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Ask the Architect

I’d like to do the work myself


Q. Our home is in serious need of renovation, and we want to do things that are more cost-effective and environmentally friendly, like solar, collecting rainwater for an indoor garden and outdoor plants, heat collection to heat our house and water — we’ve been making a list for a couple of years while we figure this out. I plan to do most of the heavy lifting myself and get people who can help me with the power, A.C. and water to save money and get what I want. Do I have to get any kind of special approvals for the plumbing or electrical if I do it myself? I’ve already done plumbing and electrical in my home without anything special.

A. It’s exciting when I see a project where the systems are being integrated and technologies and nature are working together. More people are now looking to create an open and airy home that “fits” to a site, in their environment, without as much maintenance as their parents had to do. Most of what you’re doing costs more at the beginning, but can save tremendously the longer it’s in use.
By doing your own labor, you’re saving on the most costly component of construction, but can you do the work yourself? I’m seeing this trend more with the latest generation of younger homeowners, who are interested in bringing in more sunlight, open spaces that heat and cool more naturally, creating an experience to live in. It’s harder to do on cookie-cutter plots of land, but with so many maintenance-free time- and cost-saving technologies, like using your voice or programming to turn on lights, lower the temperature or start a meal, the Carousel of Progress at Disney World will need to catch up.
The answer to your question has to do with health and safety, mainly. Skilled and trained professionals generally know how to install and troubleshoot or anticipate problems you may not know about. You need to know where these newer systems have faults and failures if you plan to do the work yourself. Certain materials come in subtle gradations, like gauges of wiring, tolerances of tubing, thicknesses of copper, for example, and using the wrong one could reduce the longevity of the system or cause dangerous results. Most municipalities require that licensed electricians and plumbers do the work, but will allow you to qualify with a test and interview to show your competency.
Over the years I have had many clients do their own work successfully, but most have leveled with me that there were certain things they either would have done differently or had someone else do, because the project required tools or time they just didn’t want to invest in. Most important, even if you do get permission to do the work yourself, you’ll need to have it inspected. Without final and official certificates, you may not be able to sell your home. Good luck!

© 2021 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.