Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


Proximity to stupid people can affect us deleteriously

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.

THE BULLThis 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 wild west

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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Comment balloon 50 commentsCharles Buell • September 10 2013 07:06AM


It is best to spread the wealth around and hire professionals to do work that requires professional skills.

Posted by Edward Gilmartin (CRE) over 5 years ago

Everyone these days that owns a hammer thinks they're a contractor.  Most should not be allowed to own said hammer.

Posted by Marc McMaster, Putting my clients before myself (RE/MAX Centre Realty) over 5 years ago

Hi Charles.

we have seen it all till the next one comes along. I had a home owner call me to tell me the sediment traps I said were missing was not required by the local inspector. Really. I was told the mechanical inspector did say that the code was stupid and he would not call it if the traps were not installed.

I told him to have the local inspector call me to verify if I am correctly calling this or if the codes has changed and I did'nt know it. No call from the mechanical inspector to date.

This is how a lot of the JHA's operate. Forget the codes, it's what ever the visiting inspector wants to call out. It is his call after all.

But when we show up.... That's another story. then everyone is mad at us for doing our jobs and the mechanical inspectors as well. The end of the story is the home owner had the traps installed and the home sold. GEEZ what a concept.

Have a nice day in the Seattle area my friend.

Best, Clint McKie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 5 years ago

Charles, this is so true, especially when Harry Homeowner is playing with electricity.  And in cities with row houses, you are also impacting your next door neighbors.

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) over 5 years ago

Way to go on another well written, thought provoking blog post and well worth the feature!

Posted by Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®, Giving Back With Each Home Sold! (RE/MAX Realty Center ) over 5 years ago

I saw that water heater post and commented gently but kind of firmly.  You are right, our IQs are brought down by others, as well as the houses we might buy!  Call a home inspector!

Part of the problem, I also think, are the multiplicity of DIY shows on TV whereby people think that finishing a whole new apartment in the basement can be accomplished in 30 minutes!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

I agree with Edward #1 commenting...good post here

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 5 years ago


The reality shows on cable TV have made everyone an "expert". That said, today, a large segment of our population believes they have acquired numerous skills, thus negating the use of trained service professionals, included in this group would be realtors, financial advisors, and legal representation. I could write a book sharing the true life experiences of "skill acquired" clients, which by the way, would put the efforts of even the most creative fictional writers to shame.   

Posted by Sharon Miller (RE/MAX Platinum) over 5 years ago

Charles you mean its not as easy as someone made it out to be? ;)

Posted by Juan Jimenez, The Richmond Home Inspector (A House on a Rock Home Inspections LLC) over 5 years ago

Charles I ran across a home recently that a room was added on and they didn't know they should have gotten permits.  I don't know how that happens - I just don't get it.  When the house was built they needed all kinds of inspections, right? That's what I asked them - and then the light bulb went on.

Posted by Anna Banana Kruchten CRB, CRS 602-380-4886, Arizona's Top Banana! (Phoenix Property Shoppe) over 5 years ago

Charles, It seems that most homes have had homeowner "improvements" which come back to bite you. However, you have to be careful when choosing the right professional. I have seen a few botched jobs there as well.

Posted by Helen and Larry Prier- Re-Max Gateway - Residential Real Estate, Anacortes & surrounding Skagit & Island Counties (RE-MAX Gateway- Residential Real Estate Sales) over 5 years ago

Hi Charles,

   One quick electrical jolt solves a lot of stupidity!



Posted by Charlotte Luxury Real Estate, Eli Magids (Keller Williams - Ballantyne Area) over 5 years ago

Charles, my husband did a major remodel on a master bath in a previous home. After we left, we were contacted by the seller (he didn't have a home inspection before buying). Anyhow, he said something about putting lead in the drain. I can't remember the exact problem. The buyer was requesting we pay for the repair because the work hadn't been completed by a plumber. We did pay for it, even though, we really didn't have to. Next time a licensed plumber will be making those improvements.

Posted by Tammie White, Broker, Franklin TN Homes for Sale (Franklin Homes Realty LLC) over 5 years ago

Great post.  You mean it is not government overreaching when they tell me I need 18 inches of crawlspace, or treated lumber?  I should be able to do whatever I want!!  It is my poroperty.  My neighbor's house burns down as the fire spread from my faulty wiring?  He should not have built his house so close to mine!  My kid's sleepover friend dies in a fire, tough luck as it was his freedom of choice to spend the night-- too bad he was crippled and in a wheel chair.  Survival of the fittest...  
Lecturing aside, building codes are for the health and safety of all-- not just the homeowner.

Posted by Gary Frimann, CRS, GRI, REALTOR and Broker (Eagle Ridge Realty / Signature Homes & Estates) over 5 years ago

Edward, yes--it will likely save you money in the long run

Marc, and when getting licensed to carry said hammer comes with no training or testing it can get really bad

Clint, there is an argument for sediment traps not being necessary in this day and age but that does not get around that they are still required and still survive each code cycle.  I am amazed at how often they are on the wrong side of the gas shut-off---even by professionals.

Pat, exactly.  Condo's and townhouses and row houses with homeowner repairs could result in negligent homicide.

Kristin, thanks---just having fun in the rain

Jay, for sure these DIY shows are part of the problem--in conjunction with the big box stores

Richie, I agree with Edward too :)

Sharon, there was a time when it was much easier to be self-taught :)

Juan, our jobs are a testament to that :)

Anna, a long time ago someone told me that "arrogance" and "ignorance" are the same thing.  The older I get the more I see the wisdom in that.

Helen and Larry, absolutely.  Trust but verify.

Eli, and not very much of it either :)

Tammie, I would love to know the whole story there---seems odd.

Gary, exactly.  Thanks for the lecture---could not have said it better myself.  I could have shortened my entire post to that. :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Excellent post - I am so very tired of "Harry Homeowner" who has watched too many DIY shows or listened to Big Orange "you can do it, we can help."  Ha!  It's amazing what I have seen over the years in this business and in some cases, downright frightening.

Posted by Susan Haughton, Susan & Mindy Team...Honesty. Integrity. Results. (Long and Foster REALTORS (703) 470-4545) over 5 years ago

Yeah, one of these days a need for permits to be shown before title is transfered is going to show up here and a lot of people are going to be up a creek in a chicken wire boat.


Posted by Tammy Lankford,, Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville (Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668) over 5 years ago

No problem... call Mike Holmes, right? He will fix you right up!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 5 years ago


Jay's comment was great. DIY is putting illusions into people's minds. Come to think of it, a lot of the HGTV channel is. There's a reason there's professionals and then there's homeowners. They benefit from each other, with much more success. Great post!

Posted by Phil Stevenson, CRMP, Reverse Mortgage Expert in Miami and Florida (PS Financial Services 305-791-4874 or 888-845-6630) over 5 years ago

I love the caption at the end.  This blog quacks me up...LOL

Posted by Brian Sharkey, SharkeyRE - #SouthFloridaBroker (SharkeyRE LLC) over 5 years ago

Even while I know the mechanics of installing many of the systems in a house (having done several myself with some help), there's no way I'd approach a water heater or any of the mechanical / electrical systems on my own.  Having an experienced contractor do the job gives a certain level of QA that I'll never get on my own.

Posted by Bryan Robertson, Broker, Author, Speaker (Intero Real Estate) over 5 years ago

Charlie, Great post as usual. Also I do think people should become more knowledgeable on their homes because sometimes the hired contractor maybe just another... hmm (fill in the blank) who knows little more than some homeowners.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

Susan, and it seems to be getting worse every day

Tammy, that people are willing to do work without permits seems really risky to me on so many levels

Fred, he is entertaining I guess

Phil, they should be working together

Brian, thanks

Bryan, I hope people that read this will come to understand that "one does not know what one does not know"

Don, there are indeed those types of contractors.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Home inspections and licensed professionals save our buyers and sellers from disaster every day! 

Posted by The Matt & Molly Team, Moving The Mountains (The Matt & Molly Team) over 5 years ago

My cabin had a 1978, 80 gallon pressure cooker of a hot water heater. I thought to myself "how hard can it be to change that thing out?"

I decided to call the plumber after his estimate was less than I thought my time and life were worth. He changed it out in less than hour and hauled the old one away. After seeing me he also gave me another 20% off as a senior discount. I'm not that old; am I? Works for me...

Posted by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS, Tacoma Washington Agent/Broker & Market Authority! (RE/MAX Northwest.) over 5 years ago

Permit and inspections are so extremely important! Sometimes I just don't understand why people don't give them the right importance. It's better to be safe than sorry I always say.

Posted by Trisha Bush-LeFore, Providing Realtor Services in the Walla Walla Area (Preferred Properties Land & Homes) over 5 years ago

Getting a licensed contract with a good reputation is very important forany job that is to be done on the home. Problems always arise when when we do the work ourselves and do not even get permits.

Posted by Jimmy Faulkner, The Best Of St. Augustine (Florida. Homes Realty & Mortgage) over 5 years ago

uh, you mean it involves more that meets the eye? ummm, who would have thought that?


Posted by Linda Balades, Broker Associate (Comfort Real Estate Services) over 5 years ago

Great Blog! We put a sun room on our house (my wife and I).  It turned out beautiful.  We had a building permit and during our construction bought books from the Big Box Store (Building supply).

We found that the codes had changed since they wrote that book and had to make some corrections. It was necessary that we had a building permit, but I am glad we did, as they came out after every phase and had it approved before going to the next phase until it was done. Thank you, all 5 building inspectors of Elkhart County, Indiana

Posted by Larry Johnston, Broker,Friends & Neighbors Real Estate, Elkhart,IN (Broker, Friends & Neighbors Real Estate and Elkhart County Subdivisions, LLC) over 5 years ago

Matt & Holly, that is the ideal

Paul, and of course it came with a better warranty than you would have given yourself :)

Trisha, everyone likes the idea of saving money I guess

Jimmy, mostly true I think

Linda, I know---how can this be rocket science---not a jet pack in sight

Larry, you should do a post about your experience.  Because you hit the nail on the head I think.  By turning your project into a learning experience that the jurisdictional inspectors are often willing to help you out with along the way---it is a great way to learn.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Great post, Gotta love those do it yourselfers.

Posted by Kelly Taylor (Keller Williams) over 5 years ago

Great post & well described how your ideas can reek havoc if you don't know what you are doing.

Posted by Lyn Sims, Schaumburg IL Real Estate (RE/MAX Suburban) over 5 years ago

Just sold a townhome where the seller has done a bunch of cosmetic changes. The tough part is none of them are finished all the way. Bunch of cosmetic upgrades that aren't finished creates havoc.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) over 5 years ago

Charles, many DIY projects are not really meant to be done by homeowners over the weekend. Love your buffalo photos and thoroughly enjoyed your whole article on proximity to stupid people. 

Posted by Maria Morton, Kansas City Real Estate 816-560-3758 (Chartwell Kansas City Realty) over 5 years ago

Kelly, pretty much job security for me

Lynn, best to keep reeking havoc to computer games

Bill, that is true too

Maria, thanks---it was fun putting it together

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Great post, thanks for sharing. Something that every DIY'er should read and consider before tackling a project.

Posted by Renee White, Renee White (Keller Williams Realty) over 5 years ago

Renee, no real do it yourselfer would ever admit that this post was about them :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Thanks for sharing, I cringe at the thought of what the home inspection will reveal when I see some of the "homeowner" fixes when showing property... and you "made me" look up the meaning of "deleteriously" :)

Posted by Greg Large, A Tradition of Trust (ERA Real Solutions) over 5 years ago

Sometimes I think we go too far with building codes.  Each new code release has to come up with "something new".  Granted, there are clarifications to existing parts that are added, but each addition to fix the biggest problem comes with diminishing returns.  For example, circuit breakers.  You start out with your basic breaker/fuse.  Then you require GFCI protected outlets in certain areas.  Then you add AFCI breakers in the bedrooms.  Then you make just about everything require AFCI in the latest NEC.  Now, each one of these improvments has saved property and lives, but all totaled has added $800-1000 to the cost of the home.  And there are lots of other examples too (off the top of my head, tamper-resistant outlets are about 3 times the cost of the ordinary variety).  Yes, we create safer, longer lasting homes, but are we pricing some people out of being able to have a home at all?

And "professionals" don't always get it right either.  I've personally dealt with on various houses I've owned, decks attached over siding with no flashing, dirt/landscaping above the siding line, missing roof flashing, and last but not least, an electrician who wired his own home and didn't hook up the ground wire in any of the outlets.  All done by people who should know better.  And this blog has had plenty of examples from new construction too.  My personal favorite was the attic ladder that cut through mutltiple rafters.

Posted by Wyatt over 5 years ago

This one is my personal favorite:

Finishing rooms in a basement with no means of secondary egress.

I even see comments in the MLS stating there are 2 bedrooms in the lower level!  NOT


Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) over 5 years ago

Another reason to humble yourself... but I love it!

Posted by Laura Cerrano, Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher (Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island) over 5 years ago

The things we see as real estate agents.  The eight bedroom house that is really a three bedroom house according to the approved septic system.   So many many many things that we see in homes every day.  I think I've seen it all after all these years and when I walk into a house, I say really....last month I showed a house and said to the buyers when they showed up...what did you notice about this house that might be unusual.   They couldn't quite figure it out. There was no front door.   Really, no front door.  To access the house, you had to go through a side garage door, through the garage and enter the home.   Talk about stupid.

Posted by Yvette Chisholm, Associate Broker - Rockville, MD 301-758-9500 (Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc.) over 5 years ago

Oh my I think I laughed through about 90% of this!!!! Still laughing!

Great post

Posted by David Shamansky, Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg (US Mortgages - David Shamansky) over 5 years ago

Greg, and isn't English fun?:)

Wyatt, I could write a novel about your comment but suffice it to say that---nobody is ever going to be priced of a home for the cost of less than a years worth of Lattes or 1/3 of a mortgage payment, nobody is being priced out of a house because of these changes.  What is the value of one's pets or loved ones---not to mention the Van Gogh in the hallway?  These arguments against the codes are old and tired.  If there are any that you don't think are not valid, there is a process where "anyone" can submit to get them changed.  Go for it, you just might find their are real reasons why they came about---and not just more burgeoning bureaucracy.

Joan, there are lots of those death-traps

Laura, yup :)

Yvette, yes, no real front door is a problem.  The front entry can never be through a garage

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

David, I could be a comedian :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Great philosophical thoughts, Charles!  I am also reminded of a quote by Tom Selleck, "“The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.”

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) over 5 years ago

I'm going to power wash a deck tomorrow.  I can handle that.  I'll probably paint it when it's nice and dry (make good use of the warm weather we're having).  Other than this, I can't do anything else . . . 

Posted by Carla Muss-Jacobs, RETIRED (RETIRED / State License is Inactive) over 5 years ago

Good stuff...  I run into the HVAC scenario the most when there's an addition or new rooms added.  

Posted by Joshua Frederick, Home Inspector in Defiance & all of Northwest Ohio (Home Inspector for ASPEC Residential Services, LLC) over 5 years ago

Mryl, that is priceless---will have to remember that one

Carla, that sounds good :)

Hi Joshua, long time no see.  Rarely taken into account here either.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

A great example of why permits are important happened during an inspection the other day. 

I was told right up front by the buyers agent to "not stress the well, because the pump is on its last leg". A plumber had been called out and had provided an itemized estimate for repairs. The buyer, when she arrived had this estimate and I reviewed it with her. 

The plumber had broken it down to the "essentials' and the "nice to adds". No where in the list or in the estimate was the word permit. Further some of the nice to haves, would be required since the well system was going to be, for all intents and purpose, completely rebuilt. It seemed the plumber was trying to keep costs down, which is, I believe, the road that leads to so much of the short cuts we find done by professionals. Good intentions gone awry. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 5 years ago