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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Up to (Electrical) Code

Stephanie Staton
Hobby Farms and Hobby Farm Home Editor

When filing for permits through our local building inspector’s office, claiming farm exempt during our farmhouse renovation has saved us a lot of paperwork headaches and money for inspection fees. Two major stages of our house renovation require permitting and inspection: the electrical wiring and septic system. Because we’re not ready for the latter, we’re in the throes of finishing and finalizing electrical wiring for inspection.

You can file for an inspection one of two ways: through your contractor or as a homeowner. If you’re house is being wired by licensed technicians and they’ll be liable for compliance, this is a contractor inspection, and your job is simply to ensure they get it done. The electrician is responsible for calling and setting up the inspection appointment, and the inspectors prefer to work directly with the contractor. (In other words, don’t call the inspector—follow up with your electrician to ensure the appropriate appointment has been set up.)

On the other hand, if you’re filing as a homeowner installation, all responsibility for meeting code falls on you. It’s up to you to set up the appointments, meet with the inspector, and correct any and all code violations. You have the opportunity to do this rough in (during the framing stage with wires in place but no electricity) and at the final inspection (when drywall finished and switches and plugs are hot with covers in place).

While we hired a licensed technician to help us install the electrical wiring, we did a majority of the leg work, using his knowledge as our guide. Unfortunately, codes vary by county and proved quite different from his experience. As such, our first rough-in inspection didn’t go as planned—the inspector was nice enough to inform us that we were nowhere near to being ready for the inspection and kindly answered any and all questions we had to get on the right track. With her guidance and suggestions, we corrected the issues and performed a thorough walk-through to ensure we’d made all the required updates.

We then called the inspector back for the "real” rough-in inspection and managed to pass—earning us a temporary permit sticker stuck to the window. (Subsequently, we decided the services of our electrician were no longer affordable or needed, but that’s a whole other can of worms.)

My father and husband took the lead, wiring the lights, switches and plugs once the drywall was in place. It was a tedious and time-consuming task, to say the least, but both of these gentlemen had experience doing it, so we felt confident about the decision. As each room was completed and the panel hooked up to the power company, we tested each room to ensure it was properly wired. When it came time to call the inspector back over for the final inspection, I asked if there were any measures we should take to ensure the process went smoothly. Here’s what we learned and applied:

  1. Identify all circuits for each breaker.

  2. Label all breakers neatly and clearly. (We used my bff’s label maker—it was amazing.)

  3. Do a room-by-room sweep to ensure all plugs and lights are working.

  4. Check that all plugs near countertops or water, such as in the kitchen or bathroom, are on ground fault interrupters.

  5. Clear access to plugs and switches, moving any large materials, tools or other items out of the way.

We didn’t pass the first final because we missed one GFI plug in the kitchen (we had for the run above the sink but not above the stove—bummer), but we quickly swapped it out and passed the following day for a smaller return-inspection fee.

Hobby Farms Stephanie Staton passed the electrical inspection on her renovated farmhouse. Photo by Stephanie Staton (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo by Stephanie Staton

Checking each and every plug and switch in every room might seem like overkill, but it saved us from several overlooked mistakes and minimized the amount of code violations. While our mistake was fairly minor (the inspector felt awful to fail us but was required to do so by law until it was fixed), it was good to know that no major errors had occurred and that it was a quick fix.

If you’re considering a wiring project in your home or barn, give your county inspector a call. Not only can they apprise you of the local codes but they might also be able to advise you on the options available for your renovation needs.

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