What If Everybody Did This?


Sometimes, my column writes itself. This is one of those times. Last January, a guy posted this on The Wall at HeatingHelp.com. Read it and see what you think:

“I have been inquiring/searching/etc into converting from oil to gas in my single family Brooklyn home for the past couple of months. I have made contact with several licensed plumbers (some very good, some shady, some in between, and some I have to reach out to in a couple of months that have come highly recommended).

“I currently have an oil-fired, direct-vent, gas boiler for both heat/domestic. I am looking to convert because I need the space in my garage where the standup Roth tank is. I hate remembering to order oil, and I hate the smell of oil. So before someone suggests that I keep it, know that my wife and I are dead set on converting. I originally went into this thinking I just needed to find a competent plumber to have a game plan of what equipment I wanted to install. I would then wait for the slow season and have the work done. The good news is, is that I have narrowed down what equipment I want/need to perform the job (a boiler with a 50-gallon indirect).

"Here's the bad news. I am not able to have this work done with a permit. I have an illegal deck, illegal garage, etc. Most of my neighborhood is like this and there is no way I can afford to have all of this removed. FYI, the plumbers did a lookup on my address and it shows no permits for any heating system ever, which again is common for this neighborhood and age of home. My fear and concerns that have been told to me are that once the Buildings Department comes out to my home to inspect the work they will find everything else to fine me for. I've heard this from every plumber that I have spoken to. They have told me that they aren't allowed to self-sign-off on the plumbing work because of new laws/regs/codes and that the Buildings Department inspectors assigned to these permit inspections are looking for anything they can to fine you for. Some plumbers have stated they have no issue performing the work but they obviously wouldn't be able to put their name on the work, which I totally understand and wouldn't expect them to.

“Now here's where it gets tricky and I was hoping the guys with experience can help me out. Let’s say I wanted to go ahead with the work with no permits. Obviously, I'm not concerned with permits, considering other items at my house. Would National Grid get a RED FLAG because of my sudden increase of gas usage? I have asked each plumber this and a few said National Grid might want to send someone out to inspect and make sure I’m not using the gas for heating. Also, if they do come to inspect and see that I have a brand-new heating system they will notify the Buildings Department and ask for a permit.

“My questions for the guys with experience out there is this: Let’s say I immediately cancel my National Grid account and have my wife open a new account in her name with a new account number. I would think that it would draw less attention if they have a new account number with higher gas readings rather than the same account number with sudden gas usage spike? I would also run my gas bill up for the next three- to six months and see if they say anything? If they ask to inspect, no problem. They will come and see there is no heating system and I can say that I cook all day, every day because I'm taking cooking classes, etc. I can make up anything to say why I'm using the oven so often.

“The other plumbers said National Grid wouldn't even notice. They stated that National Grid would only send out someone to inspect if my gas usage went to almost zero because they would think I was stealing gas. Someone out there must have dealt with this scenario before?

"I know a few of the guys on here will feel compelled to tell me ‘Doing something like this is illegal and I won’t help you,’ or ‘Permits are needed for a reason.’ So before you type that response, let me say in advance I totally understand where you are coming from and I totally respect your advice. Unfortunately, I am determined to have this done as long as it is done correctly without cutting any corners as far as safety is concerned. There are lots home repairs and alterations that the Buildings Department codes require a permit for. At the end of the day, with or without a permit, the only thing that truly matters is that the work is done correctly and safety is the highest standard.”

So there you have it. One of the guys on The Wall wrote sarcastically, “I think the inspector’s wife likes the pies from the corner bakery (wink, wink, nod, now.), Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?

To which, John Cataneo, Master Plumber replied, “What's the worst that could happen? The guy asking this question could be convicted and fined or jailed for bribing a New York City inspector. This isn't the '80s. Since several recent deaths due to home explosions and building collapses, all caused as a direct result of illegal work, NYC has a new attitude toward the way gas installations and repairs are performed.

“This is the single most obnoxious post I've ever read on this forum. Let's not make it worse. This poster is going to find some fly-by-night ‘plumber’ to do this work for him and it's going to be done illegally because that's exactly what he wants. Then he'll find out what it means to do business with someone who has no legal obligation to the job he's performed, nor any motivation to warranty or otherwise honor any claim to the integrity of the installation. But he'll be happy because he's successfully gotten around the system put in place to protect him and others like him.

“He's not talking about installing an unpermitted toilet in his basement or an irrigation system for his flower bed. He's doing a full-on, oil-to-gas conversion with an oil-tank removal, gas shut-off and turn-on, which even licensed plumbers can't do that anymore in NYC. He’s also doing a chimney connection to God-knows-what, and purchasing new equipment for big dollars.

“The liability here is huge. Let the poster find what he's looking for and thank your lucky stars you had nothing to do with it.

“And all to save his deck. Ridiculous.”

I entered the thread and asked the original poster if he was aware that what he wants to do is against the law. He wrote this:

“So instead of having actual real input on the questions at hand, you're just going to site legality issues. Fair enough, but to your point, has everything you've done it your entire life been legal and does that therefore makes it safe and vice versa? You must be kidding me right?”

Get it? If I ever jaywalked then that justifies what he wants to do.

Oh, and everyone else in his neighborhood is doing the same thing, so there you go.

What if everybody did that?

Codes and laws are there for a reason, right?

That’s what all of us tried to say.

And there’s a happy ending. A few months went by and he got in touch with us again to say that he decided to take our advice and do things the right way. He had the work done properly by a heating professional; and the inspector came and gave the job his blessing. The inspector looked at nothing else but what he was there to look at. And then he went on his way.

The guy told us we were all right, and he apologized for being the way he had been. And isn’t that nice?


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