Minneapolis electrician stresses importance of contractor licensing

Minneapolis electrician stresses importance of contractor licensing

You can save money on projects in lots of ways, like buying cheaper materials and fixtures or reducing the scope.

But when it comes to electrical work, Lois Walters of Gunnar Electric in Eden Prairie says you've got to pay to ensure the work is done right. That means hiring a licensed electrician. "If you make a mistake with a plumbing job, you may flood your basement," she says. "If you make a mistake with electrical work, you can kill your family."

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is responsible for licensing trades that include electricians, roofers, remodelers and contractors, plumbers and gas fitters. Cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul require plumbers, HVAC, general contractors and others to have additional licenses to operate locally. "We want to make sure people are following the laws and meeting the code requirements," says James Honerman, communications director for the DLI.

Both Honerman and Walters agree that if you hire an unlicensed contractor, you're taking a gamble. "Quite often, electrical fires are caused by a homeowner or unlicensed electrician doing the work incorrectly," Walters says.

Electricians, plumbers, roofers, general contractors and remodelers must also pass an exam and show proof of insurance and bond for licensure, and homeowners can complain to the state if the job goes bad. Homeowners also can seek reimbursement from a recovery fund for remodeling and general contracting jobs - up to $75,000 depending on when the work was done and how many claims have been filed against the contractor.

Some of the risks homeowners take get passed on to the next owner, something Angie's List member Joseph Lofgren of Minneapolis knows all too well. His basement circuit kept shorting out, so he called a licensed electrician. "He told me the previous owners had the outlets in the basement redone and didn't ground the circuit," Lofgren says. "I certainly would never attempt to do that level of electrical work or hire someone unlicensed to do it."

He says he paid more than $600 to repair the ungrounded circuit. "That's a hazardous situation and a perfect scenario for a catastrophe," says Walters, when told about Lofgren's experience. "If a permit was pulled for that job, there is no way an inspector would have passed it."

Avoiding the cost of a permit and inspection is a common reason officials say people don't get permits, which can be pulled by the homeowner or by a licensed contractor. Walters says permits can cost $500 or more depending on the job. With the permit comes an inspection to ensure the work meets code.

"I believe it's a lack of understanding that the inspector is simply another set of eyes checking the work," says Sam Sampson, electrical area representative of the DLI. "Electrical inspections are done for the safety of the project, the home, the homes next door, the neighborhood and the community."

You can check the licensing status of companies in the Twin Cities online or by phone. Log in to angieslist.com for more details.

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