When improving and upgrading your home, things aren’t always black and white. I’m sure you’ve tackled a project that you had no business tackling, but in the end – you learned something. Maybe that something was to hire someone next time, or maybe you found you were good at it. But even I will admit, there are lines not to be crossed. With that being said, lately I’ve been getting the motivation to write from other articles that rub me the wrong way. If you can’t tell by now, I’m all about DIY projects!
This morning I read an article that was going to tell me what home improvement projects were illegal for me to do myself…well, that’s a pretty bold claim. Of all the things I’ve done in my life that may have been questionably legal, who knew installing a water heater was one of them!
By the way, it’s not – sure does make a good headline though! I’m sure what the author was trying to convey was that there are certain things that should be done by professionals – whether it’s because of regulations or the sheer skill involved to do it in a manner that is safe reliable. Yet, instead of informing readers of some precautions to take when deciding whether to take on a DIY project, they chose to reinforce their ideas that houses are scary and confusing and the police will take them away if they don’t pay a contactor to change a light bulb. OK, I admit, that was a little dramatic – but let’s look at some projects that you CAN (kind of, maybe) do even though someone may have told you otherwise.
I will make one comment before we go further – please ALWAYS check with your local building code enforcement agency before changing the form, fit, or function of your home or repairing and replacing anything appliances that are hardwired or have a gas supply. Most of the time you will find that you are well within your RIGHTS to make the repair or addition to your home. Many times you will also find that your are not experienced or skilled enough to make that same repair or addition. This is OK – we all have our limitations, plus many of times its good to ask for help. That’s how I’ve acquired my many mediocre skill sets!
Build a Deck
A deck is by no means one of the easiest DIY projects. It will require a great deal of physical labor, patience, time, and money. Well, less money if you do it yourself opposed to hiring someone – if you do it right the first time. Unlike the unnamed article about the questionable legality of building a deck, I am here to tell you it is not illegal – if you follow the rules! My county has an online document all about building a deck. It covers the permit requirements, gives your diagrams to explain and illustrate the proper construction, it gives you tips on how to prepare and build to pass inspections, and even talks about rare issues that you may run across and how to fix them.
From the sound of it, it seems like the code enforcement agency actually wants you to build a deck – a far throw from it being illegal. Again, I will caveat this with the fact that in order to pull this off the correct way, and get it successfully inspected, it will take some hard work. If this is too far out of your scope of work, hire a professional – but if you’re willing to learn, do your research and build yourself a deck. By passing inspections, the city/county/whoever inspects it, is ensuring that your deck is safely built so you can sleep tight knowing that your deck cost you a fraction of what it would cost if someone else built it.
Install a Water Heater
A water heater is another great example of something you can replace yourself. Depending on the type, installation, your location, and the age of your home, you may need to refer to your local code enforcement agency again (they’ll become your close friends at some point) because you’ll probably have to pull some permits. Chances are, when replacing your old one, you’ll need to make some improvements to the situation to bring it up to code. This is why many people opt to hire a plumber to do the dirty work for them – but what’s the fun in that! My situation right now is going to require me to make some major changes and/or bring my house up to code when I replace the water heater. The old one is in the attic!
Every plumber I’ve talked to laughs and just shakes their head. Most have told me they wouldn’t replace one in the attic – I’d need to move it down to the garage. This is when I started looking into whether or not I could do it myself. Turns out it’ll probably be a hybrid job – I’ll need to pay a plumber to move a gas line to the garage, and I should be able to do the rest – run new water lines from the attic, install the water heater, and install a new power vent. Just know before you tackle this project that if major upgrades need to be made to bring everything up to code, you may be in over your head. Again, NOT ILLEGAL, just a pain in the butt most of the time. But lets be real, aren’t all DIY projects?
Replace you HVAC System
This one falls in the category of ‘Kind of DIY Projects’. While replacing your HVAC system is not illegal – it is very difficult and some aspects of it are not legal for you to do without the proper licenses. Just like any electrical appliance, you need to have an understanding of how its wired in. If you’re replacing the condenser or evaporator, you’ll need to know how to braze. And most important of all, you cannot handle refrigerant unless you are licensed by the EPA to do so. So yeah…that was a buzz kill. But replacing the system is not in itself illegal for you to do. The more you know. As for me, I’ll probably skip this one.
Adding On to Your House
I’ll briefly touch this one – Just like the other projects we’ve talked about, you’re going to need to pull multiple permits and pass multiple inspections. This may not be a big deal to you if you do this for a living – and that’s why I’m writing about this. It’s completely legal to tackle these huge projects yourself – just make sure you’re going about it the right way.
Again, please ask questions and inform yourself. Too many home owners think their hands are tied in some situations when they are not. You may find that you are exceptionally good at building decks, start a deck business, and retire early on your exceptional deck building earnings! You’ll never know if you don’t try – but just make sure you’re following the rules.
Have you done any of these repairs or upgrades yourself? Did you do it the right way? Or did you BREAK THE LAW!!!!???? LOL. Like you’d ever tell me.