Dear Mr. Electrician: I want to get a bunch of electrical projects done around my house. I talked to several licensed electrical contractors about the work. I told each one that I would pay for the materials and that they should just figure on furnishing labor and tools. None of the electrical contractors were receptive to my plan. Why do you think that was? Are materials a big profit maker for electricians?
Answer: 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 I think in this instance you are better off letting the contractor provide the materials.
Purchasing Material for the Contractor
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 his or her suppliers. Marking up the materials will raise the bid price. As part of the bid the contractor will need to cover the cost for picking up the materials and delivering them to the job site. This is something that you can offer to do for the contractor which will save him or her time. The order can be called in to the supply company by the contractor and you can go and pick the materials up. However in some instances a truck will be required for larger items such as conduit.
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 the materials and bring them to the job doesn’t work well for the homeowner or for the contractor. I can speak from my own experiences on this matter. Each time that I agreed to this arrangement it actually took longer to complete the job and cost the homeowner more money.
Homeowner Buys the Materials
In a typical homeowner buys material situation I would have to take the time to write a neatly written or a 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 electrical supply companies in the area. Normally for myself I would just 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 then have to wait for him to go pick up everything in his spare time. When he had gathered all of the materials I would get a call that everything is ready and I could come over to do the work.
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 that you told me to go are 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 that I went to doesn’t have those parts.”
– “I sent my wife, but she could not lift the heavy stuff.”
– “The supply company that you told me to go to would not negotiate a better price so I went somewhere else.”
– “I bought less wire because I did not think that you would need a full roll.”
– “When I explained to the guy at the supply company the work that was going to be done he said that we didn’t need those items and gave me these instead”.
As a result of not having all of the needed materials initially, I had to break away from the job and go 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.