DIY, Inspections, and Insurance? (Panel upgrade & wiring in gen.)

mudwormMay 16, 2011

It all started from a needed service panel upgrade (from 100Amp to 200 Amp) for a kitchen remodel. We got a couple of quotes from licensed electricians. One breakdown goes: $800 for material, $900 for labor, add 27% profit and overhead; and then 10% on top of everything for a set contract price. This is from a reputable electrician and I trust that he will do a fantastic job if we pony up the money. So I'm not here to criticize the quotes and am not inviting any ridicules.

My problem is, having analysis paralysis, I can't help but look into what's all involved in the work, and then I got excited about my findings:

1. I can get all the required materials from HD including a Murray 20/40 Surface mount OH Combo panel, 2 ground rods (quotes cover only one), all the wires and clamps, etc. The total material cost will be less than $500.

2. The panel switch seems very straightforward to me.

So, can we / should we do this as a DIY project? I'm leaning towards it because I'm genuinely interesting in DIY, and saving money is just a bonus. However, the husband got some idea from a lawyer friend of his that any electrical work in the house should be done by a licensed electrician and needs to be inspected by municipality (We live in the SF Bay Area). Otherwise, even though we have homeowner insurance, when there is fire caused by any electric failure, we won't be covered. Is it really that gloomy for DIY'ers???

Actually this DIY dilemma appears to be a bigger issue for other parts of the house. We still have some knobs and tubes for some parts of the house wiring. The way I see it, upgrading is pretty easy. I don't mind crawling under the house, and actually it'll be fun. DIY at our own pace totally makes sense to me. But for this kind of gradual upgrade, are we supposed to have inspectors over to look at every upgrade?

Any thoughts?

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Ron Natalie

This upgrade will need a permit and to be inspected. You MIGHT be able to legally DIY if this is a single family house. In that case, the state leaves it up to you to determine what risk you want to follow.

First off, a SERVICE upgrade is MORE than just replacing the panel with one with a bigger main breaker. Are you sure you know what you are doing?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 2:47PM
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Oh, yeah, we are definitely getting a permit for the service panel upgrade and will have it inspected. We are not cutting corner there. I'm just not sure how to approach the gradual upgrade in the rest of the house. If we do it one circuit a time, what kind of permit would that be? I'll stop by the building department in a couple of days to find out. But I think the bigger question (or a bigger concern to my husband) is the insurance.

As for the panel upgrade, I understand that we have a lot of research to do. It will include changing the conduit, driving the ground rods (which we have none right now), enlarging the hole in the roof for the bigger conduit, etc. etc. But still, it appears to be straightforward. I might even find a local electrician who is willing to work on an hourly basis for labor (as a side job) just to make sure we don't make mistakes, but I would LOVE to participate in the process. But, will we have problem with insurance later down the road?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 2:57PM
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Ron Natalie

If it's inspected, insurance shouldn't be a problem. There's more than just putting a bigger pipe in. You'll probably have to replace (or pay the power company to replace) the meter base, etc. etc..

I have no idea how you intend to do "one circuit at a time" on a service upgrade. But yes, in most places, for other than simple repairs, you have to have the work covered by a permit. Either you get the AHJ to allow the permit to be strung out for months, or you keep getting smaller permits for each task you undertake.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 5:09PM
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Sorry about the confusion -- no, the service upgrade is a separate permit. I know how that operates and it's pretty simple. I was just wondering if I want to gradually upgrade the wiring in our old house, how would that permitting and inspection process go. But I really should ask the building department about that.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 5:43PM
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It really depends on your city and insurer. In our East Bay city, homeowners can do the work themselves, but it doesn't change the need for permits. I don't think our insurance cares as long as the work is permitted (and they're pretty laid back about the remaining k&t in the house, too). There's a minimum fee on every permit pulled so it's far, far less costly to put everything on a single permit---but then you're stuck with needing to finish the work in six months. (They limit the number of inspections you get at each point, probably to prevent people from calling for separate inspections for every little thing---you pay extra if you need more.) We pulled a permit for the service upgrade and new panel (you don't have a choice on this assuming you're getting new service from the street--PG&E requires that your city send documentation of the finaled permit before they will connect you), but not for small changes to outlets that were done over time. We have always used a licensed electrician and kept records of the contracts, though, and made sure any changes were to code. You'd really need to call your insurer and ask specifically what policies they have, though.

If you really want to do the work yourself, I'd say pull the permit and just plan to get it done within your city's timeframe, so that you're covered---both for insurance and if/when you sell the house.

(Also, for whatever it's worth, the quote you got sounds pretty reasonable for the Bay Area!)

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 5:46PM
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Hi artemis78, thanks for sharing your experience. I wasn't aware of the duration of a permitting process and will make sure to ask the building department about that.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2011 at 7:50PM
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