Austin permitting scope of work

Asked by DT, 78737 Fri Jun 12, 2009

I own an older home in the central austin area and recently filed for a permit to do some minor work inside the home. This is my first permit in Texas, although I've done others in other states. The scope of work included in my permit was to take out an interior wall to open the space between living and kitchen area. As part of that I had one light switch and receptacle moved. The electrical inspector noted that although all of the work included in the permit scope passed (all wiring was run new from the breaker box), he would not "pass" me until I present him with a notarized letter from myself AND the electrician stating that we hold the city harmless for any issues arising from the knob and tube in the rest of the home. My question is twofold: 1) Is this standard practice? and 2) Are parts of the home where no work is being done fair game for the inspector to hold me accountable?
Thanks -

Help the community by answering this question:

+ web reference
Web reference:

Answers

3
Emmanuel Sca…, , Collin County, TX
Sat Jun 13, 2009
BEST ANSWER
Hello DT,

The building codes, requirements, et al, have a tendency to become confusing the way they cross reference each other, are modified, etc., etc. My attempt below was a simplified version to explain that the City of Austin is actually being generous in their requirements. I hope you do not take this as argumentative but here is a more detailed description without placing all of the detail here.

Yes, it is not expected that as a result of removing the fixture, switch and receptacle that the remainder of the K&T will be affected. This is one of the grey areas I mentioned previously. A change was made to the electrical system requiring the work to be permitted. The local AHJ has the authority at that point to require the entire electrical system be upgraded regardless.

The City of Austin has adopted most of the new building codes. You can find a complete list and links to their codes and amendments here http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/development/bpinfo1.htm. Austin has amended the 2006 IRC and deleted Part VIII, Electrical, and has replaced it with the ICC Electrical Code. Use the link below to the free version of the ICC EC (called the Electrical Administrative Provisions at the link location) and read Chapter 9, Unsafe Systems And Equipment. As I stated below K&T was more than adequate for the electrical usage requirements for the era it was originally started to be used. K&T today is potentially inadequate, degraded and could be considered unsafe for today’s electrical requirements.

The Building Official has no idea how you plan to use the current electrical system. There are many potential hazards that can exist with the current K&T wiring and potential cross connects between the K&T and the new wiring. The City (any city) does not necessarily know how every older home is built until they receive permit requests and perform ensuing inspections as a result of the permits. In your case they now know your home has the older K&T wiring. Let’s take a scenario which can potentially be disastrous with regards to K&T wiring:

1. Everyone in the family starts coming home after work, school, etc.
2. Mom heads to her little office area and fires up the computer to do a little extra work from home.
3. The son fires up his electric guitar and cranks up his 1000 Watt amplifier.
4. The daughter fires up her gazillion Watt stereo system to listen to her favorite Jonas Brothers CD.
5. Dad fires up the electric oven and cooktop to start dinner and then throws in a load of laundry (This part is for the benefit of the ladies out their reading this, chuckle).
6. The whole time a bad connection in the K&T is heating up, the system is potentially already overloaded and the smoke alarms start going off. Fifteen minutes later the house is engulfed in flames and fire department is now doing protective services to the nearby homes as this house burns to the ground. Luckily nobody is hurt but the home and contents are a total loss.
7. In the following weeks Dad gets so pi$$ed off he hires a lawyer and tries to sue the city for passing his new electrical change but not being forced by the city to rewire a potential hazardous wiring condition, the K&T, or even being notified it could be a potential hazard.

Ergo the requirement the City of Austin is placing for you to sign this waiver. The City of Austin is doing everything it can to make sure you are aware of the potential hazard without forcing you to take large sums of money to completely rewire the home. They are giving you a choice to either sign the waiver or not have the permit finalized with a passing inspection. Again I feel it is a fully reasonable request and a surprise they are not making more of it. The City is trying to strike a balance between safety and situations such as yours where the money is just not there to do everything at once.

This is not meant to be an attack and believe me I am big on non-government intervention in private lives. What I have a difficult time understanding though is why you feel this way about having to sign the waiver? Is your Electrician balking about signing the waiver?

Emmanuel J. Scanlan
PS Inspection & Property Services LLC
http://www.psinspection.com
214-418-4366 (cell)
TREC License # 7593
International Code Council, Residential Combination Inspector #5247015-R5 (Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing and Building)
Certified Infrared Thermographer (ASNT-TC1A Standards)
Texas Residential Construction Commission, Third Party Warranty Inspector #1593
Texas Residential Construction Commission, Inspector, County Inspection Program
Texas Department Of Insurance, VIP Inspector # 08507061016
Hayman Residential Engineering Services, Field Technician
CMC Energy - Certified Energy Auditor

Knowledge is power, but sharing knowledge brings peace!!
Web Reference:  http://www.psinspection.com
0 votes
DT, Both Buyer And Seller, 78737
Sat Jun 13, 2009
Emmanuel - thanks very much for all the info you've shared and your explanation. I am still confused though - the excerpts you provided below seem to conflict with the claim that the city could make me rewire the entire house.

I think we can simplify matters by saying that no one, the city, myself or you disagrees that the work performed in scope of the permit fully passes current requirements so lets just take that out of the equation. That work entailed pulling out existing knob and tube going to a single receptacle and light switch, and rewiring according to code.

The excerpt below says this:
Where additions subject portions of existing systems to loads exceeding those permitted herein, such portions shall be made to comply with Chapters 33 through 42.

Neither the receptacle nor the light switch/fixture were changed - so how does the permitted work create additional load on the existing system? In fact, since the existing K&T no longer handles the load of a light fixture and receptacle that it used to handle, wouldn't the net effect be LESS load on the existing system??

I am not trying to be argumentative, and truly do appreciate your feedback. Let's face it - if I chose to fight this fight against the city with an 85 year old house that has not been kept up properly prior to my purchase, I would lose either way. I'm trying to fix things as I can, but I cannot afford to do everything at once.

I would still love to hear from others, especially in the Austin area so that their experiences would be with the same code enforcement culture.

Thanks!
0 votes
Emmanuel Sca…, , Collin County, TX
Fri Jun 12, 2009
Hello DT,

The State of Texas has adopted the 2003 versions of the International Codes. You can see a version for free here http://www.ecodes.biz/list_sub.cfm?m_cat_id=36. Austin is allowed to select a newer version but for this issue all versions are basically the same. According to the codes the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ, the people who want you to sign the waiver) could actually require that you perform a full update of the wiring. The following two paragraphs are from the 2003 International Residential Code.

From the 2003 I-Code Basic Administration Section:

R102.7.1 Additions, alterations or repairs.
Additions, alterations or repairs to any structure shall conform to that required for a new structure without requiring the existing structure to comply with all of the requirements of this code, unless otherwise stated. Additions, alterations or repairs shall not cause an existing structure to become unsafe or adversely affect the performance of the building.

From the 2003 I-Code Electrical Section:

E3301.4 Additions and alterations.
Any addition or alteration to an existing electrical system shall be made in conformity with the provisions of Chapters 33 through 42. Where additions subject portions of existing systems to loads exceeding those permitted herein, such portions shall be made to comply with Chapters 33 through 42.

The Inspector is actually being reasonable, as the city of Austin apparently is, with regard to this issue. This can be deemed a potential gray area in the code and these gray areas are strictly left to the AHJ to interpret. The Inspector apparently felt that the new wiring could possibly be supported by a direct connection to, and the style and type of, the main distribution panel. However, the Inspector did note that you have much older wiring (Knob & Tube) servicing the remainder of the home. K&T was good for the era in use but is no longer considered adequate, and potentially unsafe, for today's loads and demands.

The second code reference above basically states that if you make a modification or addition to the original portion of the electrical system, that could have an impact on the remainder of the system, then the entire system must now be brought back up to current building code standards.

As I said I am surprised they did not require a rewire but are obviously concerned enough to require the waiver. Even though government entities are not normally subject to law suites we have sen that change quite a bit of the past few years. Austin is saying basically that we won't force you to upgrade the K&T if you agree to sign a release absolving them of any future responsibility. It's actually quite decent of them.

Hope this helps.

Emmanuel J. Scanlan
PS Inspection & Property Services LLC
http://www.psinspection.com
214-418-4366 (cell)
TREC License # 7593
International Code Council, Residential Combination Inspector #5247015-R5 (Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing and Building)
Certified Infrared Thermographer (ASNT-TC1A Standards)
Texas Residential Construction Commission, Third Party Warranty Inspector #1593
Texas Residential Construction Commission, Inspector, County Inspection Program
Texas Department Of Insurance, VIP Inspector # 08507061016
Hayman Residential Engineering Services, Field Technician
CMC Energy - Certified Energy Auditor

Knowledge is power, but sharing knowledge brings peace!!
Web Reference:  http://www.psinspection.com
0 votes
Search Advice
Search
Ask our community a question

Email me when…

Learn more