Inspectors explain building permits, codes
|Building inspectors indicate that one of the most common violations of the National Electrical Code occurs when people remodel private residences. The violation results when individuals use an extension cords to transport power from one area of a home into another part of the structure. For example, running an extension cord from a basement and through a wall to provide electricity for remodeling work in the upper part of the house constitutes a violation.|
Whether a local resident is remodeling a home, adding a wing onto a house, building an additional structure or improving property, the actions generally require a building permit from Carbon County or Price city, depending on where the construction is taking place.
However, the requirement may confuse people. They don't understand when they need a permit and when they don't.
"My advice to people is to assume that anything they do to their property requires a permit," points out Lew Korenko of the county building and planning department. "If they come down to get a permit and what they tell us they are doing doesn't need one, then we will tell them so."
Generally projects like flat work, sidewalks and driveways as well as work like painting and wall papering do not require permits. But almost anytime plumbing, electrical, heating, cooling or wall moving is involved a permit is required.
The county uses the international residential code in all four phases of residential construction.
The job of the building department is to protect the general public from problems resulting from improper construction methods and procedures.
"People can act as their own contractor when building a home," explains Dave Levanger, director of planning. "But they still have to do things correctly. It is for their own well-being and safety. Besides, when installations of any kind are done correctly, it actually saves people time and money."
But Levanger also cautions people about working on homes and having others, such as friends, help the projects.
"If something happens and an employee of a contractor gets injured, they are covered by work-men's compensation insurance," indicates Levanger. "But if private home owners have a friend over helping them and that person has an injury, their home-owners insurance may not cover such an incident."
Carbon's building and planning department covers all the unincorporated areas of the county and conducts inspections for Wellington, Helper, Sunnyside and Scofield. Price and East Carbon City have their own departments.
Often, the county and departments are misunderstood. The staff members are not looking for things to "nail" people, point out the three building officials.
"In our profession, we don't owe anything to one individual or individual homeowner, but to the public at large," states Levanger. "It is our duty and obligation to point out the things that are improper when we do an inspection."
"We don't have as much leeway as people seem to think we do," adds Korenko. "We have to follow the shalls and dos in the code - the minimum standards. If we inspected something and let something go that shouldn't be passed we could lose our immunity, particularly if it is a danger and we don't make the call."
"When we look at installations and building construction we must follow the codes or we can lose our licenses," explains Francis Duzenack, the building official and zoning administrator for Price city.
But what the officials do is not all enforcement. Just like the police, they are often there to help.
"Our department provides many services for people," indicates Levanger. "For instance, we will do free inspections on wood stoves and electrical installations so that people can be sure they are done right. We want these things to be done the right way so no one will get hurt."
One thing that often happens is people come in and want to buy a building permit after they have already done the work.
"Instead of just beginning on a project, they need to come in or call and ask if they need a permit before they begin," advises Korenko. "People sometimes say to me, 'How should I do this?' We can't design things for people, but we can point out problems. Actually, we have never seen any kind of installation we couldn't fix after the fact. But sometimes, those fixes can be expensive and a lot of work."
All building codes are set up to meet minimum standards. In most cases, trade practices or the way licensed contractors install or build things exceeds the standards.
Some people worry that proliferation of home improvement stores has made it so many residents are completing projects, but doing the work improperly. Levanger sees it differently.
"We have seen some real improvement in the do-it-yourself stuff that people are doing to their homes in the last 10 years," comments Levanger. "Most of the home improvement centers offer advice and even classes to teach people how to install what they buy there. That has really helped."
The most concerns identified by the departments involve installation of heaters, particularly venting problems, and the use of extension cords for permanent wiring solutions.
"You wouldn't believe how many zip cords we have seen run through walls and around buildings for wiring solutions," remarks Korenko. "Those can be a real danger to everyone."
The codes followed by the inspectors are on file at the clerk's office.
In addition, many do-it-yourself books have installations that follow some codes, but not all of the guidelines may be included in the information.
Some public libraries carry copies of the actual code books, which are extremely expensive to purchase.
But regardless of where Carbon County residents may obtain the information, the inspectors look for installations that follow the codes.
"When a permit is issued, we go out and just look at the work that the permit is for," indicates Korenko. "We don't go out to find everything that we can find wrong with the entire structure. However, if we are invited to look at anything, we will make the call the way we see it."
There are a number of established guidelines the local building inspectors follow.
First is the International Building Code that is set up for all commercial buildings.
Next is the International Residential Code, which pertains to the structured plumbing and mechanical systems in a private dwelling, including one and two family detached housing and town houses of not more than three stories in height. The code also pertains to any attachments on the property such as garages and other buildings.
As far as electrical systems go, the departments follow the direction of the National Electric Code.
Building codes and what must be followed in order to comply with the established guidelines tend to change. Often, installations the inspectors see that were done in the past were within the code at the time, but would not be if they were completed today.
"People sometimes think that, when we see something old, we will want them to change it," explains Levanger. "But if it was installed when the code read that way, we don't tell people they have to change it. For instance, it used to be that when stairs were put in they only had to have rails installed when they were over four risers tall. Now it is two risers. Another area is the minimum height for a ceiling. It used to be the minimum height was seven foot, six inches. But today, it is down to seven feet."