Do-It-Yourself Electrical Repairs May Get a Lot More Expensive By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday May 13, 2005

At least when it comes to electrical things, do-it-your-selfers may find their craft considerably more expensive. 

Starting Aug. 1, when the 2004 California Electrical Codes automatically take effect, residents will have to apply for a city building permits to replace or add wall, porch and ceiling lamps, light switches, electric receptacles, and other common do-it-yourself chores. 

So changing that noisy electrical switch with a quieter mercury switch will cost a lot more. Besides the costs of the new switch, there’ll be the $81 basic permit fee plus an additional surcharge of $2.15 for each receptacle, outlet or switch and—if you want to add more—$21.50 for altering or changing wiring. 

Under the current city code, such small changes can be made without permits and inspections; starting Aug. 1, not so. 

The exemptions are currently allowed under Chapter 19.30.080 of the city electrical code. City Building Officer Joan McQuarrie said there’s a question about whether or not the exemptions could be incorporated into the new code. 

“We’re looking into that,” said Deputy City Attorney Zach Cowan. “Generally cities are allowed to adopt more restrictive findings based on local conditions, but not less restrictive. But it never hurts to ask.” 

McQuarrie said that from her perspective, she wasn’t aware of any problems from the previously exempted home repairs, “but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be in the future. I think it’s reasonable to exclude them, but we are bound by state law.” 

Activities which will no longer be permitted without a permit after Aug. 1 include: 

• Installing hard-wired sound, intercom and communication systems. 

• Connecting portable motors and appliances to permanent suitable receptacles that were previously installed. 

• Installing wiring for temporary theater, television and film sets. 

• Repair or replacement of fixed motors, transformers and appliances of the same type and in the same location. 

The Housing Advisory Commission (HAC) considered the revisions during their meeting May 5 and recommended that the city adopt the new code while retaining the current exemptions. 

Should it turn out that the exemptions can’t be retained, HAC recommended that the city inform residents of the new requirements. The final decision is up to the Berkeley City Council, which is slated to vote on the new code during their June 24 meeting.