Homeowner Purchases Materials For the Contractor

Dear Mr. Electrician: What happens when the homeowner purchases materials for the contractor?   I talked to several licensed electrical contractors about working on my house.  I told each one that I would pay for the materials and that they should just figure out furnishing labor and tools.  None of the electrical contractors were receptive to my plan.  Why do you think that was?

Answer: Based on my personal experiences, I do not always think it is a good idea that a homeowner purchases materials for the contractor.

From time to time, I get that request from customers.  I am always willing to work with someone to help them save a few bucks, but in this instance, you are better off letting the contractor provide the materials.

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The photo at the top depicts what happens when someone without experience or the correct knowledge purchases electrical materials.  Metal armored cable should never be used with plastic electrical boxes, only metal boxes and fittings.


On a bid job such as yours, the profit on materials for a contractor is low.  If the contractor wants that job, he/she will try and get the lowest prices possible on materials from suppliers.  Marking up the materials will raise the bid price.

As part of the bid, the contractor must cover the cost of picking up the materials and delivering them to the job site.  You can offer to do this for the contractor, saving him or her time.  The contractor can call the order into the supply company, and you can go and pick the materials up.  However, a truck is sometimes required for larger items such as electrical conduits.

A problem with this arrangement is that sometimes the supply company makes a mistake, and items are omitted from the original order.  Also, some items could be out of stock.  You will not know what is missing or what could be substituted until your electrical contractor shows up to do the work.

Offering to buy and bring the materials to the job doesn’t always work well for the homeowner or contractor.  I can speak from my own experiences on this matter.  Each time I agreed to this arrangement, it took longer to complete the job and cost the homeowner more money.


In a typical homeowner buys material situation, I would have to take the time to write a neatly written or typed detailed list giving quantities, names, part numbers, and descriptions of the items that I need.  I would also give the homeowner names, addresses, and phone numbers of a few local electrical supply companies.

Normally for myself, I would jot some abbreviated things down on a scratch piece of paper and call in my list to the supply company.

After providing the list of electrical materials to the homeowner, I would have to wait for him to pick up everything in his spare time.  When he had gathered all the materials, I would get a call that everything was ready, and I could come over to do the work.

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I get over to the job site, ready to complete it as quickly as possible, and find that some key material items that were on my list are not there.  The homeowner tells me one or more of the following (Please note that these are all true experiences of mine):

– “I only had time on the weekend, and the places you told me to go were not open then, so I went to a local hardware store instead.  This is all that they had”

– “I could not fit the bigger items in my car.”

– “I didn’t know what some of the things were.”

– “The place I went to doesn’t have those parts.”

– “I sent my wife, but she could not lift the heavy stuff.”

– “The supply company you told me to go to would not negotiate a better price, so I went elsewhere.”

– “I bought less wire because I did not think you would need a full roll.”

– “When I explained to the guy at the supply company the work that would be done, he said that we didn’t need those items and gave me these instead.”

As a result of not having all the needed materials initially, I had to leave the job and pick up some of the previously requested supplies.  Sometimes this lengthened the entire project by a day or more and screwed up my schedule.  I also charged additional time for material pick-up because it was now an “Extra” since it was not part of our original agreement.

Something else to consider when a contractor does not furnish the materials, he/she does not offer any warranty on materials that they did not bring to the job.  In other words if an item that you furnished failed prematurely, you would have to pay for the labor as well as the material cost to have the problem corrected.

My post on using cheap foreign labor to work on your home might be of interest.

You may benefit from reading my post on finishing a basement.

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