Safety and legality of installing a DIY chandelier?
October 12, 2014 6:26 PM   Subscribe

I really like this chandelier. Buy-able versions I have found are way out of my budget, but the designer posted instructions for a similar DIY version. I live in a rented apartment in NYC - are there legal/insurance/safety issues I need to be concerned about?

I've never done any kind of electrical work before, though I do small handy stuff around my place. My concern is that building and then installing this could create issues with my landlord/renters insurance if something goes wrong because of the chandelier (or, alternatively, that I'll have issues due to the chandelier even if something unrelated goes wrong (e.g. policy refuses to pay for toaster fire due to chandelier)). Neither the lease nor my policy make mention of matters like this.

As a way around any potential problems, I wondered if having a licensed electrician do the actual wiring might protect me from liability? Better yet, it'd be great if anyone knew of an already-made version I could buy from $350 or below that would help me avoid these worries in the first place...

Thanks for any help!
posted by Sakura3210 to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What did the company suggest when you contacted them?
posted by oceanjesse at 6:57 PM on October 12, 2014

Response by poster: I tried calling their showroom on Saturday, but they didn't pick up their phone - I figured maybe they were closed on the weekend and planned to try again Tuesday.
posted by Sakura3210 at 7:05 PM on October 12, 2014

I don't have the skillset to suggest specifics, but would you consider making this into a ceiling-mounted lamp that plugs into a wall outlet, rather than hardwiring it?
posted by tapir-whorf at 7:12 PM on October 12, 2014

I don't have an answer to the legal/liability issue, but is there a reason why you can't just ask your landlord or super about installing it?

I've made lamps before--it is pretty straightforward. However, I would wonder how heavy that particular chandelier would be and whether the existing electrical box could handle the weight. This would be something that your super should know.

In any event, hanging the chandelier isn't going to be a one person job; your helper ought to be your super, an electrician, or someone with experience installing chandeliers.
posted by girl flaneur at 7:16 PM on October 12, 2014

Response by poster: The chandelier instructions have it as a plug-in, but I would prefer to have it replace the wall-mounted light fixture already in the room. And I planned to have it installed by an actual electrician (sorry for not mentioning this earlier), as I would not feel comfortable dealing with the apartment's wiring. Landlord is very difficult to get answers from (building is owned by a company), so I'd prefer not to deal with it if not necessary.
posted by Sakura3210 at 7:31 PM on October 12, 2014

This one from west elm is kind of close, but not nearly as lovely.
posted by mamabear at 7:52 PM on October 12, 2014

Here is one from Schoolhouse Electric. (We are lighting shopping this evening, honest!)
posted by mamabear at 8:20 PM on October 12, 2014

My wife and I made the Lindsey Adelman DIY version and installed it ourselves with the help of my step-father who is a stand in for an electrician when the need arises. Putting it together took a few hours, and there's not a ton that can go wrong as long as you're careful (measure twice before cutting or stripping the wires). There are a few points where trying to stuff the wirecaps into the joints gets tricky, but it's not that bad. The bigger issue is hanging it as it's definitely at least a two person job. You'll want to look into getting a chain, especially if you want to offset it.

I can say that it's definitely worth the cost and effort. It's a beautiful fixture, and people comment on it whenever they come over. They're even more impressed when we mention that we made it ourselves.
posted by ghostpony at 9:22 PM on October 12, 2014

Oh, I'm realizing I may have misinterpreted your question. When referring to the electrician, are you talking about wiring the chandelier upon building it? or installing it?

I don't think you need an electrician to help put the chandelier together (which involves some wiring, but it's really straightforward).

You would likely need to get an electrician to install it regardless of whether you make it yourself, but again I don't see there being any safety issues associated with building the chandelier yourself.
posted by ghostpony at 9:29 PM on October 12, 2014

This lady's brain damage was caused by a ceiling light fixture falling on her. So don't just worry about the wiring, worry about affixing it securely to the ceiling.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:12 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest you get both written permission from your landlord to make any changes to the building's electrical wiring AND a professional electrician to do the work. You're not just risking *your* property in any possible fire, you're also dealing with risk to the property AND LIVES of everyone else in the building --- if you were in a single family house you owned I'd say do what you want, but when other people are at risk it behooves you to go the extra mile when it comes to safety, and that holds in apartments or condos.

And I know NYC has some pretty tough tenants' rights laws, but you're talking about making permanent changes to someone else's property. When you move, would you leave the light fixture, or just a hole in the ceiling? Would this violate your lease, risking either eviction or loss of your security deposit? Are you even sure the ceiling can safely hold that weight, especially where you want to install it?

Get permission in writing, and hire a pro IF the project is okayed. Otherwise, could you make a floor lamp version?
posted by easily confused at 3:55 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have changed out ceiling lamps on my own in rental apartments more than once. I've changed out thermostats as well. I never asked for permission (seemed like asking for trouble), and in one case I left the new ceiling fixture behind ($15 ikea fixture subbed in for a broken hideous 70s fixture). If you have access to the breaker box and can shut off power to your apartment, it's definitely within the reasonably-handy DIY skillset. I would go for it (indeed, I have gone for it).

You have to be pretty un-handy to screw this up, but if it gets confusing, stop and call an electrician.
posted by mskyle at 6:25 AM on October 13, 2014

The chandelier doesn't seem too heavy (12 lbs), however, the electrical box is probably held up by only the drywall or plaster. It is required, especially in rental buildings, that you put in a ceiling brace to support heavy items (like ceiling fans). (It says this box can be installed from below)
I have a friend who wanted to rent out his house. Part of the city inspection was to make sure that these braces were in place. Your landlord wants to know about this so he stays up to code.
posted by H21 at 7:01 AM on October 13, 2014

If you were in a modern building anywhere but in NYC, I'd say, "shouldn't be a problem." But...get permission.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:47 AM on October 13, 2014

Having been a landlord, I'd flip the fuck out if my tenants made permanent changes to the electrical wiring in their living space. A quick look suggests about 1 in 6 fires are caused by electrical issues.

And, as someone else noted, you're not just gambling your life(s) and the landlords (hopefully insured) property, but the lives of every other human who lives there.

Get permission, or you will likely be on the hook for everything (if damage results, and you survive the fire). Get it (AT LEAST) checked by an electrician - although the cost of the visit will probably make the incremental cost of installation trivial.

I've lived through two, electrically-caused house fires (same house, same wiring, but we didn't find the problam until one side of the house was reduced to ash). Meeting a fireman on your inside staircase while you're wearing pyjamas does not make for a fun night.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:45 PM on October 13, 2014

Do you know what UL Listings are on light fixtures?

"UL" stands for Underwriters Laboratory - underwriters, as in, connected to insurance.
UL Listings on light fixtures was started by insurance agencies. Nearly every insurance policy in the United States has a clause greatly limiting coverage (if not out-right voiding coverage) whenever a non-UL listed light fixture is involved.

UL is not law. You can install a non-UL fixture, but you have no insurance regarding it (and neither does your landlord).

I am an electrical contractor. I would never ever install a non-UL listed light fixture in my own house, and I have the skills, tools, and knowledge to construct a light fixture correctly. And I would still never risk it.
posted by Flood at 6:07 AM on October 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

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