PM
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I just purchased my first condo, built in 1970, which Im currently in the process of renovating.
Apartments and condominiums are typically built to the minimum standards and at the very lowest cost possible. Was your condo wired with aluminum wire. 1970 was right in the middle of the period where aluminum wiring was used pretty extensively. IF you have aluminum wiring, you need to add quite a lot to your list just for safety and to prevent a possible fire. I hope you had a disclosure statement from the previous owner.

When you are choosing a contractor just remember, the cheapest price isn't always the lowest cost.
 
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Old 07-28-14, 06:25 PM
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I have no idea, I bought the condo as a foreclosure from Fannie Mae. I don't believe cheap materials were used, as the place was quite nice. The 'complex' of 12 units was purchased as a whole, completely renovated, then sold as individual units in 2007. I listed 1970 because I have no idea to what extent the renovation replaced the original construction (still have the original breaker box).
 
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Old 07-28-14, 07:36 PM
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I have no idea, I bought the condo as a foreclosure from Fannie Mae.
You have your first homework assignment. Before you go any further, you need to determine if aluminum wiring was used. Back at that time, aluminum wiring wasn't known to be an inferior product and was used in a lot of very nice homes as a cost saving measure without the knowledge of all the problems it would present. You need to either remove the panel cover yourself or have someone who is competent to remove it and determine if aluminum wiring is in your condo. Here is a link to a website that will tell you about the hazards of aluminum wiring to stress the importance of knowing what you have.

Aluminum Wiring Hazards: The Aluminum Wiring Repair Website - How to Identify and Repair Aluminum Wiring in buildings

It wouldn't surprise me if Fannie Mae unloaded a property with aluminum wiring with no disclosure.
 
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Old 07-29-14, 06:06 PM
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I've heard the markup on electrical materials is very high, and that I should provide my own. Is this a good idea?
We do not markup materials except if it is a special order type item, or if we have to spend a lot of time finding it. Normally if you provide the material you will only save on the material cost, which in most cases, is only 1/4 of the job cost. Also most homeowners get the wrong material, or buy the cheapest stuff (IE: cans) and it is more difficult to install then the preferred parts, so you pay more for labor. Only exception would be the bath fan, you should buy that.

Since there's quite a bit of work here, I should be able to have the work performed under contract rather than T&M, right? I'd really prefer they stick with the quote, and it seems this is the way to go. Any advice here?
You will do better on T&M if you can trust the contractor to charge you for real time. If I look at your job, I would bid it worst case scenario so that I don't lose money and hope for the best. On T&M you are paying for real time and real material. I make much more money bidding jobs. You could do T&M and have them give you a not to exceed number.

Do most electricians charge for travel time?
Yes, and no. It will be in the cost, both bid and T&M. Your paying for it either way. T&M they will just adjust their hourly rate to cover it.

Should I hire a separate low voltage guy, or have the electrician do the work? I'm pretty handy, and I have free time I could use to help, if it'd make the job cheaper. Is this an option?
You should do the low voltage. Low voltage guys are about the same cost as real* electricians. Some cases they do not need to be licensed.

Do you have any sort of ballpark as to what I should expect to pay for this?
Labor rates vary over the US, but you should expect something in the neighborhood of $2500 IMO. Mind you I have not seen the job.


*(Calm down, that was a joke )
 
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Old 08-01-14, 08:44 AM
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So I went and took some photos of the wiring behind the shower surround I removed. This was in an interior wall, between the kitchen and the bathroom. It's all Romex with a 2005 date, but that's just a portion of the house wiring. I'll remove the panel cover next time I'm there and see if I can see anything for more information.

Wiring - Imgur

A question I asked elsewhere that I'd also like to ask here, is there any reason to replace this Square D breaker box 'because it's old'?

imgur: the simple image sharer
imgur: the simple image sharer
imgur: the simple image sharer
imgur: the simple image sharer
 
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Old 08-01-14, 09:17 AM
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Square D QO has had the same design for many years. I see no compelling reason to change out what you have unless it is too small to meet your needs.
 
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Old 08-01-14, 01:13 PM
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A question I asked elsewhere that I'd also like to ask here, is there any reason to replace this Square D breaker box 'because it's old'?
That looks like a split bus panel, do you have a main disconnect breaker outside somewhere, maybe at the meter? Please investigate that and also post a picture of the panel with the cover removed. IF there is no main breaker outside or at another location to shut off the power....and....IF this is indeed a split bus panel then I would definitely recommend replacing it. If you notice the breaker at the top left marked "MAIN", it is just a 50 amp 2 pole breaker, that breaker does not shut off the power to this entire panel, but it MIGHT shut off the power to the lower lighting section.
 
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Old 08-01-14, 01:32 PM
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FYI, you can probably get a replacement cover if the multi-layer paint doesn't suit your decor requirements.
 
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Old 08-07-14, 07:30 PM
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So I got my first quote, lots of great information. The best news is that the electrician saw no reason to replace the Square D breaker box, though a little re-arranging of the breakers is in order. Some of the things in the quote seem high, especially considering there will be no clean up on their part, I'll be fixing and painting the drywall afterward, and the place is completely empty.

Here's how the quote broke down:

1. Install an outlet, on a new circuit, directly under the breaker panel in the office. - $225
2. Install a new outlet in the office closet, directly behind a bedroom outlet, on the same circuit. - $175
3. Install a new outlet in the bedroom closet, directly behind a living room outlet, on the same circuit. - $175
4. Install a new outlet in the bedroom, 3 feet above an existing outlet, same circuit. - $200
5. Install a new outlet in the living room closet and eye level on the wall next to the closet, new circuit (this is the only new pull). - $750
6. Install five can lights in the kitchen, four can lights in the living room, and one can light in the hall, wired to existing switches/circuits, with attic access. - $3125
7. Move CATV jack to living room closet, run HDMI from living room wall to living room closet. - $450

What do you guys think?

I have a couple more estimates scheduled for the week of 8/18.
 
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Old 08-08-14, 07:21 AM
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It's extremely difficult to make a judgement without seeing the physical structure and knowing what local labor rates may be. Just compare this estimate to the next one and you should have a better idea of how competitive it is.

Did you find out if you have an outside disconnect ahead of the panel, but after the meter? Did you find out if the existing wiring is aluminum?
 
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Old 08-08-14, 08:05 AM
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I'm surprised this forum doesn't have a quote button under a persons post.

That looks like a split bus panel, do you have a main disconnect breaker outside somewhere, maybe at the meter? Please investigate that and also post a picture of the panel with the cover removed. IF there is no main breaker outside or at another location to shut off the power....and....IF this is indeed a split bus panel then I would definitely recommend replacing it. If you notice the breaker at the top left marked "MAIN", it is just a 50 amp 2 pole breaker, that breaker does not shut off the power to this entire panel, but it MIGHT shut off the power to the lower lighting section.
It's extremely difficult to make a judgement without seeing the physical structure and knowing what local labor rates may be. Just compare this estimate to the next one and you should have a better idea of how competitive it is.

Did you find out if you have an outside disconnect ahead of the panel, but after the meter? Did you find out if the existing wiring is aluminum?
Sorry, I thought I had replied to your original post as well. I really do appreciate your help.

From what I've read, it is a split bus panel, and there should be a main breaker near the meter for each of the units. I have not confirmed this yet, but I will try to do so soon. What you're saying makes perfect sense. He said I'd have to flip all six of those "main disconnect" breakers to turn the power off to everything in the unit, so that first "main" breaker probably does only control the lower circuits. He also said someone cheated with the breakers in 10 and 12, and that it should be a dual pole breaker.

He said with a little re-arranging at the panel, he'd be able to add two new circuits. One of the circuits would be for my office equipment/computers, with a single outlet directly below the panel. The other circuit would be for a new outlet in the living room closet and high up on the wall next to it, for my AV and wall-mount TV.

I didn't find any aluminum wire, only Romex dated 2005, but I'll remove the cover of the panel either today or Sunday and snap a photo.

FYI, you can probably get a replacement cover if the multi-layer paint doesn't suit your decor requirements.
I'll certainly be replacing that cover
 
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Old 08-08-14, 08:19 AM
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I didn't find any aluminum wire, only Romex dated 2005, but I'll remove the cover of the panel either today or Sunday and snap a photo.
Aluminum wire should be easy to identify once the panel cover is removed.

I'll certainly be replacing that cover
I seriously doubt the cover is still available. At that time, Square D sold the cover/door separately from the basic panel so you could purchase either a flush or surface cover for your panel. There should be a catalog number somewhere for the cover/door and it's usually on the label inside the door, but I didn't see it in the picture you already posted. Check the label inside the panel box for that information.
 
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Old 08-08-14, 08:26 AM
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Aluminum wire should be easy to identify once the panel cover is removed.
Good to hear.

I seriously doubt the cover is still available. At that time, Square D sold the cover/door separately from the basic panel so you could purchase either a flush or surface cover for your panel. There should be a catalog number somewhere for the cover/door and it's usually on the label inside the door, but I didn't see it in the picture you already posted. Check the label inside the panel box for that information.
Ah, I was hoping there would be a standard size for these doors, so they could interchange. I wonder if there are any creative ways to refinish them.
 
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Old 08-08-14, 08:33 AM
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Ah, I was hoping there would be a standard size for these doors, so they could interchange. I wonder if there are any creative ways to refinish them.

Angle grinder with a wirewheel and spray paint works well. You can pick the hinges apart.
 
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Old 08-08-14, 09:11 AM
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I'm surprised this forum doesn't have a quote button under a persons post.
There used to be quote button but it was mis used by too many folks requiring the mods to clean up after them. The way it's set up now makes life easier and pretty much stops unneeded or unintended quotes.
 
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Old 08-09-14, 06:28 AM
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Ah, I was hoping there would be a standard size for these doors, so they could interchange. I wonder if there are any creative ways to refinish them.
The covers and doors by Square D usually fit just a few panel catalog numbers. I've never tried to refinish one, but think paint stripper and a wire wheel might be helpful. You wouldn't need to strip the entire thing, but mostly just where the wall paint has covered it. The factory gray finish can be painted over.
 
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Old 08-09-14, 06:42 AM
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I've painted numerous panel doors over the years, mostly to make them match the wall color. All you need to do is make sure it's clean, sanded smooth [prime if down to bare metal] and apply a coat or two of an oil base enamel.
 
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Old 08-09-14, 06:58 AM
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Good to know, Joe.

I removed the cover yesterday, here are the photos.













 
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Old 08-09-14, 08:12 AM
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It looks like your condo is an all conduit job with copper TW conductors and probably THW service wiring. The aluminum wiring jobs I have seen are always NM cables and SEU cables. Never have I seen nor do I believe aluminum TW was ever pulled into conduit. I cannot even say for sure if there was such a thing as aluminum TW wire. Now, have you found a main disconnect breaker near the meter?
 
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Old 08-09-14, 09:20 AM
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Is that decent?;

I haven't yet, but I'll be looking for it tomorrow when I'm over there.
 
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Old 08-09-14, 10:25 AM
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Definitely a split bus panel. The top 6 breakers (3 each side) are your mains.
 
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Old 08-11-14, 11:13 AM
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I just had my second guy come out for an estimate, though I won't know what it is for a day or two. He pretty much said the same things as the first guy, as far as how they'd go about doing the work. He said they usually don't have a breaker by the box, and that those should be my mains.

The one thing he mentioned that was different than the first guy is that it'd be easier for them to punch the new can lights through the ceiling from below, rather than installing them from above. Wouldn't this take longer?
 
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Old 08-11-14, 02:13 PM
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The one thing he mentioned that was different than the first guy is that it'd be easier for them to punch the new can lights through the ceiling from below, rather than installing them from above. Wouldn't this take longer?
No. Using remodel cans is faster in an existing ceiling and would likely not require having to go up into an attic. Also it is easier to find the framing, and then cut the hole from below, and fish cable from hole to hole. With remodel cans you can be almost right next to the framing. With new construction cans you can not.
 
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Old 08-11-14, 02:40 PM
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Good to hear! Thanks for the clarification
 
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Old 08-11-14, 07:00 PM
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He said they usually don't have a breaker by the box, and that those should be my mains.
He didn't look? Have you looked? Do you know where your meter is?
 
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Old 08-20-14, 12:32 PM
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I received a few more quotes, two of which I feel are much closer to what I was thinking. I'm leaning toward this company. They're not the cheapest, but like I said, price is only one factor in all of this.

They looked but could not find a dedicated main for the power coming into the unit. They said the six top breakers are my mains, and that it's common for this area.

Here's the quote, what do you think?

Breaker Panel Improvements: 270.00
Remove the old circuit breakers from the existing Square D QO style panel located in the bedroom.
Replace with modern circuit breakers for the best circuit protection.
Relocate the two single breakers that are in the mains section of the panel. Install a two pole breaker to
replace it for code compliance.
Electrician: 1X2p20,2X1p15,1X2p503X2p30,1X2p40
Provide tighten and torque of the breakers and grounding/neutral connections within the breaker panel.

Whole System Surge Suppressor - Recommended Option (QO style with two 15a twins required.): 200.00
Install a surge suppression device to protect an investment in your electronic equipment and appliances
including computers, DVRs, televisions, LED lighting,
audio equipment, video games, portable device chargers, laundry equipment, heating and air conditioning
systems, kitchen appliances and more.

Dedicated Circuit For A/V: 190.00
Install a dedicated 120 volt grounded circuit and a duplex receptacle to serve the upper shelf area of the
small closet in the living room.
As the circuit breaker panel is full, this will require a twin breaker.

Living Room Recessed LED Lighting: 735.00
Provide and install four recessed light fixtures (see notes below) to serve the living room.
Provide connections to the existing wall switch location. The wall switch currently serves a duplex wall receptacle.
Replace the wall switch with a white Lutron Maestro dimmer switch.

Kitchen Recessed LED Lighting: 960.00
Provide and install three recessed light fixtures (see notes below) to serve the kitchen.
Provide and install two recessed light fixtures (see notes below) to serve the kitchen island.
Disconnect the existing pair of kitchen ceiling light fixtures and prepare the openings for sheetrock repair by others.
Provide connections to the two existing wall switch locations for each of the two groups of recessed lighting.
Replace the wall switches (2) with white Lutron Maestro dimmer switches.

Hallway Recessed LED Lighting: 170.00
Remove the existing ceiling light fixture from the central hallway.
Provide and install one recessed light fixture (see notes below) to replace the existing light fixture.
Provide connections to the existing switch location for the new recessed fixture.
The existing white toggle switch will remain at this location.

Permit: 95.00
Provide an electrical permit for the scope of work as described.

Notes:
"Recessed light fixtures" are 6" diameter. Each with an energy efficient dimmable LED module with regressed lens and white trim ring.
We are careful not to disturb the existing sheetrock and/or plaster. Sometimes those surfaces are disturbed during our work. Repairs are not included.
It is presumed that the attic is clear of obstructions and offers access to the areas required for the installations as described.

Total: $2620
 
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Old 08-20-14, 03:17 PM
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Breaker Panel Improvements: 270.00
Remove the old circuit breakers from the existing Square D QO style panel located in the bedroom.
Replace with modern circuit breakers for the best circuit protection.
Relocate the two single breakers that are in the mains section of the panel. Install a two pole breaker to
replace it for code compliance.
Electrician: 1X2p20,2X1p15,1X2p503X2p30,1X2p40
Provide tighten and torque of the breakers and grounding/neutral connections within the breaker panel.
Square D QO style are modern circuit breakers ....i would not spend money to replace the best with new.....other than for code compliance.
"QO" breakers (the newer type with the square washer under the screw on the breaker.......such as the ones in spaces 10 and 12)may have 2 of the same size wires.

Whole System Surge Suppressor - Recommended Option (QO style with two 15a twins required.): 200.00
Install a surge suppression device to protect an investment in your electronic equipment and appliances
including computers, DVRs, televisions, LED lighting,
audio equipment, video games, portable device chargers, laundry equipment, heating and air conditioning
systems, kitchen appliances and more.
a Whole System Surge Suppressor will only word if your ground rod has a resistance of under 25 ohms. NEC 250.54


the other looks OK ..we get about 200.00 per can on the low end.

200.00 per outlet.
 
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Old 08-20-14, 07:05 PM
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Square D QO style are modern circuit breakers ....i would not spend money to replace the best with new.....other than for code compliance.
I agree with this, new QO circuit breakers of the same type are not necessary and an unnecessary expense as long as the spring tension gripping the bus bars is still good. One of the few QO breaker failures I have seen was an outdoor panel where all the breakers were loose on the bus due to them losing their spring tension.

Did he mention his warranty? I don't see it in the work description.
 
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Old 08-21-14, 08:09 AM
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That's very good to know! He said he recommends replacing breakers every 20-30 years, and these are the originals from 1970. From what I understand, he'd be replacing all the dual pole mains (1/3, 2/4, 5/7, 6/8), moving the two newer singles in 10/12 to replace it with a real dual pole main, and replacing the older singles.

What's the cost of new Square D breakers? I'm not cheap, I'm the type of person that would have a pro replace items 'while they're in there'. However, I can't afford to toss twenties into the street. Is there any benefit to following his recommendation, at all?

Can I expect him to test my ground, for the whole home system? Do the systems have some way of indicating whether they're functioning properly (maybe by measuring ohms themselves)?

He didn't mention his warranty, but I'll be sure to ask! What should I expect? And should it cover parts (purchased through him) and labor?

I want to thank everyone again for their help, I've learned so much.
 
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Old 08-21-14, 12:49 PM
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He didn't mention his warranty, but I'll be sure to ask! What should I expect? And should it cover parts (purchased through him) and labor?
A 1 year warranty on labor and materials is pretty typical, but some manufacurers may offer a long warranty such as Square D. Their QO series panels and breakers carry a lifetime warranty. Something I didn't think to ask about before was about arc fault protection and ground fault protection, I didn't see anything in the quote. Do you know what the requirements would be in your area? Square D now makes a dual AFCI/GFCI breaker that reduces costs when meeting the newest codes.
 
 

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