Permits on older work

Old 01-05-09, 11:50 AM
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Permits on older work

Hi all. I had my kitchen remodeled about a year ago which included hiring professional plumbers & electricians.

At the end of the project, the electrician asked me if I wanted an inspector to take a look at everything, but the problem was it was all covered up. The walls actually never came down, so they did their work by drilling holes through studs and pulling wire to some new old-work can lighting that slides into place. The rest of the job was new under cabinet lighting with a switch, and updating the outlets to 20amp GFI.

All plumbing simply replaced older plumbing, i was told by them that I didn't need a permit to simply update current plumbing as long as the layout doesn't change. I took their word on it.

I am about to gut the bathroom on the other side of this kitchen's wall, exposing most of the electrical & plumbing. Should i have an inspector revisit this older work while it's out in the open?

You'd almost think a contractor doing work in a city that required permits on certain types of work would be required to tell the homeowner that they don't have a choice but to get the permit. I don't want to blame the electrician for my own ignorance on the importance of the matter, but would like to resolve anything now if possible. Any thoughts on this?

Old 01-05-09, 01:16 PM
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Every area has a "threshold" of work as to when a permit will be required. Based on the work you described, it's reasonable that no permit was required.

Some places are very strict (pronounced "money hungry") and want permits for replacing light switches with different colors while other places are much more lax allowing electricians to install basic circuits or repair and replace existing circuits without a permit or inspection. It sounds like you may be in the latter category. Pros can usually go a bit further than a homeowner can without pulling a permit because they are much more familiar with the expectations of the local inspection office. If you're in a smaller city there's a good chance the local inspectors and electricians all know each other by first name.
Old 01-05-09, 02:06 PM
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Originally Posted by eric_bort
Should i have an inspector revisit this older work while it's out in the open?

I don't want to blame the electrician for my own ignorance on the importance of the matter, but would like to resolve anything now if possible. Any thoughts on this?
It bears repeating that local codes vary widely. Here, a permit is required for any work beyond replacing individual devices such as switches, receps, and light fixtures.

I rewired nearly my whole house at the same time we gutted and remodeled our whole second floor. I had an electrician replace the load center and meter pedestal and do some basement conduit work. But then I rewired most of the rest under that permit. Since this all took a few months, closer to a year really, I asked the electrician what to do about the rewiring portion, because it wasn't realistic to leave everything "rough" until inspection. He told me to just do the work and fire it up.

This didn't sound right to me. However after the electrician put in the new load center, he called for inspection and the inspector looked at everything in the rewired-only part of the house and said nothing about the work. He asked about box fill on a few switches and made sure I had fan support boxes on the ceilings. He checked inside the panel and checked some open boxes in the roughed-in gutted area. It was no secret that I did the work, since the inspector actually suggested that I could do it if I could find an electrician to get the permit. So I had no issues.

I did all this because our area requires a code compliance inspection at time of sale and they keep copious records on numbers of receps, fixtures, fans and so on. Permits pulled after the work is done used to cost double, but now they are triple.

The downside of permits is that every time you pull one, the assessor will visit around September or after the final inspection and determine whether the work added value to the property. They cannot compel anyone to let them in, but they can make "reasonable" assumptions if I won't let them in. I have had two permits open since 1999, since I am done with electrical and plumbing but still haven't finished flooring and trim, so every September the assessor comes back to check. I didn't let them in for a couple of years, but then I got a sharp increase in assessed value, so I complained informally. I ended up letting the assessor in, and voila, my assessment dropped by something like $25,000. So you can see how well a silent protest works around here.

So the morals of the story:

1. As previously mentioned, the good, experienced contractors usually know what the inspector wants to see.

2. If you're not comfortable with what the contractor says, you will have to call another local contractor or take the risk of talking with an inspector. I talked to contractors for a while about regulations but eventually got tired of that and just talked to the inspectors. I live in a small suburb, so once I crossed that threshold of them knowing who I was, I had nothing to gain by taking the roundabout route.

3. If in doubt, and the wall is still open, call the inspector yourself. If required, it's a lot cheaper than the alternative.

4. Check your house file at the building inspection office to see what details end up there.

5. Know what inspections are going to be required on a periodic basis or if you want to sell.

6. You cannot let city hall "part way" into your life. It's either midnight hijinks or leaving the door wide open for them. You will have to assess the cost/benefit ratio for your own situation.

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