Tag Archives: property owners

Before You DIY, Ask Yourself: Is This Light Fixture Safe?

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This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series Pinterest

 

Every home has its little quirks, from the squeaky stair to the flickering porch light. More often than not, if the issues aren’t irritating or obviously dangerous they become part of the familiar character of our home. You learn to love these personality quirks of your home. However, when you’re thinking about a major DIY renovation, it rarely occurs to homeowners to worry about the safety of an old light or electrical fixture. Wiring ages, just like the rest of a house and old wiring can be worn or frayed. Even recently renovated lighting, if done incorrectly, can be dangerous. Getting involved in any unknown wiring should be done carefully and if the fixture is known for erratic behavior, you might want to turn off a breaker before your initial investigation.

Symptoms of Unsafe Wiring

Most homes, especially those built before 1987, have some area where the wiring is not perfect. Often this is the result of either old wires and fixtures or a long-past DIY project that has not withstood the test of time. If there’s a light in your home that is crooked, flickers, or has exposed wires, any DIY work you do with or near it should be done carefully and you might want to have it replaced by a professional. Here’s a quick list of warning signs to look for:

  • Dimming and Flickering
    • The power is not reaching your light fixture consistently, a sure sign that the connection is not steady and safe
  • Frequently Tripped Breakers
    • This indicates that something on that circuit is demanding more than a safe amount of power. Sometimes a previous tenant has ‘fixed’ this with a bigger breaker, so look for unusually large breakers as well
  • Buzzing Outlets and Switches
    • Buzzing is always bad. This is too much electricity running through loose connections
  • Constant Shocks
    • If a fixture or appliance is holding a static charge, this is a bad sign
  • Burning Smell
    • The smell of burning plastic is the result of overheating wires and melting insulation and nearby items.
  • Suspicious Wiring
    • If the wiring doesn’t look professional, it probably isn’t. While untidy wiring doesn’t definitely indicate a safety hazard, frayed wires, and damaged wire insulation is an immediate problem.

The Answer to Potentially Unsafe Fixtures

If your home electrical system or any particular fixture has exhibited one or more of these symptoms, you’ll want to approach your DIY project with extra care. If you’re not well versed in electrical safety, you may want to ask an electrician to take a look at your fixture before you get started. They will help diagnose your wiring problems and give you several tips on how to proceed with your DIY project. In many cases, you will simply need to replace a few old parts while the power is disconnected.

Starting a big DIY project usually involves a variety of construction and repair skills including working with your wiring. If you have been thinking about working with your light fixtures or outlets, always be careful when approaching an unknown electrical connection. Know which wires are live and if you’re not completely confident about remaining safe, work with an electrician to ensure that you don’t leave a dangerous, if attractively remodeled, situation.

If you have plans for a DIY renovation and have been wondering if that old flickering light fixture is safe to mess with, the answer is all-too-easily “No”. Faulty wiring is the number one cause of accidental house fires and unnecessary burns. Keep yourself and your home safe by approaching electrical renovations with care, especially if the fixture is known for irregular behavior, no matter how familiar. For more helpful home renovation tips, contact us today!

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How Hard Is It To Be An Owner Builder And To Act As Your Own General Contractor?

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A typical property owner who wants to embark on an ADU project as an owner-builder finds the advantages very compelling – reduced project costs followed by a new revenue stream from rental income, potential tax benefits, and increased property value. However, there are pitfalls that can quickly erase or seriously postpone the hoped-for gains.

In many ways, an owner-builder is essentially his or her own general contractor, so one has to comply with the same laws that a licensed general contractor does. In Hawaii, owner-builder permits are exclusive to [amazon_textlink asin=’0470540834′ text=’residential construction’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’ownbuilddesig-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’20fe40ea-a226-11e7-a8fa-65b7c06059ee’] – they are not available for commercial or industrial projects.

Once you are granted owner-builder status, you can proceed with your project without a licensed general contractor. However, you are responsible for ensuring that all work is “up to code,” and that all building inspections occur as required.

1 Year Wait for Sale or Lease

There is one key difference between the owner-builder and a licensed general contractor. Unless the value of permitted work is less than $10,000, an owner-builder cannot sell or lease, or attempt to sell or lease, the structure for one year. There are two exceptions when 1) a sale or lease during the first year is to the owner builder’s employee, or 2) a hardship exemption is granted by the Contractors License Board.

Risks and Responsibilities

Success as an owner-builder hinges on maintaining a laser-sharp focus on pertinent detail, along with full adherence to regulations. To that end, the Regulated Industries Complaints Office (RICO) has published a guide for owner-builders entitled “Risks and Responsibilities of Being an Owner-Builder.” RICO is a part of Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Here are some key risks and responsibilities for owner-builders:

Licensing – The subcontractors you hire must be properly licensed. For example, electrical and plumbing contractors must be licensed under Chapter 444 of the state statutes. Whether you intentionally or unwittingly hire an unlicensed subcontractor, you could find yourself paying the medical expenses of an injured worker affiliated with that unlicensed entity.

Finally, it is important to beware of unlicensed project managers. Sometimes, an unlicensed individual “assists” an owner-builder to the point that he/she is, in effect, managing the project. In such a scenario, the owner-builder assumes responsibility for the activities of this individual.

Worker status – Any person who is not either a subcontractor or working for one is your employee. Therefore, some owner-builders have to withhold federal (FICA) and state income taxes. They also have to maintain workers compensation insurance policies.

Timely payments – An owner-builder is responsible for making timely payments to all suppliers and contractors involved in a project. An owner-builder who fails to do this may find that a lien will be placed on the property by any unpaid vendors or contractors. A lien effectively prohibits the completion of a sale of the property until the supplier or contractor is paid. Interest and other costs may add significant sums to the amounts owed.

Recordkeeping – State law requires an owner-builder to maintain records related to the project for up to three years, including:

  • Copies of building permits
  • Copies of contracts with all persons involved in the project
  • Proof of payments to employees, subcontractors, and suppliers

Dire Consequences for Violations

RICO advises prospective owner-builders to carefully read the owner-builder permit application. They are also advised to read Chapter 444 of Hawaii’s revised statutes.

Non-compliant owner-builders may face severe sanctions:

  • A fine of either, 1) $5,000, or 2) 50 percent of the permit value of the work to be performed, whichever is greater
  • A prohibition against filing for new owner-builder permits for a period of three years

Repeat violators face even harsher penalties. They are subject to the greater of 1) a $10,000 fine or 2) 60 percent of the permit value of the work to be performed.

At Owner Built Design LLC, I help owner-builders avoid the expensive consequences of non-compliance with laws and regulations. For prompt, friendly and professional assistance, please contact me today!

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