We live in a house that was built in 1905 — with galvanized steel water pipes and cast iron drains, neither of which can be counted on to last for a century plus. Two years ago we had the water pipes replaced with copper, this year replaced the drains with plastic. One lesson from the experience is that the real problem is not fixing pipes but getting at them. How hard that is, and how much damage the process does to the house, depends very much on where the pipes are and how the house is constructed.
Ah, well, I wasn't a plumber, but an electrician and for some time, a general contractor. Don't get me started on being in the construction business in California. It's pretty much impossible to follow all the laws and not go bankrupt unless you got really good salespeople who can sell above market costs. Note, this is generally true for interior work, not necessarily exterior work like roofing, pools, and solar, which are impossible to work on in private.
"It would be interesting to know what fraction of jobs that require a permit are done without one."
While what follows is ancedotal evidence, I worked in construction in California going back to about 1984 (some breaks where I did other things, but still, decades of experience from a helper as a teenager to running a licensed general contracting company).
As a small general contractor doing remodels of things like bathrooms and kitchens and as an electrical contractor doing similar work and adding ceiling fans, fixing things, etc, I never once pulled a permit. Never.
Working on big projects as a sub-contractor for a general, like a subdivision tract house, or a commecial project in a shopping mall, yes, we always pulled permits in those cases. If you're wiring a Lens Crafters in a Newport Beach mall, a permit is a must, if you're wiring a 10 million dollar house on the coast in Dana Point, a permit is a must. If you're doing a $50,000 kitchen remodeling job in Anahiem Hills nobody cares. At least nobody I ever met.
Work like what you're talking about, David, interior residential work, stuff not seen from the street, never, ever did I pull a permit or even worry about it for a second.
Chance of getting caught (granted I left California a decade ago, maybe the police state has gotten worse) was in my mind pretty much zero (or very close to it). I mean, who's gonna know? Who's gonna go get a warrant to enter your house to inspect illegal plumbling? Not saying it's never happened, I'm sure it has (but probably with extenuating circumstances).
I always offered clients of bigger projects the option, "Do you want a permit and the associated costs?"
The answer was always no. For small repair stuff, I never even brought it up, nobody wants to get a permit for some small level repairs or putting in some new fans and lighting.
The really funny thing is the for the most part, the permitting and inspection process is worthless or next to worthless (I mean from a practical sense, not a pragmatic one, i.e. insurance and ris) because a bad contractor can do terrible work and still get it passed by the inspector, who doesn't have x-ray vision or an all-knowing mind, and no good contractor, worried about his reputation and having ethics, really cares about pleasing an inspector, they care about doing a good job and pleasing the client.
An obvious solution is to simply have private bonding and insurance, that solves pretty much all problems like when you sell the house, if someone got hurt to defect, etc., etc....but, you know, the government doesn't get it's bite that way.
Urggggg....thinking about construction makes me sad. I wasted a brilliant mind.
At least in theory, the vent at the top of every drain stack (they can share one vent if possible) allows air to follow the flushed water down the drain rather than pulling air through the drain trap (gurgle, gurgle) or even emptying all the water out of the trap allowing sewer gases to enter the house.
No, it doesn't make sense to require a vent if neither of those problems has surfaced in the last, say, 20 years. They're cheap to put in as the house is being built, but as you've noted, are expensive to retrofit. So ... don't retrofit them if they prove not to be necessary.
You don't need any permits for plumbing in Germany. This is a purely American problem which toutes themself of being unbureaucratic.
I own and manage a small electrical contracting company. The permitting department helps us in two main ways.
1. Transfers liability from our insururers to the building owners' insurers.
2. Increases workload by enforcing code compliance
Their enforcement arm is very weak. They rely mostly in cooperation from the electric utility (no new power (or additional power) without a permit). The only other enforcement mechanism is an inspector driving by and noticing no permit box, which can happen but is rare. (An empty permit box helps avoid this). Penalty is just double permitting fees, which is a couple hundred dollars.
The state inspections department sends out emails asking us to turn in unlicensed contractors.
This is just one datapoint, but interesting that "take about twice as quoted" is the same as with most megaprojects from civil engineering to defense.
Amusingly, we bought our house from a contractor who lived in it and did all the work completely unpermitted. I hate the exposed pipes because I am sure someday my children will break them. I have already had to make rules about swinging on them. You're showing me a positive side, at least we won't need to cut through anything to get a them if they break
Our home is certified lead safe, and yes we got the work permitted.
My house was built ten years earlier than yours, and in both cases plumbing would have been an add-on. When the cast iron was replaced the crew was in and out in an afternoon, and being rural and not in California there was no inspection required. I’ve replaced water lines, also galvanized, myself, and it was long enough ago that some of the copper has been replaced a second time. I feel your pain.
All our attempts to do something more than small cosmetic fixes in the California house turned out to be a complete nightmare, and always for the same reason. It turns out the new code requires some small detail - a vent, a fan, a special kind of pipe, etc. - which leads to more requirements - like a fan has to be connected so and so, and this connection has to be wired so and so, and so on and so forth and in the end it turns out we have to redo all the wiring in the house, or replace all pipes, or have PGE bring different electrical connection to the house (nobody even knew how much that might cost) or something similarly overwhelming, not even by plain cost itself but by obvious refusal of any professional we talked to to even tell us how long the whole thing would take and how much it may cost at the end, all included. Of course, that is if we want permits. If we do not, no problem, but then if at some point we want any permits, we may have to fix everything at once. Or at least so they said. The main danger they described with no-permit work is that puts us at disadvantage when selling, as by law we have to disclose any no-permit work and that might scare off buyers. Not sure if it's a real concern or not.
At that house wasn't even built in 19th century, it was built in 1980-s, it wasn't in a bad state, just some conveniences missing here and there. But each improvement just ballooned into a web of unimaginable complications.
The obvious solution was to sell the house, as it was, make a nice profit (because in California house prices always increase, for some reason) and move to a newer one.
First, finding a good plumber that you can trust is a godsend no matter how old your house is. Second, plumber's timing estimates are always short, because as my plumber (Ken the plumber became a friend) no plumber's truck is big enough to carry everything you will need, and there's always something needed that isn't there and has to be gotten, even if it requires a special order.
Ken says even when he was plumbing (as a new plumber) for a developer building multiple houses at once, even though the plumbing was nearly identical, there were still few days when they didn't have to "go get" something.
I lived for over a decade in a house built by a master builder for his own family in 1897. Full basement. Even a coal chute and room. A laundry chute. Big old Victorian with a huge attic. When I needed pluming it was a nightmare. It originally must have had just an outhouse. The kitchen was barely plumbed at all. But over several years a good plumber got it whipped into shape.
And sheetrock? It is to laugh. We had lath and horsehair plaster.
But it was a fun, beautiful old house, and I hated leaving it.
New plumbing is also a decent test for how sound your marriage is.
When you put it that way it sort of makes me want to show up DESPITE the cancellation because if enough people show up it will be a fun meetup regardless.
Why replace them with plastic? The proliferation of microplastics in our bloodstream is incredibly alarming, and the worst offender is plastic pipes for water. Surely saving a few dollars isn't worth drinking plastic for the rest of your life...
One legal problem with an unpermitted work is that when you sell a house, the standard Transfer Disclosure Statement (at least herein CA) asks whether you know of any unpermitted work. If you answer no but you do know of some, you may liable for fraud and breach of contract, with all sorts of bad penalties -- contractual attorneys fees, certain higher damages, and punitive damages. About 10 years ago, I had an appeal where a troublemaker (who had previously sued a zillion people for all sorts of frivolous things) bought a house and sued my clients, the sellers, making exactly this claim. They fortunately won in the trial court and I was able to get the ruling affirmed on appeal. But it cost the clients a lot of money and trouble.