Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC

 
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Old 02-05-2018, 08:12 PM   #1
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Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Hi folks,

I started a handyman business a few years ago. I wanted to do things "by the book" so I asked the WA state Dept. of Labor & Industries whether a licensed general contractor operating a handyman business was allowed to do small plumbing and electrical tasks - for example, replacing a light fixture or switch, installing a garbage disposal, replacing a toilet or tub/sink fixture, etc. I was basically given a firm "no".

Since then I've toed the line, but it's kind of frustrating. Based on what I see people advertise on their websites, I have a feeling that this kind of work is routinely performed by GC's and handyman-type folks - unless they all just happen to be licensed as both plumbers and electricians. Which is doubtful.

And what about the big-box stores? Are the installation services they offer licensed? In other words, if I buy a garbage disposal at Lowe's or Home Depot and pay $99 or whatever to have them install it, are they going to send both a licensed plumber and a licensed electrician to complete the job - after all, it may involve both plumbing and electrical work? I doubt it very much.

My guess is that most contractors would find it ridiculous that a competent, professional handyman isn't allowed by law to do such things.

Anyway, I'm not trying to step on anyone's toes here and I don't want to take work away from licensed tradespeople. It's just that they are often busy doing larger plumbing and electrical jobs, and rightfully so. But then the homeowner who just wants a dimmer switch is sort of up a creek.

So I guess I'll ask a couple questions:
1. What is your opinion on the matter? Am I the only one who feels this way?
2. Do you perform minor stuff like this despite not being a licensed plumber or electrician? (I realize the risk involved in answering, and I won't fault anyone for remaining silent.)

I know this is probably a touchy subject, but I'm very interested to hear the opinions of anyone willing to share. I respect your input and I'm looking to understand what really goes on out there.

Thanks in advance - I really appreciate it.

Steve
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Old 02-05-2018, 08:45 PM   #2
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


It depends on your state and county codes. Make sure you have liability insurance that covers whatever it is you plan to do.

What about pulling permits? And hiring subs?

Maybe consider getting your GC license, it's not a big deal in most places.

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Old 02-05-2018, 08:46 PM   #3
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Here in PA, there is no state licensing for such trades, and that's as it should be IMO. Some of the larger cities require that you have their license, but I honestly think that's more for revenue than safety.

Good luck with getting those requirements rescinded. Seems like folks are much happier with adding new rules rather than dumping existing ones, no matter how nonsensical they might be.
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Old 02-05-2018, 08:58 PM   #4
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


It sounds like the OP is a licensed contractor, and Washington state is similar to Oregon State and that a licensed plumber or a licensed electrician is supposed be the one to make small repairs.

It is pretty lame.

How about a garbage disposal repair? An electrical motor that is plumbed in? Who has to turn the wrench to free the motor?






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Old 02-05-2018, 09:00 PM   #5
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


It sounds like you already have a GC license, which in WA takes almost nothing. Start hiring subs and making money off them. It's your next step anyway.
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Old 02-05-2018, 09:28 PM   #6
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Quote:
Originally Posted by Golden view View Post
It sounds like you already have a GC license, which in WA takes almost nothing. Start hiring subs and making money off them. It's your next step anyway.
Indeed, I do have my GC license. And yes, it doesn't take much in WA. You basically just get insurance, a bond, fill out some paperwork, write a check to the state, and - voila! - you're qualified to put an addition on someone's home. You may have never swung a hammer in your life.

Anyway, it's just a matter of time before I do jobs large enough for subs. I know that's true. It's just frustrating in the meantime because the niche a handyman service fills is is when the homeowner has a few random tasks they want done. For example, patch some drywall, fix a leaky faucet, replace a piece of trim, and install a dimmer switch. They don't want to hire four different specialty contractors and pay four different trip charges, four different minimum fees, etc.. And even if they were willing to do so, the jobs would be so small they would be on everyone's back-burner. But that's a handyman's meat & potatoes, so he can place a high priority on it for the customer.

BTW, this finally came to a head for me because a GC friend of mine who does larger remodels gave me a lead for a lady who wanted a kitchen hood vent installed. I haven't talked to her yet, but I'm basically going to have to turn the work down because I'm not allowed to twist on wire nuts!

Want to know the irony? I have a degree in electrical engineering. Grrr...

Eager to hear more opinions. Thanks to those who have already responded!

Steve
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Old 02-05-2018, 09:40 PM   #7
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Quote:
Originally Posted by Mordekyle View Post
... a licensed plumber or a licensed electrician is supposed be the one to make small repairs.

It is pretty lame.

How about a garbage disposal repair? An electrical motor that is plumbed in? Who has to turn the wrench to free the motor?
Well said. Thank you.
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Old 02-05-2018, 11:11 PM   #8
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Quote:
Originally Posted by kirkdc View Post
It depends on your state and county codes. Make sure you have liability insurance that covers whatever it is you plan to do.

What about pulling permits? And hiring subs?

Maybe consider getting your GC license, it's not a big deal in most places.


I have had the same issues as you. Over the years I have found out that the more I ask the more the answer changes. Sometimes the state will say I can't install a toilet, then a month later they will say I can!! Same story from the county and city. It gets frustrating so for the most part I stay away from the grey area.
The dishwasher install is really stupid. The city told me I can't do it. They said a plumber needs to do it and the plumber can hook up the electric!!! WTF. But across the street in the county I can do it!!!
My advise? Pull down your pants and slide on the ice!!!
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Old 02-05-2018, 11:48 PM   #9
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay hole View Post
I have had the same issues as you. Over the years I have found out that the more I ask the more the answer changes. Sometimes the state will say I can't install a toilet, then a month later they will say I can!! Same story from the county and city. It gets frustrating so for the most part I stay away from the grey area.
The dishwasher install is really stupid. The city told me I can't do it. They said a plumber needs to do it and the plumber can hook up the electric!!! WTF. But across the street in the county I can do it!!!
My advise? Pull down your pants and slide on the ice!!!
Gosh it's nice to know I'm not alone. I really appreciate that - thanks for confirming that I'm not crazy.

BTW, wasn't sure what "pull down your pants and slide on the ice" meant, but it had my wife and I laughing out loud! We googled it, believe it or not. (I was a little afraid of what I might find in the search results!). But we quickly found the answer, and I love it! I watched a lot of MASH with my grandpa as a little boy. Good stuff.

Thanks again!

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Old 02-06-2018, 05:04 AM   #10
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


The easiest remedy for the smaller 'handyman' jobs that would be to small or simple to sub out, would be get your plumbing and electrical license.

Your GL wont cover you if something happens to someones house after you performed a repair you wasnt licensed to do.
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Old 02-06-2018, 05:18 AM   #11
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Im a Class 'A' general contractor in VA. I hold an unlimited commercial and residential license . But Im not licensed in plumbing or electrical, nor do I want to be.

I always get someone who is licensed to do P&E, even if its just moving a light switch.
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Old 02-06-2018, 05:34 AM   #12
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


you might want to check if there is a light electrical ticket. We have a short course that will allow you to do those small things like hook up a disposal the plumbers here take to so they can do those type of jobs it may be called something different.
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Old 02-06-2018, 06:53 AM   #13
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


I can't think of any handyman types around here that wouldn't do anything a HO would be allowed to do without a permit.
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Old 02-06-2018, 08:03 AM   #14
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Like most of us, I can do it all and always do on my own house. My first post on here was asking about plumbing a bathroom without a plumber and I took a beating for it.

I am much happier now that I have an electrician and a plumber doing all the work that I am not licensed for. It frees me up from all the worry that used to go along with it.

I used to think it was unfair to require the license for simple repairs but if you've seen the work that some people do because homeowners don't know any better it is scary and probably in the public interest to keep the requirements the way they are.

I like what was mentioned a few posts up. Maybe the states should offer a light electrical and plumbing certification so that you can be tested on basic knowledge and the skills required to replace an outlet or a switch or when to call for backup.

Both of those tasks are easy and routine except when they're not. There's a lot of things that can be wrong with the way a switch or an outlet is wired even though it may be working fine when you replace it.
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Old 02-06-2018, 08:15 AM   #15
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Hi guys,

Responding to the last few posts here. Great feedback, BTW.

1. Is there a "light electrical" - type license that I could get? The short answer is no - not in WA state, anyways. This was one of the first questions I asked - especially since I have a background in electrical engineering. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know the hands-on, code-type requirements that a licensed electrician would know, but I've been practicing the electrical concepts themselves for over 20 years. If there would have been, say, a 1- or 2-week class that would have qualified me to legally do small electrical tasks, I would gladly have taken it. In my opinion, an option like this makes a lot of sense.

2. Maybe I want to consider becoming licensed in plumbing/electrical? I looked into this and was pretty disappointed. In the case of electrical work, the minimum requirement would be 2000 hours experience working under a licensed electrician. Plumbing was similar, as I recall, but I don't remember the specifics. In either case, I basically would have had to go full time as a plumbing or electrical apprentice. This didn't make sense for me, as I would have had to quit my full-time engineering job just to try to get P & E licenses to help with what was a side business at the time.

3. Always subbing P&E. For a remodel or a larger project, I totally agree. It's just frustrating that this is how it has to be for smaller projects. Maybe the homeowner just needs someone to trim a couple trees and change a light fixture. It's not really practical to sub out the electrical in small scenarios like that. And this is the niche a handyman service is fundamentally trying to fill.

4. Lots of handyman types in hdavis' area do this kind of work. Thanks for the input on that. This is the kind of feedback I was hoping to get with this discussion - to find out what's really going out there... to see how folks are actually interpreting & applying whatever rules & regulations are in place.

5. fred54's comments. Thanks - I'm glad to see another supporter of a "light electrical"-type license. And, BTW, I live in one of those DIY-type homes. You'd be, um, shocked to see some of the wiring. So yeah - I totally understand where the rules & regulations came from. It's to prevent those who know very little - and more importantly don't want to take the time to learn - from doing work they shouldn't do. For me, again it's back to a light-electrical option. This will help you "know what you don't know" and differentiate those times when the repair you're doing is actually over your head.

Thanks again for the responses. I really appreciate it. Keep them coming...

Steve
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Old 02-06-2018, 08:30 AM   #16
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Light electrical and light plumbing would be great. I don't think you can take apart a plugged trap to clean it here.
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Old 02-06-2018, 08:31 AM   #17
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Her in CA which is one of the most regulated states, you would likely have no problem doing any kind of electrical or plumbing work, as almost all GC's here do. I think your worry is that you are legitimate, with a GC license, so you can see that you have more to lose if you do some gray area work.

That is the problem. If you don't have a license, insurance, legal employees, and so forth, what do you care if someone complains or you get caught. So what? Can't squeeze blood out of turnip. Considering the 1 out of 10,000 cases that may go to court here, the defendant simply pleads poverty and any fines are dismissed, if not the whole case.

I am glad you are playing by the book, but in reality, most don't. Especially in residential, nobody here cares, not even the inspectors. As long as you got a GC, you can do all the electrical and plumbing you want. In fact , I have been on several permitted jobs and I ask the GC, who's doing the electrical and plumbing ? He goes, "I am".
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Old 02-06-2018, 08:51 AM   #18
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


We also have totally compliant handyman type of jobs. Ceiling light went bad, so I bought another, made sure it worked, then scheduled my electrician to install it. 2 month wait, $50. The $50 isn't a big deal, but the 2 months is, plus it's potentially an extra trip for me.

If it isn't an emergency or at least a day's work, it usually isn't going to happen fast.
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Old 02-06-2018, 09:01 AM   #19
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


Up here, you can be listed as a helper on a specific permit under the master's license, but theoretically you're supposed to be under direct supervision. I've seen quite a few permitted remodels where there is a helper, but not registered as a helper, and may not be under direct supervision for everything. Since it's all permitted, it's on the master. BTW, I've only seen good work in these cases.

A lot of these guys hate paperwork.
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Old 02-06-2018, 09:18 AM   #20
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Re: Handyman Work: Unlicensed Plumbing, Electrical, HVAC


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So I guess I'll ask a couple questions:
1. What is your opinion on the matter? Am I the only one who feels this way?
2. Do you perform minor stuff like this despite not being a licensed plumber or electrician? (I realize the risk involved in answering, and I won't fault anyone for remaining silent.)
1: My opinion is that small handyman plumbing and electric repairs are not a sustainable career. You shouldn't show up on the job site if they don't have the money to do it by the books. You should be able to get a working relationship with a plumber and electrician who will indeed come out for this. I had a semi-retired electrician for this. $90 including minor label permit. It's not that hard to convince homeowners of the benefit of this. Safety, liability, documentation for when they sell, etc.

My vote for policy change would be to allow a minor label program for handyman contractors for exposed items only: faucets, toilets, switches, lights, appliances. If not familiar, this is a program where licensed specialty contractors buy 10 stamps at a discounted rate for minor stuff like above. They enter all the jobs they do online, and 1 in 10 is randomly selected for inspection. If you fail an inspection, it's worse than failing a typical inspection.

2: Despite what's said above, yes. However my plumber or electrician would back me up.

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