Take the 2-minute tour ×
Home Improvement Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for contractors and serious DIYers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Does a homeowner need to obtain a permit from the town in order to do electrical work on his own house in Massachusetts? The unofficial answers I can find online (e.g., this forum and the websites of various towns) are all over the place, and apparently the answers one gets when calling town wiring inspectors also varies, so I am looking for an authorative source. There are examples of towns saying that only licensed electricians can do wiring work (e.g., Stoneham and Wayland), but also many towns that say the opposite and issue permits to homeowners (e.g., Greenfield, Carlisle, and Marion), so I don't consider town web pages authorative.

M.G.L. §3L says that “No person shall install for hire any electrical wiring or fixtures subject to this section without … giving notice to the inspector of wires … by mailing or delivering a permit application form …”. This seems to indicate that electrical work that is not for hire does not need a permit, but I don't know if it's the whole story.

The final paragraph of the same section of the law says that “Any person installing for hire electrical wiring or fixtures subject to this section shall notify the inspector of wires in writing upon the completion of the work. The inspector of wires shall, within five days of such notification, give written notice of his approval or disapproval of said work.” Again limited to work for hire.

(In order to avoid localizing this question further, let's ignore the fact that individual towns may have stricter rules. And it's obviously dangerous for a homeowner to do electrical work he is not qualified for, so many of us should hire an electrician for everything except the simplest work.)

share|improve this question
    
I would love to know this answer too. I have heard people say both yes and no. Plumbing is also a question but I have heard a clearer "no" there (it's one thing to burn your house down, but another to get septic into the clean water system and poison the whole town...) –  Alex Feinman Sep 2 '10 at 17:28
1  
To offer a counter viewpoint: the ones that know enough of what they are doing have never had to call in a licensed contractor to fix their mess. You may have a self selecting sample. –  BMitch May 17 '11 at 11:38
1  
I've done two home runs, wired three rooms, and passed all of my inspections as well as the evaluation of the licensed electrician I called to confirm my work and correct anything. I would love to become a licensed electrician, as I plan to do more of this kind of work as I gut rooms as part of a renovation, but it would never be my primary occupation, so I can't justify the several thousand hours to become a journeyman. –  Karl Katzke Sep 26 '11 at 14:40
1  
It's not necessarily dangerous for homeowners to do electrical work, it's dangerous for them to turn the power back on after doing said work. –  Tester101 Sep 28 '11 at 18:55
1  
Vebjorn, as we have said in the past--best way to answer this is to call the jurisdiction (city, town) that the electrical work will be done within. Or your local ombudsman. –  Alex Feinman Sep 29 '11 at 19:22

8 Answers 8

Most jurisdictions allow you to pull the permit and have an extra form for you to sign off on liability. However, some modifications require design submittal or something similar that must be provided by a professional. Additionally if there is a requirement for working with refrigerant that is regulated, a homeowner still must have a licensed person do the work. You also can void your insurance if you do it incorrectly.

share|improve this answer

I think people have a very bad misconception of what an inspector is. Let me just say that the permit and inspection process is a very good thing. I know the permit price is a lot more than it should be and is mostly just a means of producing extra revenue for the city or town and that stinks. But what a permit and proper inspection does is totally for YOU the home owner.

Number 1, the inspector works FOR YOU. He's your best friend. He is there to PROTECT you against fraudulent work being done on and in your home when you don't know any better. He's checking up to make sure that everything that you paid to have done by a professional was in fact done properly and to code. Trust me, that's a very good thing.

Number 2, the permit documents that the work you had done was in fact done properly as marked by the inspector. Think of it like this, if you were buying a new home, wouldn't you be a lot more at peace inside knowing that the previous home owner pulled all the proper permits and had all the remodeling work he did on the home you're going to buy properly done and inspected per the building code? Believe me, it may cost some extra money, but the benefits more than pay for themselves in the long run.

To bolster my point, I want to tell you what happened to my "Jack of all trades, master of none" uncle. My uncle is a super smart guy with a lot of tradesman knowledge and common sense. Well, back in the early 90's when he did some new and re-wiring in an investment property he had just bought, he lost almost everything he owned. How you ask? Well, when the house (a 3 family in Quincy) caught fire and burnt down, it was shown to be the fault of the wiring in the new electrical panel HE installed. Well, can you guess what happened when the city inspectors found that no permits were on file for the work that was done and then found out my uncle was the on who did all the work? Well, the insurance company paid him NOTHING! That was a TOTAL loss. Then, he got sued from his tenants, of which 3 were seriously injured including a child who almost died. A firefighter was also seriously injured battling the blaze. As I said, my uncle lost that house, and had to sell off 2 other investment properties as well as his own home in order to pay off all the damages. And I am making an incredibly long and terrible story extremely short here just to give you the crux of what happened.

So trust me when I say that even though it flat out sucks to have to pay the permit fees, they are a small price to pay for the safety and peace of mind they provide to all of us as home owners. Remember, the inspector works for YOU. He is on YOUR side so that you don't get screwed and are safe. The permit simply documents the fact that the work was done properly and your home is in fact safe. So please, do yourself a huge favor, suck it up, pay the permit fees and get the work in your home inspected and done right. The risk to your family is not worth the money saved.

Good luck to all.

share|improve this answer

From the point of view of an actual Electrical Inspector in MA, who is NOT allowed to accept an Application for Permit to Perform Electrical Work from an unlicensed party; check with your insurance company. They will gladly cancel your insurance as soon as they find out you have done something in your own home that they claim is not per today's Codes. That being said, would I inspect your homeowner wiring for you to make sure it is safe? Absolutely

share|improve this answer
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I called the building commissioner in the town of Maynard, MA. He said that by state law, homeowners are entitled to do their own electrical work. However, the state's Division of Professional Licensure has instructed his inspectors not to issue permits, except to licensed electricians. As a result, homeowners can legally do their own electrical work, but the work will not be inspected by the town.

share|improve this answer
    
Which explains, why, doh, the statutes use the phrase for hire. Electrical work for hire is different from just doing it for yourself. –  Kaz Feb 21 '13 at 3:38

Here is a short article on the subject.

A phone call to your local permitting office is the best--and only--way to determine if you need a permit. Believe it or not, many permit officers are happy to discuss permitting issues with anonymous callers as a way to ward off future code violations.

share|improve this answer

I think the problem here is not whether you need a permit or not(it's a good idea to have one plus inspection, especially for someone whoe doesn't do electrical all the time), but if homeowner can even obtain one. I have also researched this topic online and found pretty much the same range of differing opinions. Some say "yes", some say "no" and the MGL is pretty vague. However, it seems that few people that were really determined to get a permit, were able to get one even though their town inpsector gave them hard time. I thing one guy was able to solve it by going to his town selectmen, for example.

Another way would be to find an electrician(preferably a family friend) who will pull the permit for you and maybe take a look at your work. That might not be entirely legal, but is sure better then doing work without any permits at all.

Overall, those laws are total BS in my opinion. The point of the permits and inspections should be safety. Home wiring is not rocket science and NEC is not some sort of ancient philosophical scripture that is open to interpretation by a shaman with electrician's license. It has a set of very clear and discrete rules that anyone with half brain can understand and follow. The current law only encourages homeowners to perform work without any inspection at all ir hire cheap handyman-hacks, because real electricians charge astronomical sums of money.

share|improve this answer
    
The NEC is actually rather hard to make sense of at times, and there is also the fact that it is 700 pages or so, and 50-100 pages are applicable to almost any single circuit that needs to be worked on. I don't think homeowners will get it right... quite a few electricians who've been in the business for years don't get it right, so what chance does a homeowner have (outside of replacing a fan, a chandelier, etc.)? Not much, imo! –  Michael May 17 '11 at 7:29
    
Of course there are people who probably shouldn't even think of doing electrical work themselves. But that's the point of inspections - to make sure the job is done right. If someone is clueless it will eb blatantly obvious to an inspector. Also, if a professional electrician can't do his job right, that doesn't mean a homeowner can't. That's one of the main reasons I do all the work myself. I've heard way too many stories of trades people doing a crappy job. And again, residential electrical is not that hard. –  Vitaliy May 18 '11 at 17:05

Well, you encouraged me to do some legwork.

From http://www.ci.stoneham.ma.us/pages/stonehamma_building/faq#work:

State law requires anyone performing electrical, plumbing or gas work to be licensed.

More authoritatively but less clearly, from this Word doc on mass.gov, the row under "Wiring" says "By licensed trades only." and "Bldg. Permit? yes"

share|improve this answer
    
I updated the question with the Stoneham link and also some other towns that either agree or disagree. So towns are certainly in disagreement about what state law is. –  Vebjorn Ljosa Oct 25 '10 at 19:02
1  
As for the Word document about HIC registrations and CSLs, I think it's written in the context of what is required of a contractor. The CSL requirement, for instance, does not apply to a homeowner (see 780 CMR 108.3.5 and the HIC/CSL FAQ), so it is possible that the "by licensed trade" comment in the Word document is written without considering the homeowner exemption. (Sorry for using bit.ly, but the link was too long for the comment field.) –  Vebjorn Ljosa Oct 25 '10 at 19:06
    
Let me also add that the license requirement (M.G.L. §141.1A) is specifically to "the business or occupation of installing" wires, etc. –  Vebjorn Ljosa Oct 25 '10 at 19:22
    
Great points; I hadn't considered if that was written with a contractor in mind. –  Alex Feinman Oct 25 '10 at 22:38

Its going to vary by jurisdiction, but keep in mind that those laws are there in a state like Massachusetts because the local unions demand it.

It will be a cold day in hell before I pay one of the 12 licensed plumbers/electricians in my local jurisdiction $500 (the going rate) for a trivial task like installation of a toilet or a ceiling fan. The fine is the same as the exorbitant free.

share|improve this answer
2  
Maybe the plumbers/electricians don't want to pay for the proper permits either, so they charge you the $500 fine in case they get caught working without a permit. :P –  Tester101 Sep 7 '10 at 20:02
2  
I can't vote this comment up enough. Almost every other state allows homeowner(s) to do plumbing/electric work with proper permits and inspections. What a crock. –  kkeilman Sep 7 '10 at 22:56
    
+1 Current law doesn't benefit anyone except for union hacks. My friend at work was recently quuoted $500 for replacing a water heater(that is not including the heater price) I think that is just insane price for soldering a couple of joints and hauling it away. –  Vitaliy Feb 24 '11 at 21:29

protected by Steven Jan 22 at 14:13

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.