WE NEED YOUR HELP — Support your hometown newspaper by making a donation.
Ask the Architect

‘It’s our only chance at owning a home’


Q. My home has been under construction for a few years because we bought it as a flood-damaged property for a very low price. It’s our only chance at owning a home. It came with a permit from the previous owners, but we had the names changed and started work ourselves. There are two bathrooms, but the old plumbing permit is only for one of them, which is done except for painting. Can I do the rest of the plumbing myself, or do I need to get a new plumbing permit, and do I need a plumber to do it? I know what needs to be done, and could save a lot by doing it myself. What do you think?

A. Like so many other projects, your home project is going slowly in order for you to afford it. What I read into this situation is economics versus compassion — in other words, your need to be able to get this project to a livable, affordable home versus government regulations that may penalize you for taking too long or not using licensed professionals.

The current generation of homebuyers earns 20 percent less than their parents did, in comparative economic rates, and homes cost at least 100 to 400 percent more. Unfortunately, with all those very real statistics, the rules of local government generally work against you. As an architect, I find myself, daily, caught in the middle as a sounding board, like a therapist, for people who have nowhere to turn to figure out how to keep costs lower.

The truth is that your permit time allowance to complete the job has probably either already run out, or it will cost you more money to keep the permit active or start all over again. Jurisdictions want projects to run like clockwork and be finished in anywhere from six months to a year. That isn’t always possible if finances run out, or the workers stop showing up, or we have a pandemic, or worse. You can understand that having a construction project going in the middle of a neighborhood can be a physical disruption to the surrounding neighbors and present an unsightly mess. You just want the job done without having to absorb the extra cost and penalties, and it’s frustrating when you’re told you have to shell out more.

You must speak to the building department that granted your permit, and ask if they have a process by which you can qualify to do your own plumbing. In some jurisdictions you can qualify by taking a test and, of course, paying a fee. If the plumber who did the other bathroom will allow you to do the “grunt work” and review and test the job, that may save some money. It all comes down to asking the different parties what they will and won’t accept. Your request isn’t unusual, and may yield affordable results. It’s always best to communicate. Good luck!

© 2020 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.