Between our DIY kitchen remodel (now with insulation!) and the solar panels that we had installed in March, we’ve had quite a few inspectors stop by our house over the last month or so.
In our city, the building inspectors act as check to make sure that construction work is done to code and is properly permitted. Talking with other homeowners we know, it seems some people think building inspectors and code enforcement are an unnecessary nuisance and don’t bother with them for DIY or even some non-DIY under-the-table projects. Heck, we’ve probably done some work over the years that probably should have been permitted*, so can’t judge those thoughts too harshly. But with bigger projects, we’ve always gotten a permit and here’s the big reason why.
We think we’re getting our money’s worth by permitting big projects.
For this kind of value determination, there are two factors:
1 – How much it costs
2 – What we get out of it
How Much Is A Permit?
In general, permits around here aren’t that expensive and all projects don’t need them. For instance, the “decorative portion” of our kitchen remodel (ie the new tile and cabinetry) didn’t require any permitting. Our permit for the “structural portion” part of the kitchen (this is just for the structural changes that the city estimated would cost a little under $7K to complete) cost about $180. And when we had to modify our permit to expand the scope of our project to include some more HVAC work, they didn’t charge us any more, though I think they could have if they wanted to. From our perspective, the city isn’t using permitting fees as a profit center. More likely the fees don’t even cover the full cost of the city’s code enforcement department, so our property taxes likely fund the remainder of the department’s budget and would whether or not we used their services.
What Did We Get?
The first big thing that we got was plan review for code compliance. While we had an architect prepare the structural plans for modifying our trusses to vault our ceiling (something we felt was out of our DIY abilities), it was really nice to have another independent set of eyes look at the plans and make sure we weren’t doing anything that was going to put us out of compliance with the Florida Building Code, a long and complex book of regulations for building that we try and adhere to, but are certainly not experts in.
The other big value that we can see in having the inspectors out is to check our work and make sure we’re doing things correctly and not going to end up creating a fire hazard by routing the dryer vent wrong or something equally not fun. So far we’ve called the inspectors out three times for our project, and expect to call them out at least three more times before we’re all said and done with the structural part of this remodel. So we’re basically paying ~$30/visit (less if we need even more visits) to have an expert look over our DIY work.
Considering the scope of the work involved in this project contains a lot of big projects that we haven’t done before:
- cutting into and then repairing the slab of the house,
- adding supports and sheathing and then cutting away large parts of our roof trusses (the big wooden triangles that hold up our roof!),
- rewiring and bringing up to date the electrical circuits in the kitchen,
- and adding new windows,
having someone knowledgeable check our work for important items like our safety seems like a pretty good idea, especially for such a small price.
They’re Still Kindof Intimidating
Just because we value what the inspectors are doing doesn’t mean that we’re not a little bit intimidated by them. After putting months of hard work into our remodel, it’s intimidating to think about an inspector coming in and telling you that it’s all crap. I had this exact fear (nightmare, really) after watching the inspectors interact with our solar contractors.
It’s kindof a long story, but our solar panels didn’t pass inspection the first time. Or the second time. It took three inspections for our solar panel installation to pass our city’s inspection and it was all for really minor items or things that seem to be subject to interpretation in the code for these installations from the best I can tell. Watching the best solar contractor in the county jump through hoops for our inspector, and knowing that our own inspection (for a huge list of major items) was coming up soon, was incredibly stressful. After that I was terrified of what would or could happen at our own inspection. That’s not really an exaggeration.
But then the next inspection for our house (a big one – for the trusses and other major changes!) went fine.
That made us realize, our inspectors treat homeowners and contractors very differently – but in a way that works out to our benefit. Working with us as homeowners on a DIY/Builder-Owner permit, the inspectors are more akin to advisers to the homeowner who is acting as the general contractor. When they saw something that they weren’t 100% comfortable with while with Mr PoP for our most recent kitchen remodel inspection, they told him what to do to fix it, but still signed off on the assumption that Mr PoP would fix it asap. (Mr PoP did it as soon as they left!)
When they’re working with the contractors, though, the inspectors take on a different role. Instead of an adviser to the contractor, they’re much more of a knowledgeable consumer advocate. If they see something they are not 100% comfortable with, they don’t sign off under the assumption that the contractor will fix it. They force the contractor to fix it and withhold their signature on the permit completion until they do.
It was definitely not fun having to juggle work while sitting at home waiting for inspectors more than once for the solar panel inspections. But, in hindsight, I’m glad that I’ve got these inspectors in my corner as my knowledgeable consumer advocate when it comes to contractors. I would have never been able to say to our solar contractor, “Hey. You should put waterproof splices inside this waterproof box, just to be on the safe side.” But our inspector can and did. And the contractor has to do it and our system is a little more robust because of it.
All in all, we’re pro-inspector. How about you?
* At the time when we did the small work, technically it should have been permitted, but in the past couple of years, our city has expanded its list of small(ish) projects that are allowed to be completed without being permitted and most of what we did when we moved in now falls under this umbrella even though it didn’t then.
Do you permit your DIY projects? What have your experiences with your local permitting/code enforcement/building inspectors been like?