Permits, Inspections, Oh My, Oh My.
February 26, 2015 6:22 PM   Subscribe

I installed a hot water heater, and I don't want to screw up the paperwork.. Help!

Recently - OK, awhile ago, I got some friends together and we spent a day replacing my hot water heater, which was way better than paying someone a ton of money to do it. It went great. Hooray.

My understanding was that afterward I would need to get it inspected by the city, and I was cool with that.

However, it turns out that I am kind of dumb, and we should have gotten a PERMIT from the city before we started the work... and I can't schedule an *inspection* for something I haven't gotten a permit for.

My wife thinks I should just request a permit and lie about having already put in the hot water heater and just play it cool. That makes sense, but also makes me uncomfortable because it involves lying to people about things and I don't want to get in trouble. Part of me wants to call the city and talk to someone and just confess to being stupid, but my wife doesn't want me to do that because she thinks there may be fines and other consequences involved.

Ugh. What do you think I should do? What's the best way to handle this?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (9 answers total)
Have your wife call and request a permit.
posted by jamaro at 6:39 PM on February 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Fines for work without a permit around here consist of doubling the permit cost. Since the permit cost is based on the value of the work (every place that I am familiar with) even the fine won't break the bank.
Personally I would not even mess with the permit/inspection, but then, I'm "in the biz", pretty mechanically/electrically adept, and have access to code books.
If you take a unit out of service, and plug an equivalent unit back in, it really doesn't take a rocket surgeon to get it right.

On an ethical level, which is where you seem to be operating, the goal of the inspector is to make sure you got it right. The permit fee covers him/her coming to do the inspection, and probably a bit into the city's coffers.
Just pull the permit, wait a day, and call for inspection. No harm, no foul.

I will mention that I called in a gas leak (smelled it outside, NOT inside), the gas company came, asked if they could check my house, I let them. I won't be making that mistake again.
Your Inspector could notice things that do not meet current code - i.e., at gas service to an appliance like a water heater, there now needs to be a "drip" - a 6" long stub of pipe pointing down from the gas line just where the service is. Supposed to catch debris in the gas line before it gets into the appliance and plugs an orifice or something.
My house dates from 1930. I now have a drip.
snark/ How this house, and all the ones around it, made it 80 years without one is anybodies guess. /snarkoff
posted by rudd135 at 7:00 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry about the date for the install. Date the permit for today, then schedule the inspection for the soonest date. I'd leave my explaining to the inspector and wouldn't get the clerk at city hall involved. IMHO the inspector isn't going to mind since they always show up after the fact to do the inspection. As long as there is a permit and inspection for the job everyone will be happy.

Like rudd135 said, check your code before the inspection happens. We did a reno and the inspector noticed our water heater wasn't sitting on a drain pan, a new code requirement on our area. We had to install one before he'd approve the new downstairs laundry room. BTW the water heater was existing and wasn't part of the laundry room renovation. We also had to strap the water heater to a stud wall for earthquake, another new code requirement.

Then before the inspection, make sure all plumbing connections and electrical boxes are exposed - leave the cover off the junction box for the electrical for example. So the inspector can see your work. If it's a natural gas water heater, you may have to have proof that a plumber that is gas certified did the install. Usually gas installs can't be DIY.

Good luck!
posted by Zedcaster at 8:56 PM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I am an electrical contractor.

Why do you think you need a permit? I don't think you do.
A general rule in construction - new installation must be permitted, repair and replace is not.
You are replacing an existing water heater. In most jurisdictions in the US, this does not require a permit.

If you call a plumber in your area, and ask about a quote to do this work, and ask if they need a permit - I bet they say no.

Ask the building department, and they will say yes every time and twice on Tuesday.
Just because the building department is willing to take your money, that does not necessarily mean a permit is required. (It is the functional equivalent of a police officer searching your car at a traffic stop. The officer may not have any right to search the trunk of your car, but if you ask the officer if they want to search the trunk, they will do it every time. Guaranteed.)That said, if you have turned the building department on to yourself, then they will not go away. (You can't tell the police officer to search the trunk, then suddenly change your mind - once the cat is out of the bag, it is over).

The date of the work does matter too much when pulling a permit. Technically, if you need a permit, you should have it before the work begins - but practically, you only need the permit when you go for inspection. When you pull the permit, they will only ask for a work description, they will not ask for a date when the work is being done. Pull the permit. Wait two days, then call for inspection. No big deal.

The bigger problem is this: can you pull a permit for plumbing work in your house. In many jurisdictions, only a licensed plumber can pull a plumbing permit. In Florida (where I live), if it is your primary residence, and registered as your homestead for tax purposes, then you can take a small plumbing test at the building department, and if you pass, then you can pull a plumbing permit for your homesteaded property. But in other states, under no circumstance will you be able to pull a plumbing permit with a license.

If you need a licensed plumber, then you will have to hire a plumber to review (and possibly correct) any of your work. Then the plumber can pull the permit.
posted by Flood at 4:07 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've had two water heaters replaced in my lifetime and neither time required a permit or inspection. YMMV, of course, depending on your location, but I'd be very surprised that you needed a permit pulled for this.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:19 AM on February 27, 2015

Seconding Flood, when Jungle Husband replaced our hot water heater it didn't need a permit because it wasn't new construction, just a replacement. The city will gladly sell you a permit because they could use the revenue but it's not required in most places. I wouldn't worry about it at all.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 5:27 AM on February 27, 2015

Call the city and speak to the department that issues permits. Tell them that you installed it as a DIY project and that you didn't know about the permit process. Ask them what you should do.

They will be happy to tell you and help you if there is something you need to do retroactively. They aren't vindictive and they will be very nice about stuff and try to help you.

I would ask for an inspection just to make sure it's all kosher. I would double do this if it was a gas hot water heater.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:30 AM on February 27, 2015

Ruthless Bunny is giving good advice.

In my city, you have to get a permit and inspection even if you are just replacing an existing water heater. We had ours professionally installed back in October because the weirdo contractor who built our housing development put direct vent gas water heaters in the garages in all the houses (convenient for when it leaks, but DV water heaters cost twice as much and can be hard to find). The installer pulled the permit, and the inspection went just fine.
posted by monopas at 10:02 AM on February 27, 2015

There's some good advice here, but it's critical to realize that permitting and code enforcement (at least in the US) is necessarily local. Like, really local. The "authority having jurisdiction" is the ultimate arbiter and what they do in Florida or elsewhere doesn't really tell you much.

Similarly, the helpfulness of permit and building departments varies enormously. Some love homeowners and will walk you through the entire process; in other places permit officials pretty much exist as a revenue generator for local govt and friend to contractors. Unlike Ruthless Bunny, I would never contact a building official to innocently ask their advice about unpermitted work, I would consider that naive and asking for a vindictive enforcement action. They can and will force you to pull out work sometimes.

I would really ask myself how confident you are in your work. A water heater involves significant plumbing and perhaps electrical skills. If you are absolutely confident that job is good (and I would suggest that getting that work inspected is not the best way to find out if it's right; maybe check out Taunton's Code Check series) then I would not pull a permit at all. It's just asking for trouble, unless you plan on selling soon or you are a landlord or other have other extenuating circumstances.
posted by werkzeuger at 7:05 AM on February 28, 2015

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