Backstory: we recently added some furniture to a previously-unused room to make it a quickie guest bedroom for some upcoming family visits. On a whim, I got my electrical tester and plugged it in to a bedside outlet to make sure it worked properly. "Open Ground". Goodie. Since I had to open the boxes up anyway, I decided to bite the bullet and replace the outlets in the room with TR.

The first outlet (the one with the ground issue) had very little slack, but other than that the wires (including the ground) were all present and seemed to be in good condition. Then I opened up the second box (which got the line from the service panel and daisy-chained a runner out to the one with the ground issue), and found, to my horror, that whomever had last wired this outlet had not only disconnected the ground on the runner to the other outlet, but had cut it off at the jacket. HUUUUUGE no-no. Luckily, they'd made another more minor boo-boo, and there was roughly two inches of outer insulation on the wire in the box (from what I remember of HoH, electricians are supposed to leave a max of only 1/4" of outer insulation in a wallbox), so I was able to cut the jacket back and expose enough bare wire to get a couple good twists around the ground on the service side, making the electrical in the room safe to use.

I figure this hack job can't have been done by the original homebuilders; a lot of things in this house have been worked on by the son of the original homeowners, and virtually all of them have had pretty obvious defects in the workmanship. The wiring problems, at least, I can clean up as I find them, but this guy has renovated bathrooms, framed out a loft space into an enclosed room, installed a spa, and has probably touched more of this house than I know. My questions to the board are:

  1. Would this guy, not being the homeowner himself, be required to be licensed in Texas and to pull permits for this kind of electrical work (running subpanels, fishing new wire, installing wallboxes)? I know in the legal world, you can represent yourself, but if you don't then the person who represents you must be a member of the bar. I wonder if the same applies to home construction.
  2. In a similar vein, would the guy have been required to get the work inspected?
  3. If something defective in the house causes a real problem before I catch it, do I have any recourse against him, or against the original homeowners who let this hack work on their house?
  • Are you a licensed Electrician? Did you pull the proper permits? – Tester101 May 8 '12 at 12:05
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    No, but I'm the homeowner and so I don't have to be licensed or permitted to do work on my own house. The person who likely did the work before me was NOT the homeowner, so the exceptions in the NEC do not cover him. – KeithS May 8 '12 at 14:52
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    So if the person doing the shoddy work was the homeowner, it would be OK? – Tester101 May 8 '12 at 15:52
  • As far as recourse, in Texas there ain't much. There have been some attempts to enact a "home lemon law" similar to automobile lemon laws, but currently nothing binding, and most bills would not have held previous homeowners liable, only the original builders and licensed contractors. So, it looks like this cleanup effort will continue; I want to eventually replace all the outlets in the house with TR anyway, so I'll get a good look at all the outlet boxes. It's just frustrating that you can't hold someone accountable for negligence when their shoddy work could kill someone. – KeithS May 8 '12 at 16:23
  • Could you please provide the NEC article number that covers homeowners doing their own work? – Tester101 May 8 '12 at 16:30

For questions one and two:

Legally, it's up to local code. I'm not up on code in Texas. But where I've lived, it's generally acceptable for homeowners to do most work themselves. If it's a structural change (new walls, new foundation, new electrical circuits etc.) It typically requires a permit and inspection.

Granted, just because something requires a permit, it doesn't mean one was pulled. This is common--even if you hire a contractor. Alas, just because you hire a contractor does not mean that a) they will pull permits voluntarily or b) actually do things right anyways.

I've done work as a homeowner with and without permits and I'm still on the fence about it. I appreciate what permits are supposed to do, but have also had to deal with some very backwards and out of date inspectors. I can see why people skip the permit step at times. Sometimes it's to cut corners, but, ironically, I think sometimes it's so they can be left alone to do the job right rather than what the inspector wants to see. ;)

As for question 3, you'll have to seek out a lawyer for that.

  • Thanks for the answer. I've taken a look, and basically while someone who does shoddy work is liable for damages, you have to prove they did the shoddy work (extremely difficult in the case of unpermitted, unlicensed work as there's no paper trail), and that it actually caused damages; you can't sue just because the house could have burned down, and you can't recover the cost of your own time spent fixing it. – KeithS May 8 '12 at 16:26

Even if that guys poor workmanship causes your house to burn down, I think I would pretty hard to prove that he or someone else caused the problem.


Was he required to pull a permit? Maybe, depends on your local laws.

Is he required to be licensed? It's likely, but again depends on your local laws (and other factors such as union presence in the area, but that's another post entirely).

Should the work have been inspected? Most likely, but only if they pulled the proper permits.

If his work causes a problem, do you have any recourse? If he was licensed and had permits for the work, maybe. If he was not licensed and no permits were pulled, you'd have to prove he did the work and not you. In this case it's not likely you'll have any recourse.

In theory all work done in a residence should be done by a well qualified professional (who does outstanding work and knows all the rules and regulations of the profession), with proper paperwork.

In reality. There aren't people walking around making sure nobody is mucking about in there own homes, so this type of work is often done by any Tom, Dick, and Harry with a screw driver. If this wasn't the case, DIY.StackExchange would not exist.

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    I disagree that all work in a residence needs to be done by a professional. All work should be done CORRECTLY, and, ideally, INSPECTED, but whether a pro does it or a homeowner seems arbitrary. I've seen great work by pros and by DIYers. I've seen horrendous work done by pros and DIYers. ;) – DA01 May 8 '12 at 15:25
  • @DA01 The only problem I have with DIYers, is that they may not be aware of all the subtleties involved in the work they are doing. Whereas a "professional", should be knowledgeable of all tools and techniques of their trade. – Tester101 May 8 '12 at 15:59
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    The problem I have is that 'should' doesn't equate to reality. I've hired professionals that are complete idiots. Seems that having a license is more about filling out paperwork than actual knowledge. To be clear, that's not ALL professionals--there's plenty of good ones. I just don't assume 'professional' means they are more knowledgeable than 'homeowner'. There are many other variables involved. – DA01 May 8 '12 at 17:06

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