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Old 10-23-2008, 10:30 PM   #1
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This is kind of a hypothetical question.....
but lets say a homeowner does something like a remodel or a basement finish and does the electrical work himself, assuming some new wiring or rearrangement of existing wiring. Everything is permitted, and inspected, and passes without problem.

Now a few years down the road maybe the house is even sold, and there is a problem or possibly a fire. Can the DIY homeowner be held responsible if it is deemed to be electrical in nature, even located in the remodel area? Or does the permit/inspection process approve the work and take the liability off the owner?

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Old 10-23-2008, 11:24 PM   #2
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I'm no attorney...

But I am a codes inspector. I've been to court a time or two, but never on a DIY project. If a problem can be related to work that was performed in a home, such as an electrical fire that is proven to be due to faulty or incorrect installation, liability can be placed on professionals or DIYers that did the work. Normally this would come up on an insurance claim...You do the work, do it wrong and cause a problem, and they deny the claim for damage due to faulty work that doesn't meet code.

The building permit is your best "get out of jail free" card. The fact that the work is being done legally and the fact that the inspector signs it off as meeting current code is worth quite a lot in defense of a DIYer. In my opinion that process doesn't take the liability off you, but sure makes you have a strong defense if you somehow needed it. The codes are written to put the ultimate burden of code compliance on the person doing the work, not the inspector. Tort laws essentially make it almost impossible to get the authority having jurisdiction to hold any financial responsibility. In order to sue the city, they have to prove that the inspector was negligent, which is very very very difficult to prove. So, the blame is hard to pass.

I think the sale of a house clears up quite a lot though. When a home is bought/sold, the pre-purchase inspector should identify any deficiencies that are apparent. The buyer either accepts the house or not based on that inspection, which is often a crapshoot, and "buyer beware" take over. I have never heard of a DIYer or a contractor being held liable by the new owner for work they legally did prior to the sale of their home.

But, lawyers are crafty folk when it comes to placing burden. I bet you could ask this question of 10 different lawyers and get at least 10 different answers.

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Old 10-24-2008, 06:02 AM   #3
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Good answer.
I hope that a lot of DYR’ers read this and realize the importance of pulling permits and getting inspections.
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Old 10-24-2008, 11:51 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mbaker76 View Post
Now a few years down the road maybe the house is even sold, and there is a problem or possibly a fire. Can the DIY homeowner be held responsible if it is deemed to be electrical in nature, even located in the remodel area? Or does the permit/inspection process approve the work and take the liability off the owner?
Let's say your homeowner's fire insurance costs $300/yr and the replacement value of your house is $300K. The chance of you having a fire in your house for any reason within a year is slightly less than 300/300,000 = 1/1000. This is about the same as the chances of a 40 year old male dying within a year.

So the chance of not having a fire within a year is slightly greater than 999/1000. The chance of your not having a fire within the next 10 years is 0.999^10 = 0.99 [99 chances out of 100] so even after 10 years you still have only 1 chance in 100 of having a fire [the 40 yr. old has 4/100 chances of dying within this period].

The likely outcome is no fire, but for selling your house you might need to bring some of your house up to code, if it's not already there.

Last edited by Yoyizit; 10-24-2008 at 11:59 AM.
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Old 10-24-2008, 12:56 PM   #5
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I think those odds change significantly if there's poorly done DIY wiring in the house that the insurance company doesn't know about..
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Old 10-24-2008, 01:15 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Yoyizit View Post
Let's say your homeowner's fire insurance costs $300/yr and the replacement value of your house is $300K. The chance of you having a fire in your house for any reason within a year is slightly less than 300/300,000 = 1/1000. This is about the same as the chances of a 40 year old male dying within a year.
Not sure how you use the cost of insurance and the value of the house to equate to a probability of a fire in the house. By your reckoning, if my insurance goes up to $600 a year instead, then the probability of a fire in my house for any reason doubles! (600/300000 = 2/1000)

OR, since my house is worth less now due to the credit and housing market falling apart but my insurance still costs $300, I now realize that since my value is less, the risk of a fire went up! (300/275000 = 1.09/1000)

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Old 10-24-2008, 01:23 PM   #7
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I think he was trying to say that your insurance rates are based upon the probability of a fire completely consuming a house in your area, which is partially true (and he did specifically say fire insurance)... but it's not quite that straightforward.

Because by Yoyizit's reckoning, 1 in 100 houses in my town should burn to the ground every 10 years..
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Old 10-24-2008, 01:30 PM   #8
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Statistics and insurance claims aside...Lives are at stake. Gotta make sure it is done right 100% of the time!
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Old 10-24-2008, 01:47 PM   #9
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Its going to be done right, and permited. Im just trying to decide if I should do it myself, or hire a contractor to do it. Then if there are problems/issues down the road I thought it would somewhat take me out of the middle of it. As I explained to my wife, with plumbing if a line leaks there may be some water damage but likely noone will get hurt. With electrical, if something does by chance happen (even flukes happen once in awhile) people could be hurt or end up with a lot of property damage.

But it souds like if everything is permitted and inspected, then it would be hard to be held responsible as a homeowner, because the city would have to bear some responsiblity considering that is the whole purpose behind the inspections in the first place.
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Old 10-24-2008, 01:51 PM   #10
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Statistics and insurance claims aside...Lives are at stake. Gotta make sure it is done right 100% of the time!
No argument on that.. but even the best job can burn a house down.. faulty breakers, mfr. defects in wire, accidental damage later, etc. So once all the codes are complied with and everything's inspected and buttoned up, good insurance is a must.

I've read information that varies from insurer to insurer, state to state, etc etc and some HO policies will cover DIY screw ups. Sometimes it's included in the base premium, sometimes you need extra coverage, sometimes none is available. It's another thing a homeowner should understand fully before doing DIY electrical work. (+ codes and safety).

I know the OP asked about liability when selling a house.. sorry for the digression, b/c I have no answer..
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Old 10-24-2008, 03:47 PM   #11
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But it souds like if everything is permitted and inspected, then it would be hard to be held responsible as a homeowner, because the city would have to bear some responsiblity considering that is the whole purpose behind the inspections in the first place.
The city shares responsibility, but not liability. Attorneys follow the money, and they're never going to get money out of a city for problems with inspected work. You're left holding the bag because it was your work.

For a certain answer to this question you'd need to contact an attorney.
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Old 10-24-2008, 04:00 PM   #12
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I seem to recall that the code in my town said something about a requirement that the house not be sold within 5yrs of the homeowner performing an electrical DIY. I can't quote this, because I haven't inquired recently. If there is such a rule, it would sound like the town is banking on the chances that faulty wiring will show within 5yrs.
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Old 10-24-2008, 06:10 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by williswires View Post
if my insurance goes up to $600 a year instead, then the probability of a fire in my house for any reason doubles! (600/300000 = 2/1000)
My contractor's insurance doubled from one year to the next with me never filing a claim and my exposure to risk not having changed. I wrote to the state's attorney and got another company.
I'd say the probability that the insurance CEO is a sociopath is what actually doubled.

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I think those odds change significantly if there's poorly done DIY wiring in the house that the insurance company doesn't know about..
That's my next question.
How many houses have some wiring in them done by someone incompetent? 90%? 50%? 10%?
How many catch fire due to this wiring?
How many burn to the ground due to this wiring and nobody reporting a fire and nobody coming to put it out?

According to this book,
http://www.amazon.com/unSpun-Finding...4889452&sr=1-1
Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt sells a lot of stuff.

If a licensed person wants 5x what it would cost me to do it myself, the odds of his work actually working and not harming someone should be at least 5x less than the odds of my work actually working and not harming someone.

Last edited by Yoyizit; 10-24-2008 at 06:17 PM.
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Old 10-28-2008, 11:31 AM   #14
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Quote:
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Because by Yoyizit's reckoning, 1 in 100 houses in my town should burn to the ground every 10 years..
How often, and how many houses, burn to the ground in your town? If I'm going to learn statistics I have to be able to figure out these things.

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