Manhattan Beach Remodel: DIY, Permits and Code Violations

Thinking of some DIY?

So you are thinking of doing some remodeling to your Manhattan Beach home. First let me start off by clearly stating I am not a contractor. I am a Realtor and over the years have seen the results of many projects done by either my buyer or seller clients and have heard both the success and horror stores. Licensed contractors can best advise you as to any project you are considering doing in your home.

Here's some common mistakes I've observed people make when trying to DIY (do it yourself) their own remodel project.

1. Working Without Permits: Many homeowners know a lot about tools and techniques, but the best DIYers know about building codes, too. Completing home improvement projects that are code-compliant and can pass inspections from your local building authority are the route to a safe and happy home and project. The best way to insure that your projects are code compliant is to get a permit. But permits cost money and may add time to complete the project so often people try to work around the permitting process.

My advice is don't.  In some instances, homeowners may be allowed to do their own improvements without a contractor’s license, but you still need a permit for many remodeling projects.

That’s important for a number of reasons. You’ll know that your improvements are safe and reliable. Your work will comply with the latest energy and water-conservation measures. That saves you money in the long run, and makes your house more marketable when you decide to sell.Work that’s not up to code may be discovered by an inspector when you try and sell, putting a big damper on your plans. You may be required to fix any problems (with added expense) before a buyer will consider making an offer. And if your buyer should later discover fixes that aren’t up to code, you could be sued for repairs and damages. If you have permits, your project will be inspected. Don’t think of visits from a building inspector as adversarial; rather, they’re opportunities to learn about construction techniques and materials.

One of the most common issues that comes up during the sales process and the home inspection is the buyer or their agent asks for permits. Even if everything you have done is up to code, without permits the buyers may suspect there is something wrong.

2.  Not Testing Older Materials for Asbestos and Lead: These two dangerous materials lurk in many older building materials, and their disposal is strictly regulated in most states.

Those laws not only protect your health, but protect trash removal workers and landfill operators, too. If you dump tainted remodeling waste, you’re putting others at risk.

Asbestos is found in many common building materials, especially in houses built before 1970, including: Most communities have independent testing facilities that can determine if asbestos is present in samples.

However, even the removal of samples is risky. If you suspect asbestos, contact your local building authority or regional Occupational Safety and Health Administration office to find out the best way to test for and remove asbestos.

3. Improper Fastening of Deck Ledgers to Houses: Building a new deck or repairing/remodeling the old one is the ideal DIY project — it’s fairly straightforward and materials are simple.
But a recent spate of deck failures reveals that many decks fail where the deck ledger fastens to the house — one of the more technically challenging steps of deck-building.

The North American Deck and Railing Association says two of the most-common mistakes are: Improper (or missing) flashing to keep water from seeping behind the ledger where it can soften and rot out wood. It’s a good idea to have your deck inspected for proper construction techniques when you build it, and to do yearly DIY inspections and repairs.

4. Bad Electrical Work: Few examples of home improvement and repair are life threatening, but electrical definitely can be. That’s why utmost caution is needed when you do your own wiring. Better yet, don't. Hire a licensed electrician.

Here are a few common wiring mistakes:
  • Don’t splice wires together with a couple of wire nuts and some electrical tape and call it a day. All wire connections must be inside an approved junction box. 
  • While you’re at it, you can’t hide a junction box inside a wall — it must be visible and accessible.
  • Missing GFCIs. A ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is required for any circuit that services an area where water might be present: bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, garages, and outdoor receptacles. A single GFCI at the beginning of a circuit can protect other receptacles on the same circuit.
5. Fence Heights: Good fences make good neighbors, right? Fences are a major source of disputes with neighbors, and a top source of complaints to local building and planning departments.

Many problems stem from the fact that homeowners, in an attempt to establish privacy, build fences that are too tall. Most codes limit fences on the sides and in the back of property to 6 feet, and 42 to 48 inches in the front.

If you build a fence that’s not in compliance, a complaint could bring a building official to your property with an order to tear your fence down. Not likely but I don't know who your neighbor is. Just stay within the height restrictions.