They say the only sure things in life are death and taxes. I would like to add that life is unpredictable as well.
I find myself currently a Plumbing Inspector for the state in which I reside, but this wasn’t my original career plan.
I also find myself in an economy that is less than optimal, causing my wife and I to stretch our dollars like we were still feeding five teenage boys.
What's my point?
Things don’t always turn out the way we plan, but it’s the way we react that makes the difference.
Maybe you're building because you had to get out of "that place" where you used to live. Maybe it's because you had to start over due to no fault of your own. Maybe it's been your plan for a year, and now it's finally time.
What does this have to do with navigating plumbing permits and inspections? Everything.
Let's look at some myths about inspectors.
Contrary to Popular Belief:
- The inspector isn’t there to expose your lack of skill
- They are not there to push you into hiring a professional
- They are also not there to nitpick you down to the millimeter measurement
- Nor are they there watch you fail with a sinister smile
In truth, we are there to advise you on how to install a system to an already established standard that is both efficient and safe.
We are there to see you succeed.
We as plumbers are also there to ensure the health of the nation.
Why Would I Say These Things?
I have had homeowners literally sweating through their shirts on a cold day because they were so nervous I was there.
That is just silly.
Now in my state, I inspect plumbers, well pump installers, homeowners, and sewer/water excavators.
For the sake of staying on point for a DIY blog, we will be talking primarily to you, the Homeowner.
Now if you follow my articles at all, you will see I have a common theme.
Don’t Be Cheap! Be Smart
Most of the homeowners I work with have been unable to find a plumbing contractor to work on their home, and so, in a panic, they find themselves the “Unintentional Plumber” because now they have construction deadlines to meet.
But for the most part the homeowner wipes the sweat from his brow and determines he can do it, and he can do it for less.
However, when a homeowner decides they need to do the project, they forget that the most expensive part of the job is their time, not the parts. Being silly humans, we get stuck on the dot of cheap and fast.
You know the old saying. “You can have it cheap or fast, but not both.”
This is where most homeowners run into problems. Whether it be cheap materials or not having the wherewithal to ask advice from a local plumber.
I’m telling you right now that local plumbing shops are a-typically more than happy to answer questions for free.
That’s right, free.
Another little secret is that in a lot of places, you can call the inspector for that same advice.
Quick note on that, though—not every state has a licensed trade professional doing the inspection.
What do I mean by that?
I mean that as a plumbing inspector, I myself am a licensed contractor journeyman plumber. Not every state has that requirement. Many states simply have a guy who passed an inspector exam who, themselves, has never done the work, but can inspect based on code alone.
Make sure when asking your inspector questions that they have the qualifications to answer.
When inspection time comes around, it’s not to hard to figure out the owners who asked a plumber for advice and the ones who just threw it together and prayed for a “pass.”
Don't be the second one.
The primary rule for inspectors is “code not quality.”
What does that mean?
It means you could put pipe together in such a manner that it would make a pro cringe, but if it’s according to code, we won’t fail you.
So, relax, and let’s talk about permits and the inspection process.
Permits vary from state to state, county to county, and in some cases, town to town.
Code also varies from state to state, so make sure you know which plumbing code your state operates by.
Nothing worse than installing plumbing in accordance with IPC (International Plumbing Code) only to find out your state operates by UPC (Uniform Plumbing Code).
This happens where I am frequently. I live in Idaho and Inspect in Idaho. The areas I inspect are along the Idaho, Utah border.
Idaho is a modified UPC, and Utah is IPC.
I can tell almost the minute I step onto a jobsite that Utah plumbers have been there.
That means you will be changing a lot of fittings while you throw your tools and curse the inspector.
Your State's Plumbing Code:
International Plumbing Code (IPC)
Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming
Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC)
Alaska, Hawaii, Missouri, Montana, South Dakota, Washington
Unique Plumbing Codes
The California Plumbing Code is based on the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC).
Idaho State Plumbing Code is based on the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC).
Iowa-Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) and some local governments use the International Plumbing Code (IPC).
Kentucky-Kentucky State Plumbing Code using as minimum standards the basic principles of the National Plumbing Code Coordinating Committee.
Louisiana-Louisiana State Plumbing Code.
Maine-Maine Internal Plumbing Code.
Maryland-International Plumbing Code (IPC) local municipalities may use different editions.
Massachusetts-Uniform State Plumbing Code, 248 CMR 10.00.
Minnesota-Minnesota Plumbing Code.
Nevada-International Plumbing Code (IPC) or the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC).
New Jersey-National Standard Plumbing Code (NSPC).
New Mexico-New Mexico Plumbing Code based on the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC)
Oregon-Oregon Specialty Plumbing Code based on the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC)
Wisconsin-Wisconsin Statues, Comm 81‐87, and Plumbing Code.
Now keep in mind that code is only half the battle. Do you need a permit from the county, a permit from the state, permit from the city? Are there addendums to the code for your area?
Here's the answer to that question:
Start Local—Always Start Local
Go to your local City Hall or call them. Make a point to go to the planning department and simply ask them where can I get a building permit, a plumbing permit, an electrical permit, simply based on what you need.
Local offices are always a great resource, and they have the inside track on who's who and where you need to go. A lot of times, they might just direct you to a website, which is fine. Progress is still progress.
I knew a guy who never went to a city or county office without fresh cookies. lol
You laugh, but that guy got stuff done.
Make sure you smile, even if it's over the phone. Let them know you appreciate their time. And continue down the track.
Permits in my state are all done online. I would imagine that most are.
The way it works is that they file for a permit online, and then they can file inspections against that permit. Whether they need an electrical inspection, a plumbing inspection, or a framing inspection. All those inspections will be filed against that one permit.
One last word about permits. Make sure you fill them out thoroughly.
What Do I Mean?
I mean that if your house is hard to find, consider putting the pin location on the permit. Or consider leaving detailed instructions if there are certain things you need checked, or certain things the inspector needs to know before he gets there.
Make sure the phone number is correct.
Double check the address.
Don't be afraid to call the inspector, as most of their phone numbers will be listed, and ask questions if you're unsure which inspection to ask for.
As far as inspections go, some counties would prefer to do inspections that most states will do. So, it's really important to talk to those offices, as we talked about in the beginning. Some counties want to do their own gas line checks. While others are perfectly happy to let the state do it.
Sounds like a lot of back and forth, doesn't it?
Well, that's because it is.
I wish there was a better and more smooth way to make this happen for you, but there just isn't.
I had a sergeant in one of my leadership classes who would tell me, "Sgt. Baker, you just need to give that thing you hate a big ole hug."
He was right.
Don't be nervous. Hundreds of inspections have been done before yours, and hundreds more will be done after yours. Keep it simple.
When the sheetrock's up and your drinking coffee in your new kitchen, none of this will matter as much.
Remember, the inspector is there to answer your questions and to make sure that your system is in accordance with local code. Like I said, code is the standard and safety standard.
For instance, if the plumbing under a sink is done incorrectly you can create what's called an S trap. When you have an S trap, the water flows down, and it can create suction that will suck the water out of the P trap, in effect allowing sewer gas into the house.
Which is not pleasant. Especially after your teenager's pizza party the night before
So, you want your inspector to find the things that need to be changed. You want the inspector to point out things that could be done better according to code. Your inspector is more than likely a licensed plumber himself.
So, ask him questions, lots of questions.
What If You Fail?
So, what if you fail? It's not the end of the world. It doesn't make you less intelligent. It doesn't mean you don't know how to handle tools. It doesn't mean your spouse is going to leave you. It simply means there's a mistake in the system that needs to be fixed.
In truth, it's not a failure, it's a learning moment.
But then again, what if you pass? All that blood, stress, and tears for nothing.
Back to not being cheap.
When the economy was better, within the last five years, I always advised fixing every problem.
When you're installing things in a new construction or remodel, use quality parts.
The economy and the supply chain being what it is, it is going to be fundamentally easier for you to get quality parts for faucets and fixtures with names you see on the shelf consistently.
Such as Moen, such as Kohler, such as Delta.
Please keep in mind I am not being paid to promote these brands, but facts are facts.
The point is, you're going to be able to find those parts, if you need them, quickly and efficiently.
Buy cheaper parts, and within a year, you may very well be replacing them.
So, my advice to you as you navigate permits and inspections:
- Always start local
- Inspectors are people too
- Your time is valuable
- The right parts matter
Permits and inspections are there to help you move forward, not hold you back.
Consider Getting Certified
If you're truly unimpressed with the system, join it.
What do I mean?
Permits and Inspections are an ever changing landscape. join your local zoning and planning committees. Whether they be county or city, and see what you can do to help streamline the process.
You would be amazed how short handed a lot of these volunteer committees are.
So be the one to step up and make a difference in your community, now that you're a permit and inspection veteran yourself.