Trapped in my own home

Published May 22, 2015

By Tom Campbell

by Tom Campbell, Executive Producer and Moderator, NC SPIN, May 20, 2015.

After 31 years living in the same home my wife and I decided to downsize and simplify our lives. The maelstrom we got as a result was frustrating, time consuming, expensive and anything but simple.

Regulation reformers have been beating the drum for change for years, but I didn’t understand until undergoing this home remodeling. Our contractor and his subcontractors had to apply for no less than 6 permits, adding more than $500 to the costs of remodeling. There were more than 21 inspections by my count, adding costs and delays waiting on the necessary inspection in order to proceed.

Some of the regulations demonstrate once again that common sense isn’t common. For example, the electrical panel was reversed so as to face into the garage. It was very accessible, free of obstruction and anyone at least 5 feet tall could easily turn off the main breaker, or any of the breakers in the panel. But the building code says the main breaker cannot be higher than 6 feet 7 inches above the floor, so we were required to build a 30x37 inch wooden platform permanently secured to the wall, an unsightly box that prevented the door from the patio from opening into the garage.

Electrical receptacles anywhere near plumbing have to be equipped with arc fault plugs, meaning that if any appliance creates an arc it trips the circuit breaker. Thank God we now have a sturdy platform to reset it. The light inside our shower had one of those ground fault devices, requiring us to push the tiny GFI button to turn the light on and off. We stand a better chance of getting an electrical shock from stepping out of the shower trying to turn the shower light off using that switch. We paid to have it removed after the inspection.

But the icing on the cake was the unreasonable requirement that any door leading outside to the swimming pool had to be equipped with a door alarm. I was told this was so that tiny persons could not wander outside to the pool and fall in. Nevermind both occupants of our house are well into their 60s and our youngest grandchild is 15. Opening that door sets off an alarm so loud that it will wake the dead, or at the least set neighbor dogs howling as far as three blocks away. When I protested, I was told not to worry; as soon as the inspection was passed we could remove them but in the meantime, I felt trapped in my own home.

There are, no doubt, many unscrupulous people masquerading as builders, who prey on gullible customers, but most of the bad apples aren’t going bother getting licensed anyway and remain in business by refusing to get the permits or submitting to the inspections. You can regulate until you’re blue in the face but you’re not going to stop those shysters. The good, ethical contractors, the ones really wanting to do the right things tolerate these shenanigans, but of course they pass along the costs of permitting and time involved in inspections to their customers.

To be sure there are some regulations that make sense and are necessary. Let’s keep them. But we have gone slam overboard in trying to protect ourselves from ourselves. We need regulation reform.

May 22, 2015 at 9:46 am
Norm Kelly says:

Unfortunately, we have people with NO common sense who automatically, spasmodically, repeat the words 'there oughta be a law'! Too many of them. About everything it seems. This is their mantra, because they don't want to expose THEIR kids to ANYTHING in the world, they want to protect everyone else also. Creating over-regulation and foolish rules.

Take the bicycle helmet laws for instance.

Take the rule regarding installing a ceiling fan for instance. Don't know about other towns, but in Cary it's required to have a permit to mount a ceiling fan in your own home. Cuz it's so darn hard to do? Cuz it takes a brain surgeon to figure out white to white, black to black? Or is it that these regulation-happy people believe that since they installed a ceiling fan into a plastic electrical box that couldn't support the weight and one of their family members was hurt, that the rest of us are also too $tup1d to know to use the proper electrical box?

Trust me when I say construction regulation is way over-board. I do low-voltage wiring often. I've been told that running Cat6 network cable requires a permit. But then, same location, I was in AFTER the inspection was done. The cable company had been in before the inspection, so I assume the cable company's work was part of the inspection. There is no way my work EVER is a bad as the cable company did, but for some reason 5 or 12 volt signal cable required an inspection but the cable company did a terrible job and it passed! I was floored, to say the least. But I was able to accomplish my task quite nicely AFTER the inspector had been on premise and did a much nicer, cleaner, more compliant job than the cable company employee/contractor came close to. And I pointed out to the inspector that they were violating code by requiring low-voltage network cable to be inspected and therefore a fee. There IS NO requirement for network cable to be inspected. But they delayed conforming to actual code long enough that I lost the initial job & income. And the customer ended up with a less professional final job. And had me in anyway to complete the job properly.

I agree with Tom over-regulation doesn't improve the outcome, doesn't improve the process, and in too many cases creates a less-than-desired result. Too many people do like Tom & I have both admitted - done things AFTER inspection to actually make things work instead of complying with foolish government regulations. Next time you hear some do-gooder, little-common-senser say 'there oughta be a law', please, please, please stop them immediately and send them home! The rest of us will be happier and still safe!

May 22, 2015 at 3:54 pm
Doug says:

Glad you finally see the burdens the government puts on the regular guy. It is sometimes hard for a regular person to comprehend until the red tape hits them.