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OK Folks, some introduction. I wasn't born in the US, I come from the underdeveloped world, where due to lack of resources it was usual to have a pair of bare wires acting as a light switch (seriously!) and there was no such thing as formal codes, NM-B wires, GFCI outlets and so forth. However, I studied electrical engineering early in my career (now I'm a software engineer), I am pretty familiar with US electrical codes (although not so involved in deep details, don't have time to read the full NEC book...).

The question is:

Can I do electrical work in my own house? I'm planning to install some lights in the attic, and I know for sure that I am not going to cause a fire hazard. I know how to install junction and switch boxes, run NM-B wiring, ground everything properly, following hot/neutral color codes, secure wires with staples, and so forth. I plan to run power out from an existing outlet in the existing circuit that powers that outlet and the typical attic light bulb. I plan to add 3 or 4 more lights and a new switch.

Am I supposed to ask for an electrical permit? If so, let's say that I don't ask for a permit and do the work? What problems could this imply if anyway, nobody knows what's inside my attic?

Just trying to save some bucks, since I feel pretty hesitant to hire an electrician and spend 100+ bucks for doing something so trivial to me. I would feel like an idiot, throwing away money, when I have seen poor electrical work done by supposedly "licensed contractors". Any ideas?

  • Welcome to diy.stackexchange! I'm not sure if there's a definitive answer to your question because it depends on local regional permit codes, your personal comfort level with electrical work, and the relative safety of the project you're doing. Based on the information you provided thus far, I'd venture to guess that it's something that you could do on your own but... – Mike B Aug 23 '15 at 18:56
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    Electrical engineering is VERY far removed from building wiring, especially on the computer/software end of things. In fact they have almost nothing in common, so having an EE background will not help at all in home wiring. Whether you can do this or not is up to you. There is NO way we can tell what your level of experience is. – Speedy Petey Aug 23 '15 at 19:13
  • Thanks for your replies. One clarification, I did study actual Electrical Engineering back in my country (didn't complete the degree, but did 2 years of study), later on I switched to Computer Science. Besides, I have always been involved with electricity since early childhood. I do feel confident on doing the job myself. I was just curious of the implications of doing it by myself, not asking for any permits, etc.. I live in Florida, btw. – Jose Cifuentes Aug 23 '15 at 19:58
  • With the obligatory note provided by Speedy, the only question left is, Can I do electrical work in my own house without a permit in Florida. (the opinion based close reason is n/a; others might be reasonable, but AFAIK there's no, not broad enough close reason) – Mazura Aug 27 '15 at 2:19
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Contact your local building department, and ask them if this would require a permit, and if you can do the work yourself. That's the only way to know for sure, as different areas have different rules.

You'll likely have to pay a small fee for the permit, and have the work inspected at different stages of the job (or maybe only once it's done). Most areas let homeowners do the work, as long as it's inspected.

If you do unpermitted work in your home, and something does happen. Your insurance claim could be denied, and/or you could be held personally liable for injuries and damages to others and their property.

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    +1 And many local building departments are happy to provide information, especially if they get the sense that the home owner has a good grasp of electrical knowledge. – bib Aug 23 '15 at 22:16
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    Just a note. The old myth "If you don't pull a permit or get inspections your insurance will not cover it" is just that, a myth. I asked my friend who is the biggest agent in town (one of his cars is a Maserati, so yeah, they do some business) and he said flat out, they cannot deny your claim or fault you in cases like this. The only time you run into serious trouble is if you did the work intentionally to cause damage, and in that case, your insurance is the least of your worries. – Speedy Petey Aug 24 '15 at 0:07
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    @SpeedyPetey That's good to hear, but I'm not convinced. There are quite a few insurance companies out there, that will spend butt loads of money to avoid paying claims. Sounds like your buddy works for a company with integrity, but I don't think that's the norm in the insurance game. – Tester101 Aug 24 '15 at 0:15
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    @Tester101, my friend is an agent, so he deals with many companies. – Speedy Petey Aug 24 '15 at 0:29
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    @SpeedyPetey We'll have to agree to disagree on that point. On another note. If I know you've done electrical work in your house, and one of my kids is injured or killed in an electrical fire at your house. You'd better believe you'll be getting a visit from my lawyer, and possibly the police. The small fee it costs for a permit, is a good investment. – Tester101 Aug 24 '15 at 1:05
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The normal rule in the USA is:

  • You can work on your own home without an electrician's licence, but you can't hire yourself out to others.
  • Permit requirements don't change.

So sketch out what you want to do and take it down to your local building authority. The permit may take some time to get, but won't be expensive compared to your salary. Given that it's your first time, having a second set of eyes on your job is a good thing.

It's possible you will even learn something. A touch of humility will go a long way to making your road more smooth.

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I feel your pain. The simple truth is that having a degree in Electrical Engineering is actually a detriment in this case.

  • The NEC, and permits and inspections are a part of civilization. In engineering speak, most of the NEC is orthogonal to electronics. The NEC prevents electrical anarchy. That's all it is for and that's what it does. Anarchy in anything is a bad thing...but it has fewer rules. No matter how necessary, rules are often frustrating.

  • also consider that in your own home, you are focused on making it the way you want it...with the incorrect assumption that nobody else matters...ever. So you might be just fine with the fact that electrons are color-blind, but when somebody comes along in a decade and expects the wire colors to be one way and they are something different... So codes generate conformity that has benefits beyond just getting something to work right now.

  • As mentioned elsewhere in these answers, Electrical Engineering curriculum typically doesn't intersect much with residential electrical hookup. Any renowned French Chef would probably burn his first bag of microwaveable popcorn. The two things might both sound like "cooking", but one is actual cooking and the other is following the instructions on the bag.

  • Whatever you do, never admit to anyone in the trades or inspectors or at the county offices that you are an engineer. They will take an immediate dislike to you. Do yourself a favor, keep your degree a secret. I usually just say "I do stuff with computers". That seems to be just ever so slightly inside their range of tolerance for a 'college boy'.

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I wouldn't call the building department. I'd call your neighbor. Find out what the locals do.

You can do what you want in your own house. Something as simple as a couple lights and a switch should be done before you've finished reading this post.

  • Why do you guys downvote DIY? This whole site is about DIY! – Trout Aug 23 '15 at 23:53
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    DIY is do-it-yourself, not do whatever you want. There's no problem doing your own work, but you have to adhere to minimum safety standards while you do it. Getting a permit and having an inspection, are ways to insure you meet minimum safety standards so you don't hurt or kill someone. – Tester101 Aug 24 '15 at 0:10
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    Trout and Tyler this maybe a DIY site but you have to CYA. If the OP where to go and do "what you want in your house" and something goes wrong, say like it burns down, YOU COULD BE HELD LIABLE. I know that sound CRAZY but have you hear of the woman that sued McDonald's because her HOT coffee hurt her lap when she spilled it on herself. Even though the labeled on the cup stated "Caution Contents Hot" she still won. CYA. – WarLoki Aug 24 '15 at 0:44
  • But our question comes from someone who understands whats going on. He admits that he understands electrical systems. He understands what NM is. He understands how to do this. IT WAS PART OF THE QUESTION. This is totally unrelated to the McDonalds Woman. She was out to make a buck. This is a homeowner who wants to upgrade his house in a perfectly reasonable way. In a sound manner. What are you guys afraid of? – Trout Aug 24 '15 at 0:57
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    Some areas are different. In NYS if you do simple electrical work you just need to get it inspected. There is no electrical "permit". If the work is broader scoped then you'd need a building permit. Some odd areas do actually require a building permit for just electrical work such as service upgrades, which IMO is absurd. – Speedy Petey Aug 25 '15 at 11:14
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It's your house, do what you want. This isn't England/Soviet Russia/Germany (yet).

You should see the "professional" electrical work in my house. Octopuses, bare wires on insulators, nails and romex. Every time I do anything I reduce the chance of a fire by 10%.

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