Working Within the Law


Working in the home improvement industry isn’t as simple as learning how to use your tools and all the tricks of the trade. You also have to be an expert in all of the complicated rules and regulations surrounding your industry–and know how to get around them. Just understanding a legal code is hard enough, but it takes a professional to understand all the ways to work around and within in. Your average homeowner would be quite lost!

Why We’re Asking:

Building codes and regulation are a fact of life when it comes to construction and remodels. You can’t get away from them, so it’s important to understand them. Our experts have been working in their respective industries for years, and they know how to play within the rules without compromising the homeowner’s vision too much. We want to know what the trickiest laws are–and how to incorporate them into a job well-done.

So tell us, experts:

What laws do you often have to work around?

Are there any building regulations in your area that you don’t agree with?
How can homeowners find out about building regulations before they start designing a project?
If you could make up a new regulation, what would it be?

Building codes can get complex very quickly, which is why it takes a professional to sort them out. We look forward to hearing your strategies for working within the rules!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!


  1. The industry is requesting new rules every so often. These codes and rules only are requesting or laying some ground work / general guidelines we have to work with. However having said that the most important rules we have to work with are the lead based paint rules , asbestos and mold treatment. Ofcourse safety is the best choice and remodeling is always a changing industry we work hard to keep up on. The plumbing half runs into these issues often out in the west in Boise Idaho. Asbestos was sold in droves out here. Now that the rules have requested a change we work hard to change with them.

  2. No matter what jurisdiction, the pest control industry has many stringent regulations and for a good reason. When you are transporting and applying pesticides you must always be careful. Our industry has many regulations, too many to write in a blog post. We must always read all pesticide labels prior to treating any pest problem. If we go against any label directions it is seen as a misapplication of pesticide. Disposing of pesticides or applying them in any other way then what the label states puts us in jeopardy for a fine or in some cases jail time. I agree with all of these regulations because they are for the safety of people, children, pets and the environment.

  3. Pest control is a heavily regulated industry which leans towards environmental issue and public health. We have seen a huge change in our industry with entire class of chemicals disappear from our tool boxes. Even recently the laws have changed in application sites being taken away to some degree for concerns of runoff issues. One of the other issues that is tough to get around is many clients are not aware of these changes and still demand that we treat areas the way they want regardless of what laws are in place because they are paying the bill.

    Many pest control operators have come and gone because either they can’t afford the changes, or just don’t want to follow them. Unfortunately, like many other industries, regulations are ignored and corners are cut, which puts their customers at risk. We know the label is the law and we follow those regulations, and we lose business every now and then because of it as long as “bubby” is out there. Safety is the most important factor in our business. Always check the local governing boards for the contractor your considering to use and check for complaints.

  4. Can I plead the 5th. amendment? As a Plumber many things require a permit to be replaced. Technically all plumbing fixtures such as a water heater, toilet, sewage ejector, shower valve, and so on. If every water heater getting installed as replacement to a leaky one actually got a permit, the county/city would need to build a new building and hire a large enough staff to issue, and inspect the water heaters. hundreds a day in San Diego area. Homeowners alone cause enough replacement to overload the existing staff. Wall heaters are replaced and sold in home centers to homeowners. This opens up code and safety and permit issues. Home centers are not always the best thing for safety or the consumer. Should even more un enforced laws be made? This is a hind sight question in cases where loss has occurred, either life and or property. So let me ask, what safety issues do you work around? or how big of government do you want? or should the insurance industry just cover the losses? Or, should anyone ever ignore any technical Code or law? I think we have a (to quote Martha here), a quagmire… I install everything I do not to code, but to code and better. The code is a minimum requirement, it says “the minimum shall be”, I instead say, “the optimum shall be”, (code compliance is a given). But I do claim the 5th.

  5. One law to work around when remodeling your home is zoning regulations. This type of rule often applies when making additions in residential areas. For example, if you are raising your roof or extending the length of your home to add square footage, the law may require a variance approval for you to continue your project. A variance can be expensive and also put construction on hold until granted. There are also types of building codes that can get in the way of rehabbing your home. For example, if a homeowner wants to change the layout of their historic home, believe it or not state regulations can prevent these changes to maintain the history and character of the home. Although these laws can take time to work around, it is often worth the wait of approval instead of moving out of a dream home.

  6. Certainly we as contractors are need to follow laws, codes and local regulations when it comes to working on homes. Just as important are the laws of physics, and paying attention to building science when improving homes makes for effective and lasting improvements. Attic insulation is only effective when we seal air leaks. Since there are pressures in a home acting on those holes we can lose conditioned air to the attic very easily. The same pressures can pull unwanted air from an attached garage, or back draft a chimney. Control air flow, manage moisture and heat, and a lot of good can be done. Ignore the laws of physics and homeowners miss out on comfort, energy savings and health and safety.

  7. We work within local building, plumbing and electrical codes. Reputable General Contractors, plumbers and electricians follow codes. If a homeowner finds a person or company that suggests not following codes don’t hire them. If they are not licensed and don’t carry the correct insurance, don’t hire them. Poor work and bad reputations come from sketchy un-licensed and non-code compliant companies. The reason consumers may have a negative reaction to codes are the permitting fees associated with them. In Seattle the cost for plumbing and electrical permits aren’t outrageous but building permits can be very expensive. The benefit of permits are twofold; first you have a second set of eyes looking at the work and you have documentation the work was done to code when you sell your home.
    If I had to address one fairly new code, it would be “make up air”. This is the requirement to have a system in place that is electrically connected to the switch on a kitchen hood fan or down draft that mechanically opens a baffle to allow outside are into the home to compensate for the air leaving the home. This is required at 400 cubic feet per minute of air flow leaving the home. It can be more difficult than it sounds to add this system. The air coming in needs to be tempered to match the interior temperature. Also the location of this intake must meet a set of guidelines to avoid noxious gases from gas meters and gas furnaces or gas hot water tanks. With homes being built so tight and new windows going into older homes with the same effect it can create a situation where the pull of the air leaving is actually pulling natural gas from fireplaces, furnaces and other areas. I was surprised the threshold wasn’t at 600 CFM since this throws almost all kitchen ventilation into this category. I understand the need and we work with our HVAC contractors to meet this need. If a homeowner has their pilot lights going out in either fireplaces or furnaces when they turn on their hood fan, they need make up air.

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