The other day I did a post about how to change an electric water heater. The post was about why installing a water heater on your own is a bad idea for most people. The post includes a list of things that if you aren’t familiar with might be an indication that you might want to let someone else do the job.
This got me thinking about other aspects of the home and how there are many things about our homes in general that we might not know enough about. To tackle repairs to these components, or actually creating these components, might be beyond our knowledge and skills. Even thinking, "how complicated can it be" is proof of lack of understanding. Having someone more qualified do these things to our homes, or getting more education ourselves, might be in order.
Even for experienced professionals, the codes can be sinuous and complicated. It often takes years to learn the nuances and “exceptions” to what is allowed or not allowed. The fact that so many issues are found even in new construction, done by trained professionals, is proof that even professionals get it wrong at times.
When homeowners tackle these same installations, the number of defects typically skyrockets. This is not always the case, but certainly enough to prove how necessary code enforcement is.
Americans are cowboys and we all live in the Wild West.
None of us likes being told what to do and yet many of "us" (the collective us) have created the codes over the years either by recognizing the necessity for them--or have earned them by burning down our own house and our neighbor’s house with our "projects."
It is not easy to get codes implemented or changed because of the "cowboy" factor. In a way it is a check-and-balance for anyone that gets too gung-ho for some particular change.
Population density makes these codes even more important as proximity to stupid people can affect us deleteriously.
Because of this, the codes are there to add a layer of protection from each other. So while your home may be your castle, your castle today must be a safe castle for you, your family and for whomever you sell it to or invite over for a slumber party or kegger.
The house has become a complicated assembly of inter-related, inter-dependent components that can only be understood in the context of the whole building and the environment it lives in. Altering one thing can affect something somewhere else. Here are a few examples of modifications that might affect something that someone doing the project on their own might not think about:
Adding a mother-in-law apartment in the basement that the septic system is not designed for.
Creating a 4th bedroom in the garage on the original HVAC sytem. (And by the way, are you aware that the joists you use in that floor system over the old garage floor have to be pressure treated lumber if there is not access, and that legal access means 18” clearance?)
Finishing rooms in a basement with no means of secondary egress.
Did you know that when you create finished spaces in the basement, the basement light that switches at the top of the stairs now must have a switch at the bottom of the stairs as well?
Stairs that are "grandfathered" as access to an unfinished basement may have to be upgraded to current standards when the basement is finished off.
There are endless examples like this---some more subtle—some less subtle.
The point is that in the permit process for your project, all the things you might not have thought of, will be thought of by the plans examiner, when they check out the plans for your project.
WHAT PLANS? You mean I have to have "plans?"
It is amazingly easy to change lines on paper compared to concrete in the ground.
A building permit can easily be one of the least expensive parts of your project and should be seen as an investment—not an infringement of human rights.
While any given contractor might do some aspect of your project wrong, it is usually considerably easier to correct that error than it might be to start the whole project over. While jurisdictional oversight is typically not what you might think it should be, it generally catches the big stuff and the safety issues.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board