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View Full Version : So I can't work on my own house?


Whiteknight
05-21-2008, 05:53 AM
This isn't really pit-worthy, but I'd just like to complain about Baltimore County's (MD) permitting laws that require permits for ALL electrical work that involves new installation or moving of old installation, including low voltage wiring. From the Baltimore County website:

Q. Do I need a permit to do electrical work in my own home?

A. A permit (PDF)is required for all electrical work except for persons making minor repairs and replacements to existing wiring in their own home. Generally, this exception applies to replacing an existing switch, receptacle, or light fixture, but not to extending or installing circuit wiring. Working without a permit is a violation and subject to a civil penalty of $1,000.00. Further information can be obtained by calling Electrical Inspections at 410-887-3960, Monday through Friday, between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

<snip>

* All types of electrical installations, including low voltage wiring, are required to be installed by a contractor licensed in Baltimore County.
* Permits are not required for ordinary maintenance of existing electrical systems
* Proper permits must be obtained prior to the commencement of any work.
* Electrical permits are required for all new installations.

You have to be a licensed contractor to request a permit, and you need to do a multi-year apprentice/journeyman type of training to become a licensed contractor.

Here's where my real beef is. I'm an electrical engineer. I work in a jack-of-all-trades type environment where I deal with circuit board level components all the way up to megawatt generators and energy storage systems that power 70,000 pound capacity cranes. Are you telling me that I can't install ethernet or a new 120 outlet in my own house? The same problem exists with non-structural wall construction. You can't do it without a permit and, again, you can't have a permit unless you're a contractor.

I'd love to make some changes in my house and one day design a theater room in the basement but I want to build it, not just pay someone else too much money to do it for me.

What types of work are you allowed to perform in your own homes?

Carson O'Genic
05-21-2008, 06:25 AM
You have a legit beef here. In one generation the U.S. went from guys who could do anything (often without a permit ) to Nobody does anything without a license. Failure to get a permit will bite yer ass one way or 't other down the road.
Permits and licensing have their place but the freedom removed was homeowner discretion.

LurkMeister
05-21-2008, 07:04 AM
One of the former owners of the house I owned in Chicago was an electrician. Apparently he did a lot of electrical work on the place while he was living there. Some of it was good; all of the outlets in the basement were two to three feet off the floor in case of flooding, for example. But when I had the house inspected, I was told that a lot of it was not according to code. This did not affect me directly, as I was grandfathered and not responsible for correcting any of it unless I had work done on the wiring in question.

What fascinated me most was that the house had two fuse boxes, plus another box with two fuses in it that IIRC was for the detached garage. The inspector had looked at that and just shook his head.

3acresandatruck
05-21-2008, 07:30 AM
What types of work are you allowed to perform in your own homes?
As far as I know, we can do anything. We're supposed to get a permit when the work goes beyond replacing an existing light switch (like you), but I haven't heard of any requirement to be a contractor. It appears that people do occasionally get permits when they're supposed to do so, but the rule of thumb seems to be more along the lines of "if it's visible from the road or the air, get a permit".

My house was built by the man who's buried in the woods out back. A neighbor on my north built his house. Another neighbor just finished a project adding another floor to his house; he did all the inside work (with permits): electrical, HVAC, plumbing, insulation, etc. (I assisted with the stuff that was easier to do with two people, but he did 99.44% of the work.) We both got a huge laugh out of the 'inspection'. The guy got out of his car, stuck his head through the front door, looked at the stairs leading up to the addition and approved all the work in the addition.

plnnr
05-21-2008, 07:43 AM
In Maryland, local jurisdictions are allowed to make minor modifications to the International Building Code (IBC) and the International Residential Code (IRC). Here's a link:
http://mdcodes.umbc.edu/dhcd2/bcodes-new.htm

Whiteknight, while you may be perfectly able to do some of the electrical work, a great many of people who also think they are capable are actually not. Im order to protect them, their neighbors, and the general public there are limitations placed on what work can be performed with a permit and what work requires professional certification (a contractor's license).

Plnnr - Director of Community Development and supervisor of quite a few permit reviewers.

MovingTarget
05-21-2008, 07:49 AM
Yeah, it's screwed up here where I live too. You're supposed to get a permit for anything out of the ordinary you're doing, then get an inspection, but for the most part, people don't even worry about them. And here where I live, you don't have to be a contractor to get a permit. I went down and got a permit when I built my 12x20 shed in my back yard. They were supposed to come inspect it when I was done, but that's been a year ago, and I still have yet to see any of them. YMMV, and it obviously does.
MT

Whiteknight
05-21-2008, 07:59 AM
Whiteknight, while you may be perfectly able to do some of the electrical work, a great many of people who also think they are capable are actually not. Im order to protect them, their neighbors, and the general public there are limitations placed on what work can be performed with a permit and what work requires professional certification (a contractor's license).
Agreed. I completely see the reasoning behind restrictions like this, I'm just lamenting my personal position. I admit that I am not a professional electrician and there are certain tasks for which I would hire a contractor. The irony, however, is that I bet I would do more to make sure that my work meets code than some licensed contractors around here, at least based on my review of some of their work in other people's houses. I'm ok with doing some very minor stuff here and there permit-free (and technically illegally), but in the case of the home theater I'm just not comfortable tackling a project of that scale sans permit. I'm sure that it would come back to haunt me somewhere down the road.

I'd love it if I could just do the work and then have a proper inspection by an licensed official. I realize that most "inspections" are casual at best but I'd actually be willing to pay more to have someone come in and legitimately approve my own work.

I guess what it boils down to is that I'm extremely frustrated that the great joy of my home theater dream is that I would design and build it myself. Right now I don't see any way to do that without moving to another jurisdiction.

KneadToKnow
05-21-2008, 08:51 AM
When I was replacing a switch and a ceiling-mounted fixture several years ago, I was told in so many words by the Mecklenburg County People in Charge of That Stuff that anything more than replacing a light bulb required a permit, which could only be pulled by a licensed electrician.

I laughed and said, "Seriously, though ..." and received stony silence as my reply.

Whiteknight
05-21-2008, 10:17 AM
Maybe I just need to grease the right palms. :)

gotpasswords
05-21-2008, 10:59 AM
Must be tough to be a telephone installer or cable TV tech if they have to pull a permit to hook up Class 2 signal circuits.

That's just insane though. I thought Chicago was nutty for requiring Class 2 stuff like doorbell wire to be in metal conduit, but requiring a permit to pull cable TV or ethernet cable is just crazy.

As a point of reference, my county has a $500 threshold before permits are required, which made it possible for me to spend about $450 to install a new electrical subpanel in the garage without spending the added $120 for a permit. I'm at least smart enough to have done the project with a friend who is a licensed electrician who doesn't mind being paid in beer.

NicePete
05-21-2008, 11:08 AM
You have to be a licensed contractor to request a permit,


Are you sure about this part? I used to work in this area (building codes, not Baltimore) and most jurisdictions have some sort of exemption for homeowners to do their own work. They might require you to show proof of ownership or to sign some sort of statement that you won't be bringing in an unlicensed person to do the actual work. If you haven't called the permitting agency and asked, I would suggest doing so. If that gets you nowhere, I'd call my city councilperson (or whatever they call them there.)

Whiteknight
05-21-2008, 11:16 AM
NicePete, I'll double check on that, but per the county's website:

Q. How do I file an electrical permit?

A. An electrical electrical permit application (PDF)

* must be completed by a licensed electrician.
* may be downloaded or obtained from Permit Processing in room 100 in the County Office Building.

Quartz
05-21-2008, 11:25 AM
What fascinated me most was that the house had two fuse boxes, plus another box with two fuses in it that IIRC was for the detached garage. The inspector had looked at that and just shook his head.

Forgive me, but that sounds remarkably sensible. Either in the case that a piece of equipment fails or in the case of a lightning strike. When we strung an ethernet cable between two buildings we had to have lightning protectors at both ends.

Siege
05-21-2008, 11:30 AM
I'd love it if I could just do the work and then have a proper inspection by an licensed official. I realize that most "inspections" are casual at best but I'd actually be willing to pay more to have someone come in and legitimately approve my own work.

I guess what it boils down to is that I'm extremely frustrated that the great joy of my home theater dream is that I would design and build it myself. Right now I don't see any way to do that without moving to another jurisdiction.

Could you find a contractor who has the proper license and who would let you work with him? That way you still get the joy of building it and you don't have to worry about the bureaucrats. It's a bit of an unorthodox arrangement, but it might be worth looking into.

masterofnone
05-21-2008, 11:34 AM
I can do anything short of building a new structure. I built, wired, + plumbed my own house and built + wired 2 sheds. Building the structures required building permits from the town, and a phone call when finished so they could do a drive-by "inspection" and send a certificate of occupancy. Connecting the driveway to the road required a driveway permit that didn't actually exist. The law said it was required, but no one actually bothered to make the form.

Thudlow Boink
05-21-2008, 11:53 AM
My house was built by the man who's buried in the woods out back.Ooh, spooky!


Oh wait, I guess you mean the building came before the burying.

NicePete
05-21-2008, 11:57 AM
Ooh, spooky!


Oh wait, I guess you mean the building came before the burying.


Zombie Contractor!!!!

Rick
05-21-2008, 12:03 PM
NicePete, I'll double check on that, but per the county's website:

Q. How do I file an electrical permit?

A. An electrical electrical permit application (PDF)

* must be completed by a licensed electrician.
* may be downloaded or obtained from Permit Processing in room 100 in the County Office Building.
You need to ask at the building and safety department if there is some type of exemption if you are doing communication work. I have a hard time envisioning how stringing a cat 5 cable could endanger your life or property. (assuming you don't connect one end to the main bus bars in your circuit breaker panel)

plnnr
05-21-2008, 12:06 PM
Zombie Contractor!!!!

I see them every fucking day.

Whiteknight
05-21-2008, 12:07 PM
You need to ask at the building and safety department if there is some type of exemption if you are doing communication work. I have a hard time envisioning how stringing a cat 5 cable could endanger your life or property. (assuming you don't connect one end to the main bus bars in your circuit breaker panel)

I plan to do that, but I'm not too optimistic. They have a whole category of "restricted" electrical licenses that cover a number of specific tasks, one of which is low voltage alarm/communication wiring. Maybe I can see if any of the old timers at work here are licensed electricians and perhaps would vouch for my "training under a master electrician" time that would allow me to get my own license. What really bugs me is that all of the counties around me seem to have provisions for homeowners who, at most, have to pass a basic test before applying for permits.

Sunrazor
05-21-2008, 12:27 PM
Colorado has similar restrictions, but we also are allowed to do our own wiring with a special waiver from the local authority (city, county, state, whichever applies in certain areas) and with the proviso that the wiring is inspected by that authority. Of course, that requires familiarity with the wiring section of the building code, but for ordinary household wiring, that's not too hard. I wired my own garage/woodworking shop and had it inspected with no problems, although it was a PITA to get the contractor waiver. I still had a contractor wire in the breaker box from the house box and run the first circuit. Everything after that, I did on my own. It was worth the money saved.

In defense of strict building codes, let me offer this:

When I first got into the news biz back in the early 1970s, I got sent to cover a lot of fires -- and I mean a LOT of fires -- in single-family residences. Fires that sometimes killed people. We always followed up after the initial fire and, time after time, the cause was found to be "faulty wiring." We didn't have computers back then, but if I had, I'd have created a macro for "faulty wiring." And guess who was doing the faulty wiring. Yup. homeowners. Over the years, states and even municipalities have screwed the lid down tight on who can do wiring in buildings. It's been a long, long time since I read a story about a residential fire attributed to "faulty wiring."

Most people have the attitude that, "Well, it's my house, if I want to take my chances with my electrical skill, I should be able to do that." The problem comes when somebody else buys the house. My wife's younger brother is a licensed master electrician and former state electrical inspector. I've heard many harrowing tales about handyman-wired deathtraps and, on two occasions, had the opportunity to see first-hand what he was talking about. I don't want to live in a house that hasn't been wired (or at the very least closely inspected) by a state-licensed electrician.

control-z
05-21-2008, 01:36 PM
Unless your local government has some sort of documentation about the electrical system in your house, who's going to know?

If you feel that you're competent I'd just do it, what happens in your house isn't endangering anyone and is your business.

plnnr
05-21-2008, 01:46 PM
If you feel that you're competent I'd just do it, what happens in your house isn't endangering anyone and is your business.

Very seriously incorrect.

If you install faulty wiring and the house burns to the ground that becomes lots of peoples' business. Yours - because you and/or your family are dead or injured. Possibly your neighbor because, depending on the type of construction, your faulty wiring may lead to a fire that burns down not only your house but his. Lastly, it becomes my problem because your faulty wiring, which burned down your house, when taken in tandem with the other dolts that do this, have a direct impact on the fire insurance premiums that the community pays.

GaryM
05-21-2008, 08:24 PM
I live in Warren County Missouri and we don't need any permits at all. No codes either. OK, for new construction you do need a building permit, but that's only to make sure that the tax rolls are kept up to date.

carnivorousplant
05-21-2008, 08:54 PM
I live in the county and apparently can do my own work. I own a house in the city, though, and the codes in Little Rock certainly seem to be part of some Good Old Boy network. An associate of mine, with an electrician license from the state, cannot submit a job for inspection by the mysterious city inspectors who will not speak to anyone not licensed by the city. He refused to take money for helping me after I was screwed by Beard Electric, but I had to pay a company with the mysterious city license to come, stare at his work and file for an inspection by the city. :rolleyes:

control-z
05-22-2008, 06:53 AM
Very seriously incorrect.

If you install faulty wiring and the house burns to the ground that becomes lots of peoples' business. Yours - because you and/or your family are dead or injured. Possibly your neighbor because, depending on the type of construction, your faulty wiring may lead to a fire that burns down not only your house but his. Lastly, it becomes my problem because your faulty wiring, which burned down your house, when taken in tandem with the other dolts that do this, have a direct impact on the fire insurance premiums that the community pays.

My response to this could only be put into The Pit.

Let's just say that although legally you are probably correct, for all practical purposes IMO the local government is greatly overstepping their bounds.

krisolov
05-22-2008, 06:59 AM
If you have electricians at work that you know well, couldn't they fill out the form for you and inspect your work, thus satisfying the permit requirements?

Whiteknight
05-22-2008, 07:20 AM
If you have electricians at work that you know well, couldn't they fill out the form for you and inspect your work, thus satisfying the permit requirements?

That's the route that I'm pursuing right now. The problem is that none of the people I've asked so far have an electrician's license. PE's? Sure! 40 years of experience in electrical power engineering? Got it covered! Ability to install 10 ft coax cable in wall legally? Not so much.

muldoonthief
05-22-2008, 08:51 AM
And even if you get an electrician, a lot of them have no idea how to run ethernet anyway. When our house was built, I ordered (and paid for) cat5e to every room for ethernet. When I looked at what the electrician had done on a walkthrough, I saw he had (a) wired it daisy chain like a phone installation, and (b) run the cat5e bundled with the coax and phone line, only a few inches from the 110. Luckily I had written in the order that the GC had countersigned that (a) it was supposed to be all home runs from each room to the basement and (b) all cat5 was to be 12" minimum from any power lines. He was not happy he had to rip it all out and start over.

Nava
05-22-2008, 09:27 AM
In the 60s, Spain got a lot of areas built like this:

Local priest sees a need for people to get houses with such things as indoor plumbing and electricity. Priest either manages to get some land or donates some church land. Priest gets together with people who need houses and they build houses on that land. No contractors are involved. Many of the guys involved have some handyman experience but, depending on the area, this may go from "everybody knows how to build a wooden table but nobody knows how to do brickwork" to "everybody can build a brick wall but nobody knows how to work wood;" at the start, nobody has any experience in electrical work; there may or may not be someone who's seen a pipe before.

My house is a flat in one of those areas. I needed to get some electrical work done and called an electrician, who was completely befuddled by the setup he found. In the end he was able to track down the guy who'd done the original install. Between the two of them they were able to draw a schematic which let my electrician complete the work without leaving my neighbors in the dark for a couple of days... the whole building (12 homes) has a single fuse box :smack:

The previous owner is a carpenter by training, although he works in a factory. He's also one of those guys who can't stand still for more than five minutes unless they're doing work which requires standing still. You know, along the lines of "hold this here while I solder it, and be careful lest it fall on your head."

He'd redone both kitchens (there's the one in the flat and another in my basement room/garage); redone the floor, including marquetry work in two rooms; changed all the windows to aluminum with double glass. For all of this, he required a "garbage permit" and, for the windows, the ok from the "owners' community;" if he had needed a container for the rubbish, he would have needed a permit to have the container parked while he worked and if the house had been protected he would have needed permission from City Hall for the windows (as changing windows from wood to aluminum is a "significant modification").

Mom recently redid her bathroom (including plumbing and electrical). In this case, the permit involved including garbage, plumbing and electrical. Installing AC required a permit too; installing cable didn't. Painting or rediong the tiling in a room doesn't either, if it doesn't involve changing the electrical setup. I don't know what's the limit to require a permit or not.