upgrades, remodels, etc... what can i get away with

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Forum topic by interpim posted 03-02-2012 04:49 PM 1581 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1170 posts in 3699 days

03-02-2012 04:49 PM

With the wife and I talking about purchasing a new house in the near future, it has got me thinking over several things. One in particular is the very likely chance that I am going to have to get more power ran to the garage for my shop.

So, what can I get away with doing without getting a permit? If I want to expand an electrical panel, and run a few new circuits to my garage does this require a permit? And if so, how much are these permits going to set me back?

Another one, would be the rest of the house. What is the cutoff point for having a permit. Can i replace cabinets, and built in fixtures without a permit? I remember doing a lot of this stuff growing up with my dad, and he almost never had a permit, but then again he lived in the middle of the woods, and didn’t care if it required a permit or not.

So, basically that’s the question. If anyone has any experience as either a contractor or home remodel experience, could you let me know at what point I’m going to have to take the time to secure a permit for my home improvement projects, that I know are coming down the line?

-- San Diego, CA

19 replies so far

View ruel24's profile


79 posts in 2534 days

#1 posted 03-02-2012 06:12 PM

I’m a plumber here in Cincinnati, and I can tell you that anything you do outside a simple repair legally requires a permit in most states. Why are you against the permit? To be honest, permits are your friend. The work will be inspected by someone who’s done the trade for a very long time and that’ll make sure the work was done right.

In my profession, everyone that claims to be a handyman and can glue two pieces of PVC together tries to do plumbing without a permit, and I come in behind them, often, and see they haven’t got a freakin’ clue about the trade. You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen people do! People end up paying twice: Once for the handyman, and once for me to fix it. Even if you plan to do the work yourself, which is legal on your own property in most states, protect yourself from yourself and make sure the work was inspected. I’ve never met anyone that wasn’t in a trade that actually knew what they were doing. Many claim, but I’ve yet to meet one. I’ve seen people weaken and even cut out structure in their house to run plumbing or ductwork. I’ve seen plumbing nightmares galore. I’ve seen structual nightmares done in newly built walls. Electrical junction boxes hidden in walls… I’ve even seen a person that supposedly owned a home building company, bring his guys in to tear down and redo an extension on a house, only to make it bigger, without pouring a new footer! The whole thing rests only on the concrete ground below it, and what little of the original footer it sits on! It goes on and on…

When it comes to electrical, I’d be really concerned. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. Poor electrical work is how you get your house burned down. I’d highly recommend hiring a licensed electrician and getting the permit. You may think you can simply run a wire and put in a breaker, but does it need an arc-flash circuit interrupter breaker? Does it need a ground fault curciut interruptor breaker? Since it’s in the garage area, how far off the floor should the outlets be? There are a lot of things to consider. Code was put there to protect the home owner/buyer.

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1170 posts in 3699 days

#2 posted 03-02-2012 06:31 PM

I’m not “against” permits. I just don’t know enough about them to know when I need to get one. I’ve done all aspects of home building/remodeling throughout my life, and come from an electrical background in the Navy. I feel confident that many of the things I can do, but I also feel confident that I know when I don’t know enough to call a pro in.

The permit question is just not enough knowledge on my part. I am just trying to figure out how much I will need to budget for each of my “Projects” as they come down the pipe. So, knowing when to get the permit, and how much extra I’ll have to spend for them will have to go into the plans I end up making.

-- San Diego, CA

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1170 posts in 3699 days

#3 posted 03-02-2012 06:32 PM

Also, since your a plumber ruel, maybe you can answer a question for me.

My wife mentioned that she might want to become a plumber. What is the best way for her to get into the industry? Schools, etc…

-- San Diego, CA

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5149 posts in 4201 days

#4 posted 03-02-2012 06:39 PM

Best thing to do is to check with the builder folks or court house about permits. Big issue would be insurance. Any changes without permits might create ins. probs with your carrier.
Be on the safe side of any changes. Sure, you can do it. But after effects can eat you alive should something go wrong.
As to garage/work area…get at least 2 240v 20 amp circuits as well as plenty of 120v capabilities. Trust me. You’ll be happy with the end result.
Might even want to add a “whole house” surge protector for electronics.


View pintodeluxe's profile


5819 posts in 3054 days

#5 posted 03-02-2012 06:46 PM

On a recent remodel, I learned that electrical permits and even having an electrician perform the work wasn’t that expensive. In the back of my mind the word “permit” equals $4000 in home building cost, but it just isn’t true.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View MrRon's profile


5277 posts in 3485 days

#6 posted 03-02-2012 08:44 PM

Whether you can “get away with” doing electrical work or any work for that matter, varies widely from state to state. Some places are very lax and others are extremely strict to the point of makung you rip out anything you have added that wasn’t covered by a permit. Check with your building inspector as to what you can do without a permit. Generally if the work is restricted to the boundaries of your house, you can do it, but check first. Also don’t forget, codes change all the time, so what you may have learned from the past may no longer be “legal”. An example of this is the position of the ground pronge; used to be at the bottom of the receptacle; now it’s on the top. To me it’s not worth taking a chance.

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3310 days

#7 posted 03-02-2012 11:37 PM

The only people who know “what you can get away with” are the inspectors in the AHJ for your area. No one on this site can tell you with certainty unless they live in the same area as you.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View dhazelton's profile


2805 posts in 2538 days

#8 posted 03-03-2012 12:19 AM

I’ve done/updated old ungrounded wiring in my home and am confident that it was done safely. I even roughed in all the elcectric in an addition and paid a licensed electrician to inspect it and have the underwriter sign off on it. But if you do something major like run an electrical extension that requires a subpanel without a permit and there is a fire, your insurance company will NOT pay out. Unless you know local code (often National code in a township) just hire it out. They will bang through it very quickly and it will be done to the inspector’s and insurance company’s satisfaction. Depending on where you are, if you do a major electric extension, you may also have to come up to code on smoke and CO detectors. For a while they wanted interconnected hard-wired units, but that has given way to battery powered units which is much esier and cheaper to comply to. I spent $300 on detectors in anticipation of the underwriter asking to see them and he never did – but they ARE there to protect me.

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 3699 days

#9 posted 03-03-2012 12:31 AM

Oh trust me… i’m not trying to do something wrong… I just used the electric to the garage as an example… I feel I could do it, but I am not sure what the current code is, so that is one job I would hire a pro for. I think the biggest thing for me would be the general remodel type stuff… Such as installing cabinets in the garage, kitchen bath, laundry, putting down wood floors etc. I’m trying to get an idea on what a permit is required for and isn’t. I know plumbing, electrical and structural would most likely require a permit… but if I replace a bathroom sink, do i need a permit? (just another example)

-- San Diego, CA

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

2848 posts in 3679 days

#10 posted 03-03-2012 12:35 AM

i built my own house. The only other people who worked on it was when we had the foundation poured and the carpets put in. I did carpentry, plumbing, electrical.. all of it. Yes I had a building permit and had to have it inspected. What I don’t like is that I can do any changes now myself but have to get an $80 permit to change some wires in a wall If I put in some new plugs. I own my own home, and just do it. I know it’s done right.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View Grandpa's profile


3261 posts in 2916 days

#11 posted 03-03-2012 04:02 AM

I have also found that having a license in your pocket doesn’t make you safe or knowledgeable. I do home inspections since I am retired and I had a conversation with an electrician (licensed with years of experience) that didn’t know how to use his Volt/Ohm meter. This man had followed me to make corrections. My small plug in tester said the hot/neutral wires were reversed. He said they were good. I can only plug my tester in one way so it is difficult to make a mistake with it. He has 2 leads on his meter and 3 holes in the receptacle. I am certainly not opposed to people having license to work on my home but I would check them out closely. When I mention this guys name to other contractors they say well, that is enough said ….just hearing his name.

View dhazelton's profile


2805 posts in 2538 days

#12 posted 03-03-2012 04:37 AM

Don’t know about San Diego – in NY you can do all that stuff without involving John Law. The things you need permits for where I live as far as renovations are electrical extensions, additions to the square footage of your home, decks, swimming pools, building demolitions and solid fuel appliances (wood and pellet stoves). All the things you mention except the electric they don’t really want to know about. I say buy the tools to do the stuff yourself along with a good Time Life homeowners how-to book. I have paid a lot of contractors to do things I realized I could have done myself and felt I could have have done a neater job, AND on my schedule, not theirs.

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 3699 days

#13 posted 03-03-2012 05:07 AM

Thanks for the input guys… I’m always learning on this site

-- San Diego, CA

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2527 days

#14 posted 03-03-2012 01:55 PM

Permits aren’t expensive (for the most part) and in some cases I hire out work to trades because they can do it faster and better than me, which leaves me more time to do the things I can do. When I built my shop building (detached… like 1-1/2 car garage size) the permit cost me I think $65. Adding the 60amp subpanel cost me about $900, but these guys hand dug a 2 foot deep trench almost 50 feet long (I woulda rented a ditch witch). While they worked, I installed doors and windows.

My best source of information is my building inspector. If I have questions, I can go talk to him and say, “This is what I’d like to accomplish. What do you want to see?” and I take him sketches, any measurements, etc. He’s a good guy and often makes suggestions like, “This is the code requirement, but if I was doing it, I’d do this…” and his suggestions are good.

I may be lucky. I live in a small-ish town where you can have a relationship with the building inspector, highway superintendant, have the cell phone number of the town supervisor, and they’re all nice folks and want you to be successful in whatever you’re doing. They also get VOTED into office, and if they’re nice, they get re-elected. :)

Seriously though… just go ask. It’s easier than guessing.

View canadianchips's profile


2616 posts in 3238 days

#15 posted 03-03-2012 02:55 PM

You are on right track:
ASK now before you start.
Do your homework.
Ask 3-4 people or places .
Know what you need and who you need to talk to in your state: In my experience going down to “City OFFICE” and asking at front desk, DO I NEED A PERMIT FOR THIS ? can be a waste of time. Hopefully the person on the other side of the counter will guide you to where and who you need to talk to.
Also know who is a good plumber or electrician or HVAC tradesperson. Because they have there ticket does NOT make them good. I know people who are NOT in the trade that DO know more than people that do have their license.
People FREAK out when they hear PERMIT:
The permit is your friend.
One thing to know about permits: Some homes were built to CODE at the time. When you remodel you might get into UPDATING anything involved in the remodel to NEW code. Electrical wiring and panel boxes is a good example of this: Your example of building a shop and adding to exsiting panel is perfect example.This could be as extreme as changing wiring from street post to home, changing to bigger panel box,They are fine and safe now, but if you make changes to your home it could cost MONEY for things you didn’t plan on !

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

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