Random Remodeling Gotchas
These are a few of the things that can jump up and bite you if you start a remodeling project without thinking it through. Some of these are particularly relevant to the San Francisco clients of my contracting business.
- Permits – Most places have neighbors who want all work to be done legally and according to local standards. They watch their close neighbors, and sometimes they form roving patrols to find and report unpermitted construction. If you start an illegal project, you really shouldn’t complain when the inspector comes knocking.
- Illegal units – Many homes have in-law apartments or rental units that were never approved by the city or town. If you lie to your contractor about the legality of the unit, when the contractor tries to get permits for your new work, this may provoke inspections and violation notices about your illegal unit.
- Plumbing for a shower remodel – Before you start a shower remodel, or before starting to replace a tub with a walk-in shower, ask your contractor to verify that the drain plumbing is large enough. Many shower remodels require replacing the drain pipes for some distance into the system. In a condominium building, this work may require the cooperation of neighbors. So check first.
- Bathroom electrical – Two things often trigger a requirement to run completely new electrical circuits for a bathroom: doing any wiring work in the walls; and changing the vanity. Yes, some localities take the position that a new vanity, even if it’s in the same place as the original, triggers a requirement for new receptacles, and therefore new circuits.
- Toilet placement in a bathroom remodel – Very often in older bathrooms, toilets were installed with less surrounding clear space than would be required for new work. If you’re about to begin a bathroom remodel and it won’t create additional space for the toilet, see if your contractor can document the existing condition and get approval on the permit to leave the spacing as is.
- Kitchen electrical – In most places, replacing your kitchen cabinets will trigger a requirement for electrical circuits and receptacle placements to meet current code. If you’re doing a modest kitchen remodel, the additional expense can be significant.
- Gas plumbing – If you’re installing a furnace or a fireplace or other natural gas appliance in a new location, your plumber will be adding new pipes to bring gas to the new location. The default process with new gas plumbing is to pressure test the full-house gas plumbing. If there’s the tiniest leak in your existing plumbing, the test will discover the problem, and your plumber will be required to find and fix the leak. The expense and disruption to your home can be significant. If you can’t afford or don’t want that expense, then you have two options: your contractor may be able to get permission to pressure test only the new plumbing; or you might decide not to proceed with the work. It’s an interesting call: if a leak exists, is it a life-threatening condition in the walls of your child’s bedroom, or is it a harmless microscopic leak in your drafty old attic.
So when you start a project, ask your contractor about these things, and about other possible surprises. It’s really much better to find these issues ahead of time and make informed decisions about them than it is to react to discoveries, inspections, and notices in the middle of the project.